Uncertainty is more common than not for a diplomat – and most people seeking to "create something great,'' according to Francis Martin Campbell, M.A., the vice chancellor of St. Mary's University in Twickenham, England and a former British diplomat.
During the 91st annual spring commencement ceremony for undergraduate students at Misericordia University, Campbell illustrated how accomplishment and the human condition can be limited if humankind embraces fear of the unknown instead of working through uncertainty. Take the Religious Sisters of Mercy for example, he said during his keynote address.
"Those sisters back in the early 1920s decided to set out and to build something,'' Campbell said. "They didn't have certainty how things would work out, and possibly at times, didn't have the funds or support required, but they knew that they had to answer a call to do something for the benefit of young people and the community.
"In the end, their hard work created something great – Misericordia University.''
The Sisters of Mercy did not let the great mystery of life or the unknown stop them from creating the first four-year college in Luzerne County. In addition, it should not prevent others from acting and accomplishing as well. "For some, life's uncertainty might bring fear,'' Campbell acknowledged. "For people of faith, it is part of the normal human journey we are all asked to take, and it should bring hope. If we could only ever move forward on the basis of certainty then most of us would never act.''
Campbell stressed his point by sharing the prayer of Purpose by Cardinal John Henry Newman during his address. In summary, the prayer reinforces to the faithful that every man, woman and child is unique and was created by God "simply to be used'' for His purpose.
"Class of 2017, we may never be asked to make the sacrifice of Misericordia's founding sisters or of Blessed John Henry Newman, but we don't know,'' he said. "We just might. Founding a great institution, leading people to faith, governing a great nation, leading the armed forces, healing the sick, educating the young, and many more noble vocations could be part of our unique calling.
"But we are certain of one thing just like John Henry Newman, we will experience times when we will have to act, when we will have to trust, when we won't know the end result or why we have been placed in a particular set of circumstances.''
He acknowledged it is difficult for some to know their path in life, especially at the young age of 21. Years ago, he did not envision being a diplomat, experiencing peace in Northern Ireland or being a bridge between the Pope and the Queen.
"Please do not think that you are the only ones living with uncertainty about life choices or lacking in direction or confidence when it matters most,'' said Campbell, who received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree during the ceremony. "Most likely those here today who are a generation or two older than you are now did not know what they wanted to do at 21 or 22. Many of us today likely find ourselves in positions and places that we could never have predicted. Some might put it down to chance, talent or providence – depending on one's belief.''
Collegiate commencement, he said, is the culmination of at least 16 years of formal education. Each stage of education prepared the individual for greater independence and interdependence – not in isolation but as part of a community. Combined, the experiences prepared Misericordia's graduates to be part of "something bigger'' and to be able to "contribute to that society wherever you find yourself.''
"So not knowing how something will turn out is part of the normal human story and mystery of life,'' Campbell said in conclusion. "It is intertwined with human agency, potential, creativity, and for religious believers, like the Sisters of Mercy and John Henry Newman, God's grace. It is simply normal.''
Valedictorian Amy Viti of Sugar Notch took time to reminisce about the Class of 2017's years at Misericordia. She recollected about their scholarly work, and mastering the skills and traits necessary to succeed in their chosen profession; how student-athletes learned to employ the discipline necessary to thrive in the classroom and field of competition; volunteerism as collegians leading to a lifetime of service in the community, and the rare talents expressed in various art forms on campus continuing to beautify the world long after graduation.
"I have come to discover time and time again, that success and incredible things lie in the outskirts of your comfort zone,'' said Viti, who, as a student-athlete, was named the 2016 NCAA Woman of the Year and was the NCAA runner up in the 800-meter race in 2016. "I have found that those experiences that make your stomach turn, initially scare but excite you, are the ones you should chase.
"Class of 2017, I urge you to seek out those instances, swallow your fear, and watch how you will grow in the areas that mean the most to you. I believe all it takes is a few seconds of extreme bravery for something incredible to happen,'' added Viti, who earned a Bachelor of Science in health science and Master of Science in speech-language pathology. "So I encourage you to take a breath, appreciate the moment you are in, and take advantage of the opportunity that is provided to discover it for yourself.''
Misericordia University commencement events included separate ceremonies for the graduate and undergraduate degree recipients. Dignitaries included Monsignor John Bendik, who delivered the Benediction at the undergraduate degree ceremony, and Thomas J. Botzman, Ph.D., president of Misericordia University, who welcomed graduates and their guests to both ceremonies.
The undergraduate degree ceremony acknowledged 252 students from 11 states, including Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas and Virginia. The graduate degree ceremony recognized 135 graduates who hail from eight states, including Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.
Joseph Cornelius Donnelly, the permanent delegate to the United Nations for the international Catholic organization, Caritas Internationalis, presented the keynote address at the graduate degree ceremony. The humanitarian, peacebuilder and diplomat stressed how "we belong to one another.''
"We are ordinary people linked together as community, as family, as university – indeed a school of humanity,'' he said. "One human family sharing our common earth, as people have since the beginning – hopefully even better now.''
A member of the Non-Governmental Organization Working Group on the United Nations Security Council, Donnelly stressed the need for today's global citizens – "rooted in concreate realities with wisdom and mercy – to make the kinds of differences that will transform the world for the better.
"For a city or a university, for a sustainable initiative, it needs a soul with a heart of mercy,'' he said. "You, the graduates, you great hopes of Misericordia – you must give it this soul.''
Donnelly has spent decades working with communities in need and crises in Asia, Europe, North America, Central America, Central and East Africa, and the Middle East. Drawing from those experiences, he told graduates not to understate the importance of making people first – "people always,'' he said.
"When we do not share, we are poor,'' added Donnelly, who received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree during the ceremony. "When we welcome others, sisters and brothers, to our ordinary tables of plenty we are building up the world we want for ourselves and others. Citizenship – very local and truly global – calls us. Be thoughtful human beings.
During the undergraduate ceremony, three members of the faculty received the university's top awards for scholarship and service. Alicia Nordstrom, Ph.D., professor of psychology, was awarded the Louis and Barbara Alesi Excellence in Scholarship Award. The Max and Tillie Rosenn Excellence in Teaching Award was presented to Lorie Zelna, M.S., R.T.(R)(MR), associate professor and chair of the Department of Medical Imaging. Marnie Hiester, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Psychology, was recognized with the Pauly and Sidney Friedman Excellence in Service Award.
The Misericordia University Alumni Association presented the Honorary Alumnus Award to Louis Maganzin, Ph.D., a history professor at Misericordia for 32 years. He received the award in recognition of his service and dedication to the institution.