When members of the Class of 2022 arrived at Saint John’s University in the fall of 2018, the world was a much different place.
Terms like social distancing, mask requirements, pods and quarantines had yet to enter our common vocabularies.
But the 350 new graduates of SJU, and the 23 new graduates of the Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary, managed not only to endure the hardships and limitations brought on by onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, but to thrive in spite of them.
Which made Sunday afternoon’s commencement ceremony - held inside the traditional setting of the Saint John’s Abbey and University Church for the first time since 2019 - seem that much sweeter.
SJU Transitional President Dr. Jim Mullen addressed some of the upheaval of the past few years, as well as the challenges and opportunities facing this year’s graduates, in his remarks to the class.
“I hope that each of you is also feeling a sense of gratitude that you are part of the generation that will inherit this moment in history,” Mullen said. “You enter a world that emits paradox and dichotomies. Every day brings new evidence of humankind’s potential for good – some new technological advance, some new medical discovery, a marvelous new poem or work of art, an unmatched athletic achievement.
“Yet each day also too often brings new violence, injustice and pictures of pain - new sounds of division. You inherit this world with all its complexities – all its potential for good and for ill. And you should do so confidently and with conviction that you can make it better.”
Indeed, this year’s class has already shown the ability to adapt to whatever is thrown at them. The onset of the pandemic in March of 2020 forced campus to shut down, meaning students had to complete classes for the spring semester that year through distance learning.
“As we were preparing for one of the best weekends of the year with a Tommie/Johnnies (NCAA Tournament) basketball game and a St. Patrick’s Day celebration, it was all cut short due to COVID-19,” said Jack Fogelberg, a global business leadership major from Edina, Minnesota who was chosen by his classmates at this year’s commencement speaker.
Even after in-person classes resumed that fall, masks, social distancing and having to keep an ever-watchful eye on COVID numbers became regular features of life on campus – though fortunately the situation allowed a more normal experience during the most recent academic year.
“Junior year was a very tough year for all of us,” Fogelberg continued. “Social distancing and remote classrooms took away some of the best parts of our college experience.
“But senior year was a total revival of the community. There was a new energy felt on campus and in (nearby) St. Joseph. We were finally back in full classrooms, had … guest speakers, holiday dinners and sporting events.”
Since Sunday was Mother’s Day, both Mullen and Fogelberg also made sure to pay tribute to the moms of this year’s graduates.
“In my very short year with you, I have come to know many of you personally,” Mullen told the graduates. “And I know that you are on your way to great and meaningful lives. That process started a long time before your first day at Saint John’s. In fact, it started in the arms of the women who gave birth to you and comforted you as you shared your first cries in life.
“Since we are celebrating them in a special way on this Mother’s Day, let us take a moment and say thank you to them.”
Sunday’s commencement address was delivered by Abbot John Klassen, OSB, of Saint John’s Abbey, and S. Michaela Hedican, OSB, the current director of oblates and the former prioress of Saint Benedict’s Monastery. The two longtime leaders each also received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree in recognition of their significant and lasting contributions to CSB and SJU.
In addition, SJU Vice President of Finance and Administration Richard Adamson, who is retiring at the conclusion of the academic year, received the school’s President’s Medal - which is presented to those members of the SJU community who have demonstrated extraordinary loyalty, dedication and service to the university and its mission of liberal arts education in the Benedictine tradition.
But it was the Class of 2022 that truly took center stage in a ceremony rich in tradition - celebrating a collegiate experience that sometimes felt anything but, and a future that appears full of promise and potential.
“This is a complicated world that desperately seeks leaders who are prepared through a rigorous liberal arts education to think critically and think deeply,” Mullen said. “It desperately seeks leaders who are grounded in values of humility, hospitality and respect for human dignity. It desperately seeks leaders who will succeed at the highest level of their professions, but never forget where they came from. It desperately seeks leaders who will embrace difference and build inclusion out of diversity. It desperately seeks leaders whose faith finds expression through service, especially to those who are marginalized or forgotten.
“In short, the world desperately seeks and needs you.”
Some further notes on the Class of 2022:
- The most popular majors in this year’s graduating class at SJU were global business leadership (64), accounting (46), economics (32), computer science (28), biology and communication (23 each).
- The breakdown of graduates at SOT was as follows: Master of Arts (13), Master of Divinity (six), Master of Theological Studies (three), Master of Theology (one).