Historic Commencement Celebrates Faith Amid Hardship

Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, held an historic commencement celebrating two graduating classes: 2020 and 2021. Those at the ceremony on May 15 were among the 447 graduates from the class of 2020 and 373 from the class of 2021.

One theme that developed early on was the resilience of these two classes that experienced relatives who became sick in the COVID-19 pandemic, and who saw their own senior years changed by the lockdown, the mask mandate, and being educated via ZOOM.

President Stephen D. Minnis had promised the class of 2020 that they would have a senior week, and delivered on his promise with events including a Champagne Brunch that was just for the class of 2020.

“You will hear me say tomorrow how proud I am of you — but I wanted to tell you today with just us,” he told them in his remarks. “I can’t imagine having to go through what you did. Leaving for Spring Break during the most glorious semester of your life — never to return to a place you had grown to love with the people you love. That is tough. I feel for you — I really do. Only you know how hard it was.”

He praised the students for their resiliency in the face of hardship.

Commencement speaker Bishop Andrew Cozzens, a 1991 alumnus of Benedictine College, also spoke of the right response to difficulty.

“I am not alone in my opinion that it is truly one of the premier Catholic Colleges of the 21st century,” he said. He credited the college’s Catholic identity.

“This is the love which Jesus Christ revealed to us when he gave his life for you on the Cross,” he told the graduates. “This love which is so great that it can transform any struggle or difficulty even death itself into a way to love. If you surrender your life to this love, day in and day out. If you seek to live for this love … not only will you possess the secret of joy in this life, but you will fulfill your part in God’s plan and receive from him the joy of eternal life!”

At the May 14 Baccalaureate Mass, Kansas City, Kansas, Archbishop Joseph Naumann credited the Catholic identity of the college for making Benedictine “a jewel within the Archdiocese.”

“You know you have a distinguished faculty when the college’s dean, Kimberly Shankman, is featured in the Magnificat,” he said, citing the missal magazine. He also joked about Bishop Cozzens, saying that when he was made a bishop he “raised the IQ of the United States Bishops Conference by 10 points.”

But he mostly spoke about the college’s Catholic identity and the vocations it produces to both the priesthood and to married life.

“Benedictine College has created a culture where the pursuit of truth is celebrated no matter if it is in the laboratory unlocking the beauty of the natural world or in the chapel kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament,” the Archbishop has said about the college.

Multiple valedictorians from both class years spoke during the ceremony. Valedictorians from the Class of 2020 were Nicholas Brose (Biology), Daniel Fortino (Mathematics and Secondary Education) and Sabrina Poston (Finance and Accounting). The 2021 Valedictorians were Emma Girton (Theology and Music), Matthew Krishnan Myjak (Electrical Engineering and Computer Science), Danielle Rumsey (Biology), Christopher Rziha (Theology, Philosophy and Spanish), and Hannah Tichy (Elementary Education). They had all maintained perfect 4.0 Grade Point Averages throughout their college careers.

Valedictorian Sabrina Poston was the first to speak. She listed the hardships her class overcame, which included a chlorine plume that resulted from an industrial accident in her class’s Freshman year.

When Spring Break 2020 turned into a return home for the lockdown, “We celebrated our last few moments together,” she said. “It didn’t end like we thought it would but I don’t think that takes anything away from the time we had here.”

Valedictorian Matthew Myjack said, “Our Benedictine education draws on thousands of years of tradition and thought,” and added that if the graduates “truly live out Christ’s command to be childlike, we can escape the dominance of social media and the technocracy to witness how truly human interactions are what build community.”

“In this way,” he said, “we can carry the Benedictine values into our everyday lives.”

Benedictine College

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, the best private college in Kansas by The Wall Street Journal, and 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. Benedictine College is dedicated to transforming culture in America through its mission to educate men and women within a community of faith and scholarship.