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McNichols Campus Commencement Speech

University of Detroit Mercy
McNichols Campus Commencement Speech
May 9, 2015
Antoine M. Garibaldi, Ph.D.

Thank you, Dean Auer. University of Detroit Mercy Board of Trustees Chair Mr. John Lewis; Vice Chair Sr. Rosita Schiller; Trustees Judge Denise Langford Morris, Mr. Brian Cloyd, Mr. Terry Page and Mr. Bill Young; today’s honoree and speaker, Judge Damon Keith; Faculty, Staff, and Students of the University; Parents, Spouses, Relatives and Friends of the 2015 Graduating Class; and, most especially, the 2015 Graduating Class of University of Detroit Mercy. Welcome to our 2015 Commencement ceremony!

This afternoon we formally recognize 1,248 candidates for graduate and undergraduate degrees. And it is for that primary reason that Calihan Hall is filled with joyful parents, sisters and brothers, spouses, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and many other relatives and friends.  Graduates, you know that without the personal support and reinforcement of your family you might not have been able to complete your studies. So please express your thanks and appreciation to them for making your dream come true.  And while we are giving thanks, let’s take a moment to wish all of the mothers in the audience an early Happy Mother’s Day.

Our 1,248 undergraduate and graduate degree candidates have a few similarities and also some differences.  For example, of the seven hundred and ninety-five (795) baccalaureate degree candidates, almost seventy percent (70%) are 25 years old or younger; sixty-one percent (61%) of the 439 master’s and specialist graduates are under 30 years old; and the ages of our 14 doctoral candidates are between 28 years old and the mid 60’s.  Eighty-seven percent (1,092) of our graduates are from Michigan; four percent (49) come from 20 other states across the United States; and almost nine percent (9%) come from 17 countries, from as close as Canada to as far away as Vietnam.  I hope this blending of ages, diverse regional backgrounds and varied cultures hopefully stimulated discussions and learning experiences that they will remember forever.

Today’s Commencement also marks a University milestone because this year we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the consolidation of University of Detroit and Mercy College of Detroit. As some of you in the audience know, University of Detroit, founded in 1877, and Mercy College of Detroit, founded in 1941, consolidated in 1990 to become University of Detroit Mercy. Our two Detroit-based higher learning institutions begun by the Society of Jesus and the Religious Sisters of Mercy were committed to this 314 year old city of Detroit and focused their respective missions on providing an excellent student-centered education and developing women and men for service. Since the formation of UDM in December 1990, the University’s mission has been strengthened and the founding principles of the Jesuits and Sisters of Mercy have been maintained.  Twenty-five years later, we are stronger as one University and more than 28,000 students have graduated during that time.  Graduates, you will join those 28,000 UDM alumni plus another 60,000 University of Detroit and Mercy College of Detroit alumni who are distinguished leaders in their professions and in their communities. 

This ceremony is also kind of a graduation for me because I began at UDM with this year’s bachelor’s degree graduates.  We were all freshmen in the summer of 2011 and you probably remember me saying that four years would go by very fast.  Well, I can truly say that it has gone by quickly.  I have watched many of you develop and mature into scholars and campus leaders over the last four years.  You have impressed the faculty and staff, and I have enjoyed getting to know you in our weekly Student Hour meetings; at your work-study sites; through your involvement in student clubs and organizations; and your service and other activities on campus.  Seeing your names on the graduating list brought back memories of the last four years Vito, Faith, Vito, Ayah, Chase, Mary, Sean, Rita, Emily, Matt, Maiya, Ronni, Natalie, Caleb, Miranda, Morgan and many more of you whom time does not permit me to mention.  But you know who you are and the impact you have made on this McNichols Campus and in the city of Detroit.  Continue to lead and be ready to serve!

Continuing your commitment to serve others will hopefully be as important to you as succeeding in your profession.  Our faculty in the five schools and colleges have prepared you well for your numerous fields of study; and beyond the classroom, most of you have distinguished yourselves through local and national service activities, such as preparing and delivering meals to senior citizens on the weekend with Campus Kitchen; tutoring students after school at Gesu Elementary School; teaching children about proper nutrition at their elementary schools; providing health screenings for veterans; assisting Detroit residents with their income tax preparation; redesigning and transforming Lollo Park in the Fitzgerald neighborhood near the campus with new gardens and additional seating; mentoring young students in sports activities; participating in Alternative Break Trips here and across the country; or even Caitlyn and Marcus’s community nursing project on Michigan's infant mortality rate that was featured on local TV two Sundays ago and is now on the UDM website.  You have served in many more ways, and I encourage you to continue serving selflessly as our Jesuit and Mercy sponsors expect of all of us. 

A favorite quotation of mine that describes the meaning of service is captured in the following statement:

“Service is the rent we pay for the privilege of living on this earth.”

That quote is attributed to the late Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm and has been one of my favorites since I was in my mid 20’s, and around the time that I had the honor of introducing her as a keynote speaker at a conference in 1978.  Her description of “service” as “the rent we pay for … living” is so appropriate because even though she was the first black woman to be elected to Congress in 1968 and the second woman to run for president in 1972, her extraordinary and passionate commitment to education and service is what I remember most about her.  So as you help others, keep in mind her memorable exhortation:

“Service is the rent we pay for the privilege of living on this earth.”

Another one of our soon-to-be graduates, the Honorable Judge Damon J. Keith, today’s commencement speaker and honorary degree recipient, has excelled in service during his remarkable career over the last 75 years.  While some who are as young as he might say “I have done enough,” he continues to inspire me and so many others with his boundless energy and commitment to those whose voices are rarely heard and whose needs are not being met.  Our School of Law recognized Judge Keith in 1976, and he has done so much more for our city and nation since that time 39 years ago.  He exemplifies UDM’s core values of leadership, ethics and commitment to service; and we can all learn from his humble professional, civic and personal examples as he has been a staunch advocate for equality and the civil rights of all people.

Graduates, now that you have obtained an excellent academic and spiritual foundation here at University of Detroit Mercy, apply the values and skills that you have learned and the personal attributes that you have developed as you join our more than 87,000 alumni who are making a difference in this nation and across the world.

Congratulations and much success, Graduates, and may God’s blessings be with you and your families always.