The University of Notre Dame celebrated its 177th Commencement Ceremony on Sunday (May 15) at Notre Dame Stadium. An audience of more than 25,000 family members, friends, faculty and graduates attended.
Salutatorian Morgan La Sala, a mechanical engineering major and member of the Naval ROTC program from Wayne, New Jersey, offered an invocation. On behalf of the graduating class, she asked for God’s guidance in using “the tools that Our Lady’s University gave us for good, and to always keep service and faith, regardless of creed, at the forefront of our decision-making.”
Valedictorian and Olathe, Kansas, native Devin Diggs encouraged the graduates to use the power of their education to stand up for what they believe in, to amplify the voices of those who go unheard and to support one another as they pursue their hearts’ passions — actions, he noted, that do not happen quietly. Referencing the directive given to fans at Notre Dame home football games, he asked his fellow students to continue to “make some noise.”
“It is easy to stay quiet, but I challenge you to bring attention to issues that need addressing,” Diggs said. “Notre Dame has equipped us with the tools to do so — to think critically, to question, to debate, to synthesize our knowledge with creativity and ethics. Draw on these lessons, and speak up for issues that matter.”
Diggs, a neuroscience and behavior major and with a minor in education, schooling and society, invoked the late Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., Notre Dame’s president from 1952 to 1987, as a model to follow.
“Fifty years ago, Father Hesburgh spoke up and led the University to admit women to the undergraduate student body, recognizing education is not complete unless it embraces all perspectives, regardless of race, religion, status and gender,” he said. “What seems commonplace for us today only came about through radical steps against the status quo, the courage to raise one’s voice against an intimidating majority. That is making noise — taking a stand for your beliefs to better the world around us.”
Diggs also spoke of how the class of 2022 embodies the words of the Notre Dame alma mater “strong and true,” and the deep significance of those words for him. He concluded by reflecting on the world the graduates now face.
“We are entering a time filled with war, genocide, inequality and hunger,” he said. “It is not the time to be quiet. It is on us to stand up for our beliefs, to lift others’ voices and to build community. Wear Notre Dame on your sleeves by letting your heart be filled with the passion to use your gifts for others.”
In introducing Commencement speaker Archbishop Borys Gudziak, Father Jenkins said: “His life has been a witness to how freedom and human dignity can arise, by God’s grace, from the ashes of tyranny, oppression and violence. He is a worthy speaker in our fraught times.”
When Archbishop Gudziak received an honorary degree and upon his introduction, the graduates rose and waved Ukrainian flags in a show of solidarity with a nation under siege.
Archbishop Gudziak, the highest-ranking Ukrainian Catholic prelate in the United States and organizer and president of Ukrainian Catholic University, spoke on the complex symbolism of the heart.
“By the grace of God at the center of our being, in what is often called our heart, we have been given the capacity to love, to make ourselves vulnerable to others and to experience the mystery and gift of relationships,” he said.
He added that the graduates’ best moments at the University have been “heart to heart,” saying, “This is the call of Notre Dame. The human vocation and capacity to share in God’s heart by loving, giving and suffering with and for others — this is what Our Lady’s University has offered to you, and now through you is offering to the world.”
Archbishop Gudziak then turned his attention to another location representing Mary — Mariupol, or “the city of Mary.” He noted that many of the residents fighting to protect it are the same age as the graduates he spoke to, with similar hopes and dreams.
He also addressed why the world has been mesmerized by the courage, perseverance and deep love of the Ukrainian people as they are besieged by Russian invaders.
“Why? Because you and I see the heart of a people and a country, the humanity and strength of its leaders who reflect the posture and character of the whole nation,” he said. “A nation of down-to-earth heroes, plucky patriots, hardcore lovers. Those that look into eternity overcoming their fears. Countless Ukrainians demonstrate the greatest love, for ‘no one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’”
Archbishop Gudziak also expressed his gratitude for the expanded partnership between the University of Notre Dame and Ukrainian Catholic University.
“Notre Dame has offered a singular response to the Russian invasion and devastation of Ukraine,” he said. “My presence reflects your heartfelt solidarity. It is a sign of your capacity to love generously, to embrace, serve and save the suffering, to bless the cursed and lift up the downtrodden and trampled.”
Notre Dame presented Archbishop Gudziak with an honorary doctor of laws degree. Two other honorary degrees were also conferred at the ceremony: an honorary doctor of science on Ernest J. Moniz and an honorary doctor of laws on Kathleen McChesney, both of whom were originally to be recognized at the 2020 ceremony.
University of Notre Dame alumnus and longtime Trustee John W. Jordan II became the second recipient of the Hesburgh-Stephan Medal, given to a Trustee for uncommon and exemplary contributions to the governance and mission of Notre Dame during his or her tenure on the Board.
Lavigne, founder and director of Rise St. James, a faith-based nonprofit organization fighting for environmental justice in St. James, Louisiana, said she was “beyond humbled and honored” to receive the award.
Lavigne said faith has always been a large part of her life and that her father, Milton Cayette Sr., taught her early on that “prayer changes things.”
“As an ambassador for change, I feel that I have been called to honor my father and represent our heavenly father in an earthly realm. And that’s what motivated me to found Rise St. James, a faith-based, grassroots, nonprofit organization fighting for clean air and water and stopping the expansion of petrochemical industries in St. James Parish.”
Just as Lavigne felt called to advocate for lower-income communities and communities of color who have been disproportionately impacted by industrial pollution, she challenged the graduates to seek and fulfill their own purposes.
“To you, the students, the next generation, I hope you all never doubt that you are called, too — called to demonstrate His greatness through your lifestyle, to influence the world around you,” she said. “As you celebrate today and move forward on your paths, remember you are called to be a world-class leader within your sphere of influence.”
In a surprise appearance, Hall of Fame football player Jerome Bettis, who returned to complete his degree this year, also spoke to the graduates about their legacy.
“Please understand it will not be how much money you made, but the difference you made in someone’s life,” he said. “Not the political policies that I’m sure you will no doubt change, but the amount of lives that you will somehow change. Not the assets that you will acquire in a lifetime, but your ability to be an asset in someone else’s. And not your ability to raise capital, but your ability to raise your children with humility, empathy and love. This is how your legacy will be written.”
The ceremony concluded with a benediction by Archbishop Gudziak and a charge to the graduating class from Father Jenkins.
“Always be as generous as you can with your time, talent and your treasure,” Father Jenkins said. “In your family life, your professional life and your spiritual life, every day of your life, never forget that your charge as Notre Dame graduates is to be a force for good.”