It’s the little things that count in life and how we handle them with grace.
That was one of the themes touched on by several speakers at Carroll College’s commencement ceremony, Saturday afternoon at the Physical Education Center, when 288 students graduated with bachelor’s degrees.
Commencement speaker Carolyn Woo, the CEO and president of Catholic Relief Services, spoke of the importance of “Grace in a Competitive World.”
Just after they’d all competed to get into college, and for financial aid, and for educational honors, now they are headed into the “real” world, where they will compete for everything from jobs to parking spaces, she said.
Competition isn’t necessarily bad, Woo said, it’s what we do with it.
While pursuing honors, trophies or a corner office, we can allow competition to shrink our capacity to be open and human to others and ourselves.
“We look at people and judge where they are in relationship to us,” Woo said. “We always seem to be scoring and tracking how much we have achieved.”
She shared a favorite quote she’d heard years ago, “Charisma is the ability to take people as you find them, to like them for who they are and not despise them for what they are not.”
Today’s world calls for people to work together cooperatively, she said.
Grace is what allows us to offer others empathy, hospitality, consideration and basic courtesy, she said. “Grace allows us to look at ourselves differently,” and not use a scorecard as we go through life.
It also allows us to celebrate others’ honors and successes.
“Don’t peg ourselves to other’s achievements,” she advised. “Our talents are God given and none of them are trivial…. Be sure to know that grace is there for the asking — so ask.”
Woo was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters by Carroll President Thomas M. Evans.
In a humorous, but similar vein, senior class speaker Jonathan Lenz spoke fondly of the Carroll family that welcomes freshmen when they first arrive, helps them move into the dorm and then supports them throughout their campus years.
Lenz shared a story about a former Carroll graduate, Jeff Phillips, CEO of Rosauers, who impressed him years ago. Phillips “meets (all of his) employees. … But what makes him special is that to this day he knows my name, the son of a deli clerk, as well as all of his employees’ names from memory. He greets you … with a warm smile, (and a) firm handshake. … He wants to learn your story.”
President Thomas Evans, in closing the commencement ceremony, acknowledged the graduates as the ones who’d first welcomed him in as the new president this year and taught him what it means to be a member of the Carroll family.
As Carroll family members, they go forth with a certain responsibility, he said.
“It’s the responsibility to always ask what is right first, then do what is right and make good things happen. All the time. No matter what. No matter how difficult. No exceptions. … Now more than ever the world needs more Saints. Looking out on you today, I can say to that struggling world: Rest easy and rest sure — the Saints are marching in.”
Following the ceremony, a few newly graduated Saints reflected on what Carroll has meant for them.
Rebecca Lapka of Ovando, graduating with a nursing degree, said, “It’s probably one of the best decisions I ever made to come to Carroll. It’s given me the best education I could get.”
She’s looking forward to finding a job in an Intensive Care Unit.
Her friend, Jordan Rugg, a social studies graduate from San Francisco, said, “Coming to Carroll really changed my life. I found out what I wanted to do in my life and have gained a great respect for education.”
Rugg plans to return to San Francisco and wants to teach in a high school.
Connor Goudreau, a business and communications graduate from California, sporting an eye-catching lei made of dollar bills, plans to return to San Jose and look for a job in marketing.
While coming to Carroll from California was a bit of an adjustment, he said it’s been a good one.
“I met some of the greatest people here,” he said. “It’s just been so much fun to be here.”
Mary Elizabeth Holbrook Williams, who graduated with a major in fine arts theater, said she will be moving to Seattle this fall to pursue a career in theater.
Saturday’s graduation was “by far the greatest moment of my life,” Williams said. “I’m sad my mom (who died a few years ago) couldn’t be here, but she’s cheering from a better section.”
Michael Yamoah of Accra, Ghana, said Carroll’s been instrumental in helping him pursue a career in international development.
“Carroll is a great school,” he said.
Graduating magna cum laude, he is heading to George Washington University in Washington, D.C., to pursue a master’s degree in international development.
He thanked the admissions staff and faculty for helping him get into Carroll and specifically credited Professor Erik Pratt for helping him be successful: “Professor Pratt is a great teacher, a great mentor and a great