St. John’s University’s class of 2007, along with family and friends, celebrated Commencement on May 13. The graduating class included 2,577 students graduating with either undergraduate or graduate degrees.
The event began at 1:30 p.m. with the procession of graduates. “Our graduates have worked hard and today that hard work bears wonderful fruit,” said Rev. Donald Harrington, president of St. John’s University.
During the ceremony, many individuals were awarded for their outstanding work, including Patricia Shea, who earned the President’s Medal for her efforts in founding MOMMAS House. According to Provost Dr. Julia Upton, the work Shea put in to founding MOMMAS House showcases her “compassionate concern for young women with nowhere else to turn.” Reverend Robert Stephanopoulos, professor of theology at St. John’s for 20 years, as well as a Greek Orthodox priest, was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Sacred Theology degree, while Dr. Normand Francis, president of Xavier University, received an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree. George Stephanopoulos, the keynote speaker at the ceremony, also received an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree. “About 25 years ago I promised my parents that I would go to Law School and I never made it – but today I finally got the degree from St. John’s,” he said.
Stephanopoulos applauded students who had to overcome many hardships on their way to graduation. “It’s humbling for me to stand before a class filled with so many people who have struggled against the odds; without the resources that so many others take for granted, to be here today,” he said.
Stephanopoulos spoke about the influence that his father had on him. “He’s kind, but tough in the best possible way,” he noted. “He taught me the importance of faith and family and community, inspired me to serve, insisted on excellence.”
It was his parents, in fact, who first sparked his interest in politics. “One gift I received from both of my parents is the love of politics,” said Stephanopoulos. “I know that does seem like a big leap from the priesthood; as Father Harrington said I didn’t follow in my father’s footsteps. But we are Greek, and we Greeks like to think we invented politics.”
He then shared his favorite definition of the word “politics,” as given by Czech president Vaclav Havel in his inaugural address in 1989 after the fall of the Berlin Wall. He said, “Politics can’t just be the art of the possible, it must also be the art of the impossible.’ Try to change people’s lives for the better.”
He added that although most of the graduates would not enter into the field of politics, “St. John’s has prepared you to dedicate at least part of your life to practicing that art of the impossible.” He continued, “You’ve been taught that service – trying to change people’s lives for the better; it’s what we’re called to do.”
Stephanopoulos reminded students, “One of your duties is to make sense of these confusing times. To make your world better as you make your way in it; to practice the human art of the impossible.”
He also shared three important reminders he has received over the years. “The first was from my dad on the day President Clinton won back in 1992,” he explained. “My dad called me down in Little Rock with congratulations and words to remember amidst the thrill of success. All he said was ‘keep your balance.’ Enjoy your success, learn from your mistakes. If you keep your balance, you’ll be able to do both.”
Secondly, “On the day I was married and began a family of my own, my Godfather reminded my wife and I to always forgive the people we love,” he said. “Especially when we’re sure they don’t deserve it. That forgiveness is the heart of love and the beginning of happiness.”
Finally, “I’ll never forget the first time I read the words Robert Kennedy spoke more than 40 years ago,” he said. “In Capetown, South Africa, he said that ‘each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve others or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, that crossing each other from a million different sectors of energy.” He added, “Those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
After Stephanopoulos concluded his speech, David Hadizadeh, a graduate from St. John’s College, gave the student address. He encouraged the graduates to, “have faith in your work, in your religion, in yourself.”