Graduate School degree recipients encouraged to practice empathy, ‘insist on reason and evidence’ in judgments and decisions

Author: Erin Blasko

Louise Richardson, vice-chancellor of Oxford University, delivers the commencement address at the Graduate School Commencement ceremony in the Compton Family Ice Arena.

The University of Notre Dame Graduate School held its annual Commencement Ceremony Saturday (May 19) at Compton Family Ice Arena, handing out 286 doctoral degrees and 500 master’s degrees and presenting several awards to distinguished members of the Graduate School community.

Louise Richardson, the first female vice-chancellor of Oxford University, delivered the commencement address, lamenting the elevation of emotion over truth in personal and political discourse and appealing to the graduates to “insist on reason and evidence as the basis for your judgments and decisions.”

To that end, she stressed the importance of higher education in fostering within current and future generations of young men and women an understanding of the value of critical thinking and “intellectual self-reliance.”

“It’s never been more important for universities to represent and inculcate a respect for reflection and delay, to distinguish between the evidence-based and the fabricated,” said Richardson, an Irish political scientist who previously served as St. Andrews University’s first female principal and vice-chancellor.

In a world increasingly divided by class, Richardson expressed her belief that “education remains the best engine of social mobility that we have,” and her hope that, throughout their careers, the graduates would “remain committed advocates for education as a source for social mobility.”

In addition, she encouraged them to “pause for a moment and reflect upon what this day means to your family and friends, and draw them into your celebration” as an exercise in empathy, which she described as a “critical life skill, a hallmark of a vibrant democracy (and) one of the first casualties of warfare.”

Striking a similar tone, Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., in his charge to the class, reminded graduates that “while this accomplishment is truly your own, you know you didn’t do it all on your own.”

“You may have done the studying, but your family and loved ones did the sweating and stressing along with you,” Father Jenkins said. “They cheered you on at your successes and cheered you up at your setbacks. They are sitting behind you today, and they have been behind you every step of the way to help you reach this milestone.”

Alluding to the University’s commitment to justice in all of its forms, Father Jenkins expressed hope that the graduates would “use the advantages of the education you received here for the common good.”

“We hope that you will use your talents and skills not simply to serve your own interests but to care for the neediest and create a more just society,” he said. “We hope that you acquired here not only the knowledge to make a good living, but the wisdom to live a good life.”

Additionally, the Graduate School recognized several award recipients during the ceremony:

  • Mimi Beck is the winner of the second-ever Dick and Peggy Notebaert Award. The founding director of Notre Dame’s Office of Graduate Student Life, Beck has demonstrated tireless devotion to graduate students in the process of creating and implementing a broad and strategic vision that promotes their success and well-being. Beck’s efforts support the Graduate School’s commitment to fostering a holistic research environment.

  • Steven Walker is the winner of the Distinguished Alumnus Award. Walker was named the 21st director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in November 2017. An undergraduate and doctoral graduate of Notre Dame’s Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering, Walker is recognized for his public service career dedicated to advancing U.S. hypersonic flight and space access.

  • Edward Maginn is the winner of the James A. Burns, C.S.C., Award. The Dorini Family Professor of Energy Studies and Chair of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Maginn is recognized for a sterling reputation as a leading scholar in the field of molecular simulation, and for his deep dedication to advising and classroom instruction.

  • Curtis Franks is the winner of this year’s Director of Graduate Studies Award. An associate professor in the Department of Philosophy specializing in philosophies of logic and mathematics, Franks is recognized for innovative restructuring of the doctoral program and for fostering a welcoming departmental environment for graduate students.

The following doctoral graduates were honored with the Eli J. and Helen Shaheen Graduate School Awards, which recognize the top graduating students in engineering, the humanities, social sciences and science:

  • Paige Rodeghero, Department of Computer Science and Engineering, is the recipient of the Shaheen Award in engineering. A scholar of software engineering, Rodeghero is recognized for her excellent research on content extraction and program comprehension, as well as for her caring approach to teaching and mentoring. Rodeghero will assume a tenure-track position at Clemson University in the fall.

  • Joshua Noble, Department of Theology, is the Shaheen Awardee in the humanities. A specialist of Christianity and Judaism in antiquity and gifted linguist, Noble is recognized for his exceptional scholarship, which argues for the reliance of the Acts of the Apostles on the Greco-Roman Golden Age myth. Noble currently serves as a tutor at Thomas Aquinas College.

  • Samantha Anderson, Department of Psychology, is the social sciences’ Shaheen Awardee. Anderson is a widely published quantitative psychologist whose work addresses replication methodology and data analysis. Anderson is recognized for her excellent academic record, brilliant scholarship and effective teaching, for which she previously received a Kaneb Center Outstanding Student Teacher Award. Anderson will begin a tenure-track position at Arizona State University this fall.

  • Leandro Lichtenfelz, Department of Mathematics, is the Shaheen Awardee in science. A specialist of the Euler and Navier-Stokes equations, Lichtenfelz is an accomplished researcher with a strong publication record. He is also an outstanding instructor and a favorite among his department’s honors undergraduates. In the fall, Lichtenfelz will begin a highly coveted postdoctoral appointment at the University of Pennsylvania.