One day, two ceremonies: CSB and SJU each celebrate Class of 2024 at commencement

Academics Campus & Community Student Features

May 11, 2024

By Frank Rajkowski

One day. Two ceremonies.

The 2023-24 academic year marked the first time commencement exercises at both the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University were held on the same day.

The ceremonies were held Saturday (May 11), beginning with the 109th annual commencement at CSB in the morning in the Clemens Field House followed by SJU’s 167th commencement in the afternoon in the Abbey and University Church.

“We have a deep appreciation for everything you have given to the CSB and SJU communities and admiration for what you’ve overcome,” CSB and SJU President Brian J. Bruess, Ph.D., told the graduates at each ceremony.

“We are so proud of you and congratulate you and your families who helped you get to this day.”

Indeed, perseverance was a recurrent theme in both ceremonies, especially given this year’s graduating classes arrived on campus in the fall of 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic – when social distancing restrictions, mass testing and block scheduling rendered their first few semesters on campus anything but normal.

Through it all, though, CSB student commencement speaker Eileen Otto, a political science major who minored in communications, said she and her classmates found a home on these two campuses.

“Friendships built over hanging up twinkle lights and rearranging rooms were truly built to last a lifetime,” said Otto, whose mother Liz was the student speaker at CSB commencement exercises in 1995.

“Our homes at Saint Ben’s were the foundation of our community and the foundation of our path to self-discovery. We persevered, working out difficult relationships – with our roommates, our friends and even ourselves – before moving on to the next place to do it all over again.”

Katie Boylan, a 1999 College of Saint Benedict graduate and executive vice president and chief communications officer for Target Corp., delivered the CSB commencement address. She touched on some of those same themes, telling graduates that by embracing the sense of community that has always been a huge part of the CSB and SJU experience, they followed in the footsteps of those who came before them.

“You craved community,” Boylan told CSB’s class of 344 undergraduates, as well as 14 nursing master’s and doctoral graduates. “So much so that, when things finally returned to normal, you became exceptionally close-knit, held together by a sense of resilience and camaraderie. I have to say, I found that really inspiring because it truly captures the proud Bennie tradition that’s a part of my story – and so many others.”

Boylan went on to speak of the support her fellow Bennies provided she and her family when her husband experienced a serious health crisis in early 2019, including a friend who donated a kidney when he needed a transplant.

“My husband and our two boys have my whole heart,” she said. “And today, my heart has a kidney … because of (her friend) Keller. And in that sense, Saint Ben’s has expanded my heart once again.

“Perhaps most importantly, I wanted to show you that when you leave, Saint Ben’s doesn’t leave you – even after 25 years,” she continued. “And, while I truly hope you won’t need the Bennie community in quite the same ways I did, I challenge you to take all the newfound knowledge in your head and combine it with what’s in your heart. That’s where your power lies.

“Listen and lift people up. Show your strength through humility, empathy and authenticity. Face adversity through the courage of knowing who you are and what you’re capable of accomplishing. Be brave in holding on to your ideals. Because when you do, you’ll love, learn, live and lead in the Bennie tradition.”

The theme continued at SJU’s commencement ceremony where student speaker Jackson May, a double major in economics and history, spoke of the early challenges his class faced. Despite those obstacles, he said he and his classmates have gone on to flourish and thrive.

“Why are we still standing?,” May asked those assembled. “Because of those positive thoughts we constantly fed ourselves through times of adversity. Our journey through Saint John’s University has prepared us to face the worst life can throw at us.”

Paul Williams, a 1984 Saint John’s University graduate and president and CEO of Project for Pride in Living Inc., delivered the SJU commencement address. He too praised this year’s graduating class for perseverance in the face of adversity.

“(These have) indeed been tumultuous and transformative years at SJU,” Williams, who previously served as St. Paul’s deputy mayor, told SJU’s class of 355 undergraduates, as well as 38 graduates of the Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary. “Conflict, stress, remote learning, loss of friends and relatives, disconnection from community have all impacted our way of life. I applaud you for your resilience, creativity and patience in finding your way through that. And I applaud you for your accomplishments along the way.  Bravo to each and every one of you.”

Williams encouraged this year’s senior class to venture forth into the world beyond “with hope, creativity and a sense of possibility.”

“Cut through the noise,” he said. “Seek out truth and look for the light.

“Give of yourself to others,” he continued. “There is research that says giving of yourself actually improves health outcomes. Your time and treasure matter. And as I said earlier, treat that gift as an investment. It will generate returns for you and for all of us.”

  • Saturday’s ceremony at CSB began with a welcome from LeAnne Matthews Stewart, a 1987 CSB graduate and the chair of the CSB Board of Trustees. The invocation was then delivered by Cindy Gonzalez, a 2014 graduate and the director of Campus Ministry at CSB. The final blessing was provided by Sister Karen Rose, the prioress of Saint Benedict’s Monastery.
  • The invocation at SJU was delivered by Douglas Mullin, OSB, abbot of Saint John’s Abbey. He was followed by a welcome from Stewart, also the chair of the SJU Board of Trustees. Mullin then provided the final blessing.
  • Both Bruess and CSB and SJU Provost Richard Ice paused during the ceremony at CSB to note the historical significance of the school’s first commencement ceremony to include conferring of master’s and doctoral degrees for nursing.
  • The top five majors in this year’s graduating class at CSB were nursing (58), global business leadership (36), biology (34), psychology (32) and elementary education (31). The top five majors in this year’s graduating class at SJU were global business leadership (111), accounting (67), biology (29), communication (24) and exercise and health science (20).

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