The Commencement of the class of 2023

Author: Tracy DeStazio

Commencement 2023 Group Photo 1200

The University of Notre Dame celebrated its 178th University Commencement Ceremony on Sunday (May 21) at Notre Dame Stadium. An audience of 24,800 graduates, family members, friends and faculty attended and 2,141 degrees were conferred on undergraduate students, with a total of 3,200 degrees being conferred over the course of Commencement Weekend activities.

President Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., and John McGreevy, the Charles and Jill Fischer Provost, welcomed the guests and introduced the speakers.

Salutatorian Miguel Coste, a neuroscience and behavior major in the College of Arts and Letters and Tampa native, offered an invocation. On behalf of the graduating class, he asked for God’s direction that “we may be attentive to all who need a helping hand and give of ourselves, united in Notre Dame, our Mother.” 

He also asked for God’s mercy so that “we may always do what is just, bring joy and light to the world, and hope in the Cross.”

Valedictorian Kristen Friday of Pittsburgh, a computer science and engineering major with a minor in engineering corporate practice in the College of Engineering, delivered the valedictory address. She reminded the graduates that they have all been called to stand for the dedication, passion and truth behind the Notre Dame mission, which aims “to create a sense of human solidarity and concern for the common good that will bear fruit as learning becomes service to justice.”

Reflecting on a speech impediment that followed her through much of her early school days, Friday offered the encouragement that setbacks don’t have to define you, that others don’t get to decide your worth. 

“Our education posed the opportunity for us to decide how we would look to define ourselves and how to present our skills to the world,” Friday said. “And we did not take it for granted.” 

Friday left the graduates with one last challenge: “As we learn to risk showcasing our authentic personality, weaknesses and all, we become a powerful force for good in society. The world will be a better place with our whole selves in it.”  

In introducing Commencement speaker Juan Manuel Santos, Nobel Peace Prize recipient and president of Colombia from 2010 to 2018, Father Jenkins called him a “courageous and visionary statesman [who] led his country through an arduous peace process,” one that “stands as a beacon of hope to a world engulfed in deadly conflicts.”

“Notre Dame is proud to welcome you as our Commencement speaker,” he said.

Santos, who received the peace prize for his crucial role in ending Colombia’s 52-year civil war, subsequently turned to Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies for insight and assistance in exploring ways to administer and maintain peace in his country. He spoke about the importance of peace and thanked the University for its contribution in helping to monitor the peace agreement’s effects and implementation in Colombia, calling it the “most ambitious and comprehensive peace agreement ever signed.”

He urged the graduates to be peacemakers — regardless of where they are, what they are doing or what it might take — for the sake of this world.

“To become a true peacemaker, first you must be at peace with yourself, at peace with your own conscience,” Santos said.

And when choosing between being at peace or proving yourself right to anyone else, Santos said to choose the way of peace. “Work with peace in your heart, find peace in your soul and everything else will follow.”

Santos then turned his attention to the existential threats in today’s world that challenge such peace. He spoke of the Doomsday Clock in Washington, D.C., set up in 1947 after the development of the first atomic weapon, which symbolizes the urgency of acting to avoid humanity’s extinction. The clock, Santos explained, “points out how close we are to midnight in the history of the world, meaning how close we are to bringing about our own apocalypse.” Originally, the clock had been set at seven minutes before midnight.   

Santos recounted several events of this past year that have moved the clock more than in previous years: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the increase in nuclear arsenals around the world, our global climate crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, and biosecurity and disruptive technology threats. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, who monitor these formidable and horrific developments, reset the clock hands this year from 100 to 90 seconds before midnight — the closest the clock has ever been to reaching midnight.

“We must, therefore, realize that we are living at a decisive time in which we must all act swiftly and responsibly,” Santos said. “We face immense challenges ahead, as humanity always has.” 

These scary scenarios are not cause for losing hope or embracing despair, Santos cautioned. “Humanity has overcome existential crises in its hundreds of thousands of years on Earth, and I am certain that we will be able to overcome the current ones.” 

