NBC correspondent Anne Thompson, University of Portland 2014 commencement speaker, stresses power of faith to record-setting 929 undergraduates
Addressing a record number of graduating students at the University of Portland’s 2014 spring commencement Sunday, Anne Thompson, NBC News’ chief environmental affairs correspondent, stressed the power of faith.“Faith is what lasts,” she said. “It is truly this life’s most powerful resource.”
To emphasize her point, she recounted her experience last year while reporting on Pope Benedict as he left the Vatican and headed for his retirement at Castel Gandolfo, the Papal summer retreat south of Rome. She was watching Pope Benedict fly in a helicopter over the Colosseum, when suddenly the power of faith struck her.
Two thousand years ago, the Colosseum represented the Roman Empire, the most powerful force on earth and the ultimate symbol of tyranny, she told the graduates, “a place where Christians, people of faith, were literally thrown to the lions, crucified or simply stoned to death for their beliefs.”
“Now that Colosseum is a ruin,” said Thompson, who also received an honorary doctorate on Sunday. “And the leader of the faith that the Romans tried so hard to eliminate flies over it. Today, the power of the Roman Empire only lives in the history books.”
University president Rev. E. William Beauchamp, C.S.C., who is stepping down from his position at the end of June, conferred a total of 929 undergraduate degrees