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KC Royals General Manager Dayton Moore and Col. Roger Donlon (ret.) receive Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.
Four hundred eight young men and women walked across the stage on Saturday, May 16, 2015, the largest group to participate in Commencement Exercises in the history of Benedictine College. The Catholic, liberal arts college in Atchison, Kan., has experienced a renaissance in the past decade, with continuous enrollment growth and building projects. But the school has always attracted some of the top Commencement Speakers, going all the way back to Father Flanagan, who addressed the graduates in 1939, and on to include Bob Hope in 1977, Erma Bombeck in 1981, Lou Holtz in 2007, and Sen. Paul Ryan in 2013. This year saw Dayton Moore, Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations & General Manager of the American League Champion Kansas City Royals, deliver the official Commencement Address, offering some inspiring advice that focused on faith and teamwork.
“The future belongs to people who believe in it,” he said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that each and every one of you are gifted for success and will make a difference.”
He went on to tell the graduates that it will be important to learn from their failures, which he said present opportunities. He concluded by saying that the two most important things they will need for success in life is to be able to forgive daily, both themselves and others, and don’t quit. And he reminded them that you need faith to do that.
Moore, a native Kansan from Wichita, has shown a knack for winning. He brought championships home in his early days managing the Winchester Royals of the Shenandoah Valley League, then went on to be a part of 14-straight division titles with the Atlanta Braves. And it has been no small task to turn the Royals around, bringing league championships and World Series dreams to Kansas City.
Moore received an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree. Also receiving an honorary degree was Col. Roger Donlon (ret.), the first soldier to be awarded the Medal of Honor in the Vietnam War and the first member of the U.S. Army Green Berets to receive the honor.
“What we are is God’s gift to us. What we become is our gift to God,” he said in his acceptance speech, quoting the famed actress and dancer, Eleanor Powell. He said the phrase is a favorite of his wife, Norma, and it is engraved on his wedding band. He thanked the college for the honor and told the graduates to keep God in their hearts.
“I am pleased to join you, and I hope that you will pray the Rosary daily and make that a part of your life,” he said.
Two ROTC graduates also had the honor of having their Officer’s Oaths administered by Col. Donlon. Derek Pagel will enter the United States Army as a Second Lieutenant, stationed with the 2-137th Kansas Army National Guard in Lenexa, Kansas. Alexander Del Curto will serve his country as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Air Force, stationed at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, California. They both received special permission from their units to receive the ceremonial oath from the Medal of Honor recipient.
The 2015 valedictorian, Erica Johnson, addressed her classmates as well. She is the daughter of Dean and Bonnie Johnson of Springfield, Missouri, and she completed her entire academic career with a perfect 4.0 grade point average. She received degrees in Secondary Education and Mathematics and will be a teacher at Holy Cross Catholic School in Overland Park in the fall. As a math major, she gave a speech she described as “Benedictine by the Numbers.”
“We stepped onto campus four years ago,” she said. “Since then, we’ve spent 560 days in classes, or at least, we were supposed to. If you walked up the Raven Walk just once on each of those days, we each have walked a total of 31,920 steps in our four years here. That’s a total of about 40 miles on the Raven Walk, uphill alone.”
She also mentioned 3 room draws, 32 days of finals, 4 snow days, 50 mission trips and approximately 6,730 masses on campus.
“It’s been a crazy trip that’s been both too long and too short,” she said. “But I am so blessed to have been on it with all of you.”
The day also featured the announcement of the annual Fran Jabara Leadership Award winners. Each year, the award is given to one male and one female graduating senior at each private, four-year Kansas college. 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 Monica Swingle and Paul Floersch.
Swingle is the daughter of Michael and Cynthia Swingle of Blue Springs, Missouri. She has been very active in a number of capacities on the Benedictine campus and in the community. She has participated in the Student Government Association since her freshman year, when she served as the Freshman Class Treasurer. She went on to serve as her hall president, junior class president, and finally on the executive board as the director of communications. She led FOCUS Bible studies, participated in ENACTUS, and was selected to represent Benedictine College at the prestigious Intercollegiate Studies Institute in Indianapolis in March 2015. She graduated with degrees in General Engineering and ABET-accredited Chemical Engineering.
Floersch is the son of Paul and Stacy Floersch of Omaha, Nebraska. He has shown a remarkable commitment to Benedictine College through his academic excellence, his role as an athlete, and his devotion to his faith. He has been an outstanding student-athlete, staying on the Dean’s List and even being named a Dactronics Academic All-American while being an important contributor to some historic championship soccer teams. He was named a team captain for the last two years and in 2012 was named the national Champions of Character award winner for soccer by the NAIA, representing all the soccer programs in the nation. He received the St. Catherine Medal at the 2015 Honors Convocation and graduated with degrees in Theology and Business Management and will head to St. Louis to enter the seminary after graduation.
In another moving moment during Commencement, senior special education major Kristen Adlhoch, who had been paralyzed from the waist down in a surfing accident her freshman year, got out of her wheelchair and walked across the stage to receive her diploma. Her classmates, and then the entire audience in the gymnasium, gave her a standing ovation.