Commencement 2014: Passing it on

Author: Michael O. Garvey

Reminding the University of Notre Dame’s graduating seniors that “there is no more dangerous or delusional myth than that of the self-made woman or man,” the principal speaker at the University’s 2014 Commencement, Rev. Dr. Ray Hammond, founder of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Boston, appealed to them to remember “the grace of collective support from the people gathered around you today and pass it on.”

2014 Commencement

Before degrees were conferred on 1,996 undergraduates at Notre Dame’s 169th Commencement Ceremony on Sunday (May 18), Rev. Hammond asked them to join him in prayer for Oxford University Chancellor Christopher Patten, whose health problems had prevented him from speaking at the Commencement.

Remembering his own hardscrabble inner-city Philadelphia childhood and upbringing and how “I, like you, am the recipient of a wonderful gift of grace from others,” Rev. Hammond went on to recount memorable examples of mentors, teachers, artists, physicians and activists who were similar beneficiaries.

Frequently during his remarks, Rev. Hammond urged the Notre Dame graduates to turn to each other in their seats and challenge each other to “pass on” the gifts they had received.

“Whenever we stand tall, and you are standing tall today, it is because we stand on the shoulders of giants,” he told the graduates. “We are the recipients of a wonderful grace and I pray that you will pass it on.”

Mark Santrach, an architecture major from St. Paul, Minnesota, delivered the valedictory address, invoking the Renaissance Florentine architect Filippo Brunelleschi as a “champion of the impossible,” for his design of the world’s largest masonry dome on the cathedral of Florence. He called on his classmates to become similar champions. “Which of you will dare to engineer a dome of unprecedented scale?” he asked. “Which of you will solve the puzzle of Alzheimer’s disease or harness gene therapy to cure cancer? Which of you will bring peace to warring nations? And which of you will conquer social injustice by empowering the vulnerable?”

Kenneth R. Miller, professor of biology at Brown University, received the University of Notre Dame’s 2014 Laetare Medal, the oldest and most prestigious honor given to American Catholics. In his acceptance remarks, Miller admonished against “two common myths about science” that “are destructive and impoverish those who hold them.” Assailing the assumption that “science is only practical knowledge,” he insisted that it is “a branch of learning that deepens the human spirit and enriches the poetry of life itself.” Against the assumption that science is opposed to religious faith, Miller argued that, “ironically, this is a myth that serves the enemies of both faith and science very well.” Western science is rooted “in a faith that views the study of nature and its mysteries as a way to praise and understand the glory of God.”

“A faith that would require one to reject scientific reason is not a faith worth having,” Miller told the graduates. “But a faith asserting that knowledge matters, that the world is knowable, and that human reason can unlock the secrets of life is indeed a faith worth embracing.”

In addition to the honors given to Miller and Rev. Hammond at the Commencement, honorary degrees were given to W. Douglas Ford, former Notre Dame trustee and retired oil industry executive; Evelyn Hu, professor of applied physics and electrical engineering at Harvard University; Judith Jamison, artistic director emerita of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater; Sally Mason, president of the University of Iowa; and Cardinal Seán Patrick O’Malley, O.F.M. Cap., archbishop of Boston.

Related media:

To view photos from events surrounding the 2014 Commencement, visit

Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.: Baccalaureate Mass Homily (read text)

Mark Santrach’s Valedictory Address (read text)

Rev. Ray Hammond’s Commencement Address (read text)

Kenneth Miller’s Laetare Address (read text)

Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.: Charge to the Class of 2014 (read text)

Originally published by Michael O. Garvey at on May 18, 2014.