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Leonard Leo Delivers Keynote Address
A record 424 seniors walked across the stage on Saturday, May 13, during the annual Commencement ceremony at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. Those at the undergraduate ceremony heard an inspiring speech from Leonard Leo, Chairman of CRC Advisors and Co-Chairman of the Federalist Society, who was the event’s keynote speaker.
“You received a wonderful education here,” he told the graduates. “You had numerous opportunities to grow in your faith. You brightened each other’s lives and those around you in countless little ways, and sometimes in very big ways. These are beautiful and tremendously important blessings for which you should be grateful. I am just as sure that your family and friends who are here today, along with the administration and faculty of Benedictine, are grateful.
“Knowing that you have been well-prepared to lead holy and impactful lives,” he continued. “You know, of course, that with these diplomas in hand, the work has only begun.”
He talked about the life of St. Benedict, one of the patron saints of Benedictine College, the fall of the Roman Empire, and how monasteries rose up to help the people in the surrounding areas, often following St. Benedict’s famous Rule for monastic life.
“St. Benedict truly changed the world,” Leo said. “I would go so far as to say that as a result of his rule and how it shaped the Church’s influence in the world, he is among the most consequential forces in shaping Western cultural traditions and driving progress in the areas of science, art, agriculture, medicine, literature and education.”
He told the graduates to focus on the larger picture of St. Benedict’s story, and not dwell on only certain parts. He said the bottom line was that St. Benedict sought to do God’s will and evangelize.
“Your time here, like Benedict’s time of isolation, has really prepared you well to meet our culture’s challenges and to embrace the new evangelization freely with zeal and with joy,” he said.
Leo received an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Benedictine. Fred M. Ross, Jr., CEO of Custom Truck One Source, also received an honorary degree during the ceremony.
Dr. Kimberly Shankman, Dean of the College, directed the annual exercise, which began with a prayer from Sister Esther Fangman OSB, Prioress at Mount St. Scholastica Monastery, one of the founding institutions of Benedictine College.
This year’s Valedictorian was Allison Engelbert, an Elementary Education major from Norton, Kansas. She used her student teaching position with second graders to relate some sage advice from 8-year-olds.
“As an elementary education major, I have spent my last semester of college student teaching in a second-grade classroom,” Engelbert said. “Therefore, I decided to ask my students to give me their best advice for college graduates going into the real world.”
She said in their eyes, it came down to five simple things:
“When things in our life start to become complicated, like making big life decisions, we often assume these problems should be solved with complicated solutions,” Engelbert said. “But to echo the advice of my second graders, it is often the simple solutions in life that produce the best results.”
President of Benedictine College Stephen D. Minnis announced the annual Fran Jabara Leadership Award winners. Each year, the award is given to select graduating seniors at each private, four-year college in Kansas. The award indicates the high level of ability the recipients have displayed as well as the respect with which their peers and teachers view them. This year, the Jabara Leadership Awards went to Madeline Joerger, a Theology major from Overland Park, Kansas, and Patrick Fayad, a Theology and Psychology major from Omaha, Nebraska.
Soloman Wallace, a Business Management major from St. Louis, Missouri, received the Transforming Culture in America Award for his work with middle-school students in Boston through the King Summer Scholars Program, along with other activities aligned with the College’s vision to transform culture in America. Those graduates who are discerning religious vocations were also recognized. President Minnis called Dylan Caviness, Joseph Machado, Jack Pitre and Burk Schreiner the “next leaders of the Catholic Church.”
President Minnis also recognized those in the audience who were veterans or currently serving in the military. He announced four graduates, Ryan Cox, Alex Hipp, Rita Hipp and Dominic Engbarth, who would soon be commissioned as officers in the United States Marine Corps.
During Commencement, Benedictine College was honored to host the commissioning ceremony of U.S. Army Cadet Maria Reudiselli. Benedictine graduate 2nd Lt. Reese Holder ’22, Brigade Strength Manager for the 635th Regional Support Group, handled the official commissioning as Reudiselli was sworn in as a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army. She will attend Basic Officer Leadership Course in Fort Gordon, Georgia, and will join the Active Duty Army as part of the Signal Corps.
The ceremony concluded with one of the graduates, Celeste Lirette, a Vocal Music major, singing the Benedictine College Alma Mater, O Lord of Ev’ry Blessing, followed by the closing prayer from Fr. Jay Kythe, OSB, subprior of St. Benedict’s Abbey.
The day before Commencement featured the traditional photo of graduates around the Benedictine “B” in front of the Haverty Center. That was followed by the March of Light, a procession up the Raven Walk, through the Grotto and into the Abbey Church for Baccalaureate Mass. The Most Reverend Joseph Naumann, Archbishop of Kansas City in Kansas, was the principal celebrant and homilist for the Mass.
Founded in 1858, Benedictine College is a Catholic, Benedictine, residential, liberal arts college located on the bluffs above the Missouri River in Atchison, Kansas. The school is honored to have been named one of America’s Best Colleges by U.S. News & World Report as well as one of the top Catholic colleges in the nation by First Things magazine and the Newman Guide. It prides itself on outstanding academics, extraordinary faith life, strong athletic programs, and an exceptional sense of community and belonging. It has a mission to educate men and women within a community of faith and scholarship.