Graduation is always an exciting time at St. Thomas, and this weekend’s festivities were extra special with 61 graduates from St. Thomas’ first Dougherty Family College (DFC) class receiving Associate of Arts degrees.

On Sunday morning, graduates were cheered on by family, friends, faculty and staff at James B. Woulfe Alumni Hall in Anderson Student Center.

In her remarks, President Julie 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.”

Mike Dougherty speaks to graduates at the Dougherty Family College commencement.

Mike Dougherty speaks to graduates at the Dougherty Family College commencement.

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.”

He later added, “Know that life is not always fair and so you will fail often. But if you take some risks, step up when times are toughest, face down bullies, lift up the down trodden and never ever, ever, ever give up – if you do these things, then the next generation and the generations that follow will live in a world that is far better than the one we live in today!”

Dougherty Family College students walk through the Anderson Student Center into commencement.

Dougherty Family College students walk through the Anderson Student Center into commencement.

Many students, faculty and family commented on what the day meant to them, their college experience and what the future holds.

“I’m feeling amazing. It’s a beautiful day and I’m super excited for our graduates. It’s bittersweet because I remember when we started. It’s going to be an emotional day watching them move forward, but I know whether they’re here at St. Thomas or another institution, they’re going to be successful. I’m happy I had a small part to do with that.” – Doug Thompson, DFC Associate Dean of Students

“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 super excited to celebrate this milestone in our students’ journey. I’m really excited about their next steps in their plans and them transitioning to four-year programs and continuing on their journey to graduation with their bachelor’s degrees. This group of students took a chance on us – we were something new and different in the community. They didn’t have to and they stuck with us through the ups and downs, the good and the bad, and they’re here today. They helped pave the way for the program and future classes of students as well.” – Alvin Abraham, DFC Dean

“I’m excited and a little bit nervous. It feels so unreal. I didn’t think I’d be going to college, especially at St. Thomas.” – Andrea Mena Rodriguez, who will be pursuing a bachelor’s degree at St. Thomas studying public health

“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 awful. Just kidding. I’m feeling pretty good. I was nervous, but it was exciting. I thought I was going to trip the whole time, but I didn’t.” – Michael Rimnac, who will be studying psychology in the future

“It’s a wonderful feeling. My son had a lot of options in life, but DFC was a great fit. He pushed hard and had a wonderfully supportive environment with his teachers and faculty. Now he’s off on a new trajectory. I almost cried, but I was super happy.” – Antonio Oftelie, father of DFC graduate Michael Rimnac

“I’m feeling amazing right now. At first I didn’t think I could do it, but I’m here. You should’ve seen the doubt when I first started, but now I’m more confident and I’m ready to continue my life.” – Conisha Armstrong, who will be pursuing a bachelor’s degree at St. Thomas

“I’m really excited, but it feels like time flew over the past couple of years. I feel overwhelmed to be graduating today.” – Kevin Aguilar-Casales, who will be pursuing a bachelor’s degree at St. Thomas studying international business

“I’m so proud and so, so happy for him.” – Delia Casales, mother of DFC graduate Kevin Aguilar-Casales

“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

“I never imagined two years ago I’d be graduating with an associate degree. It was a dream and today it became reality. I’m very happy. It’s not the end, I’m continuing in the future with my education.” – Sahra Mohamud, who will be pursuing a bachelor’s degree at St. Thomas studying public health and political science

“Anxious, excited, really pumped. Feeling grateful and blessed. We’ve come a long way for this moment. Now that we’re here it feels so surreal.” – Mesum Haider, DFC student body president, who will be pursuing a bachelor’s degree at St. Thomas

“I’m nervous, but happy. The two years went so fast. I felt like there were going to be obstacles that stopped me along the way, but I got through it.” – Carina Castellon, who will be pursuing a bachelor’s degree at St. Thomas studying psychology

“I’m feeling really good. It’s sad though, bittersweet. I’m happy I’m graduating, but sad because I’m leaving a family. Everybody here is amazing.” – Elisha Maxfield, who plans on studying psychology in the future

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