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Commencement Speech May 2008

On behalf of the entire Duquesne University community, I congratulate today’s graduates. I also offer my thanks to the parents and spouses of our graduates. You gave them the love, discipline, and encouragement that made this day possible. I would ask that all the parents and spouses of our graduates stand now and accept our applause.

This is a time of change in a place of profound transformations. Duquesne University takes in nervous freshmen and new graduate students and creates confident and skilled adults. We take in youthful enthusiasm and create mature commitment. We take in atomic individuals and create responsible citizens. We take in self-absorption and create service to others. We take in peer pressure and create community leaders. We take in formless beliefs and create abiding faith. We take in the casually curious and create critical thinkers. We take in the capacity for hard work and create lasting achievement. We take in raw talent and create accomplished artistry. We take in the desire to help and create caring professionals. Most importantly, we take in vague aspirations and create real opportunities.

All of us at Duquesne have had a hand in bringing about these dramatic transformations. The students themselves are key to this growth–living with and learning from each other. Our Spiritan community plays a major role by the faith they share and the remarkable sense of community they build. Student services personnel are very important, giving their energy and talent to the service of each student. But the group on campus that takes the lead in working this transformation is our outstanding faculty.

Let me read an excerpt from a letter a student’s mother sent to me last week. It is about our faculty in one particular program but what it says is true throughout our faculty. She writes: “The last four years have been exceptional for my son in many ways. The faculty have been many things for him—teachers, role models, advisors, mentors, and friends. “I cannot begin to tell you how much my husband and I appreciate all that you have brought to our son’s college and life experiences. Even after four years, I am still amazed at how much Duquesne takes an active interest in their students’ lives. I sing your praises whenever I have the opportunity. I also tell my son how lucky he is to be part of the Duquesne community. Please keep doing what you do so well.” I ask our remarkable faculty to stand now and accept our gratitude.

For you graduates, your years at Duquesne have been times of change on campus. Just before you arrived we acquired Brottier Hall and Duquesne completed ownership of the entire Bluff. The University then acquired a block on the north side of Forbes, on which we built the new and extraordinary Power Center, connecting it to campus with a dramatic pedestrian bridge. This brought a modern rec center to campus and beautiful new meeting space. These additions expanded our campus by 10% on the ground, with a potential expansion of 25% in square footage. The Brottier Commons was created, adding beauty and green space to the west end of campus. More than $40 million dollars have been invested in renovations and repairs since you arrived, improving virtually every building and mechanical system on campus. Dramatic advances have been made in academic space in the College and in the Schools of Music, Pharmacy, Nursing, Health Sciences, Law, and in the Bayer School. The Palumbo Center has been renovated. We added Starbucks—as well as a new bookstore, restaurant and juice bar. And our men’s basketball team had a winning season this year—their first since you were seven years old. (But not their last.)

Because of efforts by our Admissions Office, your class and the ones behind you are among the biggest in the University’s history. This year we had the largest student body in the University’s history and the most students living on campus ever. Now we have the largest concentration of young people living in downtown Pittsburgh. Moreover you helped us improve in student talent so that our average SAT score has moved up dramatically. We have set new records for student retention. Eleven endowed faculty chairs are in place. More than two dozen new academic programs have begun and we have a system now for periodic evaluation of all existing programs. The University opened a new campus in Rome and many of you spent a life-changing semester there. We have been recognized as a national leader in computer connectedness and now virtually all of campus outdoors is covered by a wireless system. The faculty members are implementing a new mission-driven core curriculum. And we have completed an ambitious 5 year Strategic Plan that has given the University enduring structural improvements.

I like to say that this is a great time in the life of a great university. Sometimes people may think that I am a bit biased on the topic. But this is not just my opinion. In a series of extraordinary coincidences, five groups of independent experts examined the university this last year and drew the same conclusion. The NCAA found our athletic program to be in top shape. Standard & Poor’s as well as Moody’s both gave us A ratings for our financial stability—A- from the first, A2 from the other. The IRS showed up to review our tax exempt status and gave us a clean audit. Finally, our major accreditor for the whole university visited and wrote a report this semester. They confirmed that we passed all their standards and praised our students, faculty, and staff for an extraordinary and pervasive sense of mission.

Our pledge to you as alumni is that we will continue on this path of excellence so that your degree and your continued association with your Alma Mater is a matter of deepening pride for you and your family. You leave us now, but the mission that you gave life to when you arrived goes on. With your help and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Duquesne will continue to do an ever better job in the future of serving God by serving students.

And we have an impressive history to live up to. For 130 years, Duquesne faculty have taught and learned, researched and discovered, created and performed on this Bluff. They and the entire University have served the needs of communities near and far. The Duquesne Family has changed the world from downtown Pittsburgh to West Africa; from the Hill district to Eastern Europe; from Bethel Park to Rome.

Duquesne has done most of these remarkable things through its graduates. Since 1878, more than eighty thousand men and women have earned degrees from Duquesne. They left us—as you graduates do now—with a depth of knowledge and skill in the arts, the sciences, and the professions. The quality of their Duquesne education gave them the capacity to enrich their own lives and their families as they served others and contributed to their communities. And they left—as you graduates do now—shaped by a Spiritan Catholic tradition that gave them a greater love of God and neighbor and a deeper desire to make this world a better place.

As you graduate, Duquesne University lives in a time of special grace. Our Spiritan community is deeply dedicated to our students and remarkably diverse. Our faculty is exceptional and gaining a deserved national and international reputation for the quality of their research and teaching—and you know better than anyone our faculty’s great care for students. Our student body in growing and improving in its academic profile. Our staff has attained a unique combination of professionalism, effectiveness, accessibility, and friendliness. A genuine spirit of mission, mutual respect, and service to the common good prevails across campus.

We have profound links to our neighbors through the exceptional amount and kinds of voluntary service work of our students, faculty and staff. Our alumni are connected to their Alma Mater in increasingly important ways, not the least of which is the generous support they provide to current and future students. Our campus has expanded and has been beautified not only on our Bluff but also along Forbes Ave. And we face the future with confidence because our mission relies as it has since 1878 on the providence of the Holy Spirit.

I ask you graduates to take your place in our unbroken line of loyal, engaged, accomplished alumni. You can help insure success for future generations on our Bluff by remembering your Alma Mater in your prayers. Ours is fundamentally a spiritual enterprise—your diplomas read “Duquesne University of the Holy Spirit.” As such, we believe that prayer makes a difference and we ask for yours.

You can also help us by helping Duquesne students who will follow you, and whose skills and aspirations will be shaped here like yours have been. You can help another generation of Duquesne students find internships and jobs where you work. You can help us to keep Duquesne affordable through scholarships assistance and general support of the University and its programs. Duquesne generations of the past did this for you; now it is your turn to do it for Duquesne generations of the future.

But the way you can help your Alma Mater the most is to live your lives in accord with our University’s values. Take the education you have gained and apply it in the service of others. We say our mission here is to serve God by serving students. But that in only half the picture. You complete that mission as alums by using our service to you on behalf of others.

Congratulations on all you have accomplished. You are now a graduate of an outstanding University that has a hundred and thirty year history of successfully transforming students. Now go and transform our world. Make it a better place because you are a graduate of Duquesne University.