It’s a walk they’ve been looking forward to for months, years even.
More than 1,100 St. Thomas graduate students were awarded their degrees today, May 22, with 700 of them participating at a duo of outdoor commencement ceremonies.
"You have been through a great deal, and yet here you are completing these degrees and celebrating with those who have supported you," President Julie Sullivan said. "You have held fast to your hope for better days."
Addressing her final class of graduates before she heads to Santa Clara University, Sullivan commended the Class of 2022 for their unwavering work through unprecedented times.
“With resilience, adaptability and, maybe most importantly, kindness and grace. You have inspired me and you have inspired all of us," Sullivan said. "You embody in every sense of the word the true Tommie spirit."
Student speaker Rebecca Trudeau reflected on an enriching journey at St. Thomas.
“I, like many other students, entered into graduate school with a transactional mindset, juggling multiple priorities and admittedly school couldn't always come first," Trudeau said. "I wasn't expecting to make friends or find community in a part- time program, but that is exactly what happened.”
Trudeau is graduating with her Master of Business Administration, as well as a graduate certificate in transformational change and organization development. She was recently promoted into a new position as Culture and Change Manager at Land O’Lakes.
“Higher education is a privilege and it is an opportunity not all are afforded," Trudeau said. "We came here to expand our minds, advance our careers. We did this for ourselves and what a wonderful gift that was to give ourselves. As we leave here today we must turn that focus outward and ask ourselves how can we use these gifts to better the lives of those in our chosen families and communities."
Fellow student speaker Kasim Abdur Razzaq is now a three-time Tommie. He's adding a doctoral degree in clinical psychology to master's degrees in social work and education. Abdur Razzaq plans to re-open his community health clinic, and encouraged his fellow graduates to fight injustice in their communities.
"In order for morally responsible leaders to change the condition of our society we must first change what is in our hearts," Abdur Razzaq said. "And by that, I mean we must train our heart to hate injustice."
For many students, today’s ceremony was the realization of a lifelong dream and a continued commitment to fighting for change. Penelope Dupris earned a doctorate in educational leadership. A Native American and advocate for the welfare of Native American children, Dupris received a dissertation with honors.
“My doctoral degree… has helped me understand racial inequality and systemic issues our students of color face within education,” Dupris said. “As an assistant principal, I now have the capacity to disrupt barriers for our students of color.”
Dupris had a strong message for students of all ages.
“Never give up. Surround yourself with people that believe in you and your goals. Don't be afraid to ask for their support or encouragement,” Dupris said. “Always remember that ‘You are worth every prayer whispered by your ancestors.’”
Many graduate students are already seeing their new degrees pay off in big ways. Data scientist Pavan Kumar Ganta earned a masters in business analytics.
“Opus has given me everything. Despite a couple of hiccups in parts of my career, Opus considered my application and veered towards my castles in the air,” Kuma Ganta said. “Opus has played a pivotal role in helping me land a full-time position.”
For mechanical engineer grad Logan Scholla, he’s already seeing immediate benefits at his job as well.
“I can utilize the skills and thought processes from the courses I took and apply that "frame of reference" essentially to the problem I am facing,” Scholla said. “That is why graduate studies and experience in general are so valuable; those experiences shape your thought processes and how you seek to apply them.”
Scholla encourages future students to be strategic about their higher education choices, so that their investment can lead to a significant impact.
“Strategically choose classes to enhance your weakness and make you stand out,” Scholla said. “The offerings at St Thomas allow for another perspective, which you can bring and benefit from in your workplace.”
Entering a new chapter in their lives, many graduates reflected on the home they’ve made at St. Thomas. Scott Helstad, a graduate in the Catholic Studies program, believes he’s formed lasting relationships that will propel him through new challenges.
“There are fewer scarier things than leaving home and your community, but this is the adventure that awaits me,” Helstad said. “I can confidently say that Catholic Studies has made me a better man and future employee.”
Photo Gallery by Mark Brown/University of St. Thomas