The St. Thomas community celebrated three commencement ceremonies May 25 and 26, with 1,400 undergraduate students, more than 1,200 graduate students and 61 Dougherty Family College students becoming alumni.

“This is the day that the Lord has made,” President Julie Sullivan said during the graduate ceremony. “It is the day we celebrate all you have accomplished and all you have become, as well as look forward with great excitement and anticipation to the next leg of your journeys.”

Graduating students reflected on their time at St. Thomas and looked ahead to what awaits them as they join nearly 110,000 fellow Tommies in the alumni network.

Confetti flies over the heads of students during the undergraduate ceremony on May 25.

Confetti flies over the heads of students during the undergraduate ceremony on May 25.

Undergraduate commencement

Student speaker Abby Heller spoke to classmates about power and change.

“We need to start by acknowledging our power and privilege. Fewer than 8 percent of the world has access to a bachelor’s degree. … How will we use this power, and how will we use this privilege?” Heller asked classmates, going on to quote St. Catherine of Sienna. “‘Be who God has meant you to be and set the world on fire.’ I love this quote. Each of us is unique, and powerful and amazing. But also dangerous. Fire’s dangerous. … With fire we can burn the wrong thing, and that’s when people get hurt. … When we set the world on fire, we have to be smart about it.”

“I’ve really loved my time here at St. Thomas. I’ve grown like never before and it has prepared me well for the next chapter of my life.” – Henry Koler, who will be attending Stanford Law School in the fall.

“We made it! It’s still a little surreal. I’m from out of state [in Illinois], so it’s been really nice to build a family and a home away from home here in the physics department.” – Michael Peters, who will be attending graduate school for physics and plans to be a high school teacher

“It’s amazing. All the late nights and homework paid off. … It’s joy, definitely joy I’m feeling today. It’s really a dedication to my parents. They’ve always supported me and this is like a thank you to them. … I’m only here today because of you.” – Taro Vue, who will continue working at his current job at Delcorp after graduating

“I’m just excited today. I can’t believe how fast four years go by. Today is a lot of hard working paying off.” – Brianna Byrnes, who will soon begin work at U.S. Bancorp

A student raises her arms in celebration as she walks across stage during the 2019 Graduate Commencement Ceremony in O’Shaughnessy Stadium on May 25, 2019 in St. Paul.

A student raises her arms in celebration as she walks across stage during the 2019 Graduate Commencement Ceremony in O’Shaughnessy Stadium on May 25, 2019 in St. Paul.

Graduate commencement

“[This degree] will help me further my own goals. In the future, I possibly want to teach software engineering or computer science at a college. … I want to thank the University of St. Thomas for giving me the opportunity to be able to achieve something that I’ve been looking forward to for a long time.” – Isaiah Soung ’19 MS in software engineering

“My degree will help me better differentiate for my students in my classroom as an elementary teacher.” – Leah Junker ’19 MA in special education

“It’s kind of bittersweet. You know it’s the end of another era. The high school was one, the undergrad was one … You finally as a parent go ‘completely adult now’ … I take great pride in knowing that she has been completely successful in her education and her drive to continue her education is very rewarding as a parent.” – Melissa Hubin, Jordyn’s mother

“I had a really good study abroad program. I went to Copenhagen, Sweden and Norway. … The MBA will help me progress further along in my career in management roles and potentially lead engineers to create great innovative products.” – Sean Ali ’19 MBA

“I had to balance work and my degree, so I did the weekend cohort, which was a huge help and that’s why I was able to do this. I also have three daughters that are all one year apart, so I balanced it with that as well.” – Brooke Monson-DeBoer ’19 MSW

Dougherty Family College commencement

DFC celebrated its first graduating class on May 26.

In her remarks, Sullivan reminisced about the first time she met the inaugural DFC class. She expressed her gratitude to the graduates for believing in the DFC and taking this journey with them.

“You took a chance in joining a program with no history and you made history,” Sullivan said.

Student commencement speaker Kelly Ordonez-Saybe speaks to her classmates during commencement.

Student commencement speaker Kelly Ordonez-Saybe speaks to her classmates during commencement.

Student commencement speaker Kelly Ordonez-Saybe spoke to her classmates about their experience as part of the inaugural DFC class, what brought them all together and the experiences they’ve shared.

“We are in the making of this college, and today we step forward, passport in hand to our new destinations,” Ordonez-Saybe said. “When the pilot over the intercom says, ‘You have arrived at your destination,’ we can unpack our tools to create our dreams.”

Ordonez-Saybe urged her fellow DFC graduates to take what they’ve shared at DFC wherever they go in life, and to use their voices to speak their truth and foster change. She emphasized the beauty of their dreams and ever-growing strength.

“Eleanor Roosevelt boldly stated, ‘The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams,’” Ordonez-Saybe said. “Together we have believed in one another, sought possibility in each of our peers, and now we thank our mentors, our friends, our families and our professors for allowing us to see the beauty of our dreams. And now we are here, journeying on. Another year taking one day at a time, through the wild of our doubts and fears, stepping forward with grace and truth. Knowing all of this is shaping us, season after season, we are only growing in strength.”

St. Thomas trustee Michael Dougherty, the Twin Cities businessman for whose family the college was named, delivered the DFC commencement speech.

Dougherty told the inspiring story of Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon even though she was told she couldn’t because of her gender. He encouraged the students to run – run for office, run a nonprofit, run a company, run with your ideas, run a classroom, but especially run for justice.

“The fight for justice is not a sprint or a marathon, but a relay race, and your generation now has the baton,” he said. “It is up to you to protect the progress we’ve made. It’s up to you to run.”

“This is a remarkable milestone for our scholars. This is evidence that when we come together as a university we can accomplish anything.” – Buffy Smith, DFC Associate Dean of Academics

“I’m very excited to be here and feel very blessed. It feels so good to be done with all my classes for my associate degree.” – Jennifer Nunez Paz, who will be pursuing a bachelor’s degree at St. Thomas studying civil engineering

“I’m feeling super excited. I can’t believe two years have gone so fast. It’s a great feeling of happiness.” – Esteban Farfan Moscoso, who will be pursuing a bachelor’s degree at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls studying education

“It’s exciting. I’m ready to see my family in the audience. It’s been fast; I feel very blessed. There have been a lot of experiences, so I’m feeling overwhelmed at the same time. Now I’m ready to move onto whatever else I have to do.” – Xavier Abdullahi, who will be pursuing a bachelor’s degree at St. Thomas studying environmental science

“I’m feeling excited and nervous at the same time. It’s a big jump from a high school graduation. A lot of time and effort went into this – it’s a big deal.” – Kyle Mikesell, who plans on studying philosophy in the future

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