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Georgian Court University Graduates 686 Students at Commencement Exercises

Bishop of Trenton John Smith Receives Honorary Degree

Lakewood, N.J., May. 15, 2009—Georgian Court University held its 2009 Centennial Commencement Exercises today on its historic national landmark campus in Lakewood. Degrees were granted to 441 undergraduates and 245 graduate students.

“This Commencement is particularly significant in the history of the university because it is taking place in our Centennial year,” says Rosemary E. Jeffries, RSM, Ph.D., Georgian Court president. “These graduates join their professions with a liberal arts education, so critical to analysis and problem solving, and many with specific training in professional fields. With the economic crisis facing our country, these high-level critical thinking skills and credentials for entry into the business world and professions are necessary to manage the challenges ahead.”

The morning’s ceremony began with awarding an honorary degree to The Most Reverend John M. Smith, J.C.D., D.D., Bishop of Trenton and a friend to Georgian Court University for many years. President Jeffries, along with GCU Board President Patricia Koch, placed the academic hood that represented the degree onto his shoulders.

Speaking for the graduate degree holders at the 9:00 a.m. graduate ceremony, counseling psychology graduate Kimberly A. Pillsbury likened her path to many of her co-graduates. “Like many of you, I chose to return to school after working years in a career that wasn’t right for me.  My odyssey has had many paths, but I stand before you today because I followed my heart.”

Starting out as a business major and having earned an M.B.A., Kimberly came to realize that counseling was her calling.  “I have a desire to counsel, to help people change, to make things better,” she said.  “These are rewards not measured in dollars and cents, spreadsheets or sales, but knowing in my heart that I can and will make a difference in people’s lives.”

The graduate commencement speaker was Mary C. Sullivan, RSM, Ph.D., professor emerita of literature and dean emerita of the College of Liberal Arts at the Rochester Institute of Technology.  She is also one of the preeminent experts on the life and history of Catherine McAuley, the foundress of the Sisters of Mercy, GCU’s sponsoring organization.

Sister Mary recounted for the graduates the story of Hosea in the Bible when the Hebrews were taken captive by the Assyrians in the 8th century B.C.E.  The prophet Hosea said to his spouse, “I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her.  From there I will give her the vineyards, and make the Valley of Trouble, a door of hope.”  Sister Mary noted that we are living in the 21st century version of a Valley of Trouble with the economic meltdown causing problems of lost investment, lost jobs, and lost houses.  She believes that we ourselves with our myopic view have gotten ourselves into trouble due to our greed, selfishness, and our lack of brotherly and sisterly love.

Not content to leave us in the despair that surrounds, Sister Mary then asked, “What is this door of hope?  Catherine McAuley [foundress of the Sisters of Mercy] dying on the night of November 11, 1841, said to those around her that her first and last injunction to all was to preserve union and peace…and if they did they would enjoy great happiness.”

Sister Mary was quick to define her terms.  Union and peace in this sense, she said, is living a generous life with a purpose beyond ourselves, guided by real and profound communion…with our brothers and sisters in this world; demonstrating nonviolent peace that is the fruit of a humble, gentle respectful attitude towards all—and towards the Earth itself; and having confidence in the guiding presence and providence of a merciful and loving God.

“You will not find these virtues listed among the required skills in the job descriptions you may consider,” she added, but these virtues constitute the door of hope.

“Obey Plato,” she continued.  “Examine your life as it is now, and see if it is worth living as you are now living it.”

Festivities continued at the Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony at 2:00 p.m.

During the ceremonies, Reverend Ann Struthers Coburn, an Episcopal priest and graduate of Georgian Court, received an honorary doctorate for her work in the ministry.  Currently, she is the director of alumni and church relations at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, California.

SGA President Sandrine Holloway followed with her speech to her classmates.  She told her fellow graduates that over the door of her home in Jamaica is a sign that says “In everything give thanks.” Referring to their education at Georgian Court University, she said “We have been truly blessed…we must give thanks.”

Only fitting for a business major, Sandrine thought about “how many products are created in the world…I feel exceptionally privileged that I am a product of the tradition of excellence founded on Mercy.”

The speaker for the undergraduate ceremony was Judith M. Persichilli, R.N., B.S.N., M.A., executive vice president for the acute care division of Catholic Health East, one of the nation’s leading Catholic health care systems. Ms. Persichilli recounted for the graduates the story of one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people.

“Sister Mary Scullion, director of Project HOME, a Sister of Mercy, is one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people.  She does extraordinary things as an ordinary person.” Ms. Persichilli pinpointed Sister Mary Scullion’s formula for success. “She has found love. Love for her vocation, love for the homeless she passes on the street in Philadelphia, love for the people she works with, and most importantly, love for herself.”

She spoke to the graduates’ optimism and innovative spirit, to all the things they learned at Georgian Court that will bring about a new order of things and make the world a much better place.  “You are the ordinary people who will do extraordinary things,” she said.  “Show courage as you make your life’s decisions.  Be passionate.  Do extraordinary things.”

Founded in 1908 and sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy, Georgian Court University is a comprehensive university with a strong liberal arts core and a special concern for women. A forward-thinking university that supports diversity and academic excellence, Georgian Court serves over 3,000 students of all faiths and backgrounds in a residential Women's College and a coeducational University College with undergraduate and graduate programs. Georgian Court's main campus is located at 900 Lakewood Avenue, Lakewood, N.J., on the picturesque former George Jay Gould estate, now named a National Historic Landmark. Georgian Court also offers classes at its site at 90 Woodbridge Center Drive in Woodbridge, at Coastal Communiversity in Wall, and at Cumberland County College in Vineland.

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