Santos told the graduating class that this hope is possible because “you are a generation of young people who have prepared yourselves to serve not only your country, but the planet; not only your people, but all people.”

He went on to say that when progress is based on exclusion, it is fragile and fleeting. But when it is based on inclusion, where everyone’s life is as valuable as the next, then that progress is real and eternal.

“If we understand this, if we work together and are convinced that what happens to one happens to all the rest, then we will one day see the hands of the Doomsday Clock move backward,” Santos concluded. “Because the present, not just the future, belongs to you.” 

Notre Dame presented Santos with an honorary doctor of laws degree. Five other honorary degrees were also conferred at the ceremony: two honorary doctors of science on Howard G. Adams and Dr. James O’Connell; an honorary doctor of fine arts on Amy Grant; and two honorary doctors of laws on James E. Rohr and Marguerite Taylor. 

The University also presented the 2023 Laetare Award — the most prestigious award given to American Catholics and Notre Dame’s highest honor — to Sister Rosemary Connelly, R.S.M., former executive director of Misericordia and lifelong advocate for individuals with developmental disabilities. John J. Brennan, chairman of the Notre Dame Board of Trustees, read the citation for the 2023 Laetare medal.

Sister Connelly started at Misericordia as executive director in 1969 and over the years helped expand the organization, which today serves more than 600 children and adult residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities by providing them with a home and custodial care.

Upon accepting the award, Sister Connelly said, “I’m truly honored to have been invited to join you and to accept this prestigious award. Receiving the Laetare Medal — and becoming a part of its history — is not something I could ever imagine. When I look at the list of previous recipients, I’m very humbled to be included in such an outstanding group.”

Sister Connelly described her upbringing on the west side of Chicago to Irish immigrants who prayed and dreamed of a better life for themselves and their children. “We were raised to work and study hard, to love and honor God our Father in every aspect of our lives,” she said, “and to always be grateful for God’s many gifts.” 

Her parents never let her forget nor take for granted the wonders of being born in America. “If they were still with us today, being honored by the University of Notre Dame would bring them such joy as Notre Dame means so much to our Irish community.”

Sister Connelly said she humbly accepted the medal on behalf of all of those who brought her to this moment with their unconditional love and gift of faith. She thanked the Sisters of Mercy for giving her “the gift of Misericordia,” as well as the Notre Dame students and community members who have fundraised and volunteered for the organization over the years. 

“You are exceptional young adults who give of yourselves with the utmost respect for the dignity of those in our care,” she said. “It is such a delight to have Notre Dame students working with our residents.” 

Thanking Father Jenkins and the Laetare Medal selection committee for recognizing the importance of the work Misericordia does for those who are vulnerable, Sister Connelly said: “You honor our community of children and adults with developmental disabilities and their families who deserve no less than the best care possible. You help fulfill their prayer and dream of a beautiful life and a bright future worth living.”

Sister Connelly has received nine honorary degrees — including one from Notre Dame in 1997 — and numerous awards and honors.

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Amy Grant

In a surprise musical appearance, Amy Grant, an adult contemporary and contemporary Christian singer-songwriter, performed at the conclusion of the ceremony by singing “Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song),” which hit the music charts in 1992. Father Jenkins said the song is “a prayerful meditation about Mary, Our Lady, and Mary’s response to God’s call in her life. It is appropriate as you graduates begin your journeys after graduation.”

The ceremony concluded with a benediction by Father Jenkins and a charge to the graduating class

“Take what you have learned here at the University of Notre Dame and let it enable you to go forth and do good,” Father Jenkins said. “Always be as generous as you can with your time, talent and all you have. In your family life, your professional life and your spiritual life, every day of your life, never forget that the charge for you as Notre Dame graduates is to be a force for good in this world. As President Santos said, find peace in yourselves that you can be peacemakers in this world.”

For a list of all Commencement 2023 transcripts and videos.