When NLU’s College of Professional Studies and Advancement graduates filed into the Arie Crown Theater June 12, they celebrated a joyous and distinguished commencement ceremony punctuated by inspiring moments.
The 510 graduates who participated in the ceremony received bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in fields such as business, psychology, human services, public policy, health administration, communications, counseling, criminal justice, social science and others. A total of 1,671 students in both of NLU’s colleges graduated this year.
The first of the ceremony’s inspiring moments arrived when Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund, delivered the commencement address. The longtime national leader in children’s issues spoke about income inequality and the need to increase opportunities for families and children.
“Will we be remembered by how much a few at the top can get at the expense at the many at the bottom and in the middle, or by our determination to close the huge gap between the haves and have nots in the world?” she asked.
The United States has to correct course, she said, noting that the test of morality is how a society treats its children.
“It is a disgrace children are the poorest group of Americans,” she declared, “…and I’m grateful about the commitments of this graduating class, and of your founding president Elizabeth Harrison, who understood that the future of a nation really rests with the education of its children. And so you are really doing the most important work in the world.”
She exhorted the graduates to stop the unfair treatment of children, and she urged them to vote, get involved in schools, become leaders, run for school boards and, when they reached them, to remember to make children the top priority.
Another notable moment arrived when Brenda Castile-Munoz, CPSA’s student speaker, receiving her M.S. in Written Communication, delivered a stirring speech about how back in 1979, a high school teacher had declared she and her classmates would never graduate from college or amount to much.
She started college, but her parents refused to co-sign her financial aid, leaving her out of luck. She despaired, feeling she was going to slip through the cracks.
Then came 27 years as a railroad engineer, persisting and surviving in a male-dominated field. In 2012, at age 50, she enrolled at NLU. Once inside her first classroom, she encountered the new world of digital learning, and decided she couldn’t handle it. On her way to the door, a fellow student stopped her, told Castile-Munoz she would support her, and wouldn’t let her quit. So she didn’t.
“N.L.U. was the bridge between THERE and HERE, hope and despair. I was over there, but now, I’m over here,” Castile-Munoz said. “Growth demands change. If we don’t change, we don’t grow. It is within our failures that we learn how to succeed. It is within our struggles we learn to persevere.”
Other notable moments in the ceremony included the presenting of an honorary degree to Steve Goodwin, chair of the NLU Veterans Advisory Council; the awarding of the Distinguished Teacher Award to Ursula Pawlowski; CPSA Dean Judah Viola’s presentation of Jeanette Kyle as the Lincoln laureate and Veterans Director Ramon Prieto’s announcement that 23 veterans were among the graduates.
NLU President Nivine Megahed seized on the speakers’ inspiring words to tell the graduates, “America’s future lies in your hands. We have prepared you for service.”
Then she asked the graduates how many were the first in their families to get a degree or a new level of degree. Graduates, and then more graduates, stood up, until an amazing 90 percent of them were on their feet.
Minutes later, the first of those graduates began striding across the stage to receive their diplomas, and the commencement exercises continued until they were all awarded. As they filed out in a recessional, many grads had huge smiles on their faces as they reached the lobby, where a live band played and loved ones waited to congratulate them.