Graduates urged to exhibit intellectual curiosity and 'grit' at Graduate School Commencement

by William G. Gilroy

2013 Graduate School Commencement

The University of Notre Dame’s Graduate School recognized 438 master’s and 213 doctoral degree recipients and presented several awards during Commencement ceremonies Saturday (May 18) in the Compton Family Ice Arena.

Nathan O. Hatch, president of Wake Forest University and formerly provost and the Andrew V. Tackes Professor of History at Notre Dame, delivered the Commencement address.

Hatch focused on the themes of curiosity and grit in his remarks.

“This morning I want to leave you with two simple messages, the first about intellectual curiosity and the importance of learning as an end in itself; the second, about what scholars are now calling ‘grit’ or resilience,” he said.

Hatch explained that there were two reasons for his emphasis on intellectual curiosity.

“First, it is crucial for the vitality of your own sense of calling long-term,” he said. “Whether you will be spending time teaching, or in research, in public service, or in management, keeping alive a flame of curiosity will give motivation and meaning to what you do. Thomas Jefferson once said that the best prize life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing. Your work will continue to seem worth doing if it is animated by sustained inquiry.”

Hatch noted that he was also emphasizing intellectual curiosity because the ideal of learning for its own sake is under steady assault amid demands that the primary purpose of higher education should be its economic utility.

Nathan Hatch delivers 2013 Graduate School Commencement address

“This kind of accountability may have its place, but it also brings into question the value of learning itself and the vital importance of a liberal arts education — in a time when in Andrew Delbanco’s eloquent rendering, the liberal arts are becoming marginal or merely ornamental.

“All of us need to redouble our efforts to defend the ‘higher’ purposes of a college education despite our economic woes, just as C.S. Lewis did in his address during World War II, ‘Learning in Wartime:’ In that address he defended the importance of the life of the mind even when civilization was literally crumbling.”

Hatch explained that “grit” is important for two reasons. The first is related to the fact that today’s generation of students tends to have many and varied interests.

“My advice to you, as young professionals, is to become really good at something,” he said. “It is better to master one discrete thing than dabble in ten interesting projects. Being the faithful steward of a small responsibility will convince others you can be entrusted with larger things.”

Hatch noted that grit is important for another reason.

“Your generation needs to cultivate a second quality of ‘grit:’ to understand how to cope with disappointment and failure,” he said. “The timeless, if uncomfortable, truth is that true strength of character is almost always forged by encountering and overcoming failure.”

In conclusion, Hatch said, “This morning, I extend the heartiest congratulations on this special day. And I commend to you the conjoined virtues of relentless curiosity and sustained focus and hard work.”

The recipients of several Graduate School awards also were recognized during the Commencement ceremony.

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

  • Bernard Sensale Rodríguez, an electrical engineering Ph.D., was the recipient for engineering. His research focus was on ultra-high frequency, or terahertz, electronics and their diverse applications. He will assume a tenure-track position this fall as an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Utah.
  • In the social sciences, Laura K. Taylor, a peace studies and psychology Ph.D., was the recipient. The primary focus of her research was on children’s psychological development in areas of war, and ethnic conflict and violence — specifically in Columbia, Northern Ireland and Croatia. In the fall, she will assume a tenure track position in the Peace and Conflict Studies Program at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro.
  • Major Gooyit, a chemistry Ph.D., was the recipient in the sciences. His research was focused on illuminating the progression mechanisms of a number of major human diseases — notably stroke, traumatic brain injury, brain tumors, and diabetic wounds — and the development of therapeutic strategies. He is currently a postdoctoral researcher at the Scripps Research Institute, a leading biomedical research laboratory.
  • Theresa O’Byrne, a Medieval Studies Ph.D., was the recipient in the humanities. O’Byrne has made original discoveries about late medieval Anglo-Irish literature that have established her as a rising star in the medieval literary field. She will be joining the faculty at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.
  • The Distinguished Alumnus Award was presented to Richard D. Connell. Connell was graduated from Notre Dame in 1989 with a doctorate in organic chemistry. He was honored for his achievements in pharmaceutical research and development as well as his accomplishments as a leader at two of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies: Bayer and Pfizer.
  • Jennifer Tank, The Ludmilla F, Stephen J., and Robert T. Galla Collegiate Chair in Biological Sciences at Notre Dame, was honored as the 2013 recipient of the University’s Rev. James A. Burns. C.S.C., Graduate School Award. The award is given annually to a faculty member for distinction in teaching or other exemplary contributions to graduate education and honors the first Notre Dame president with an advanced degree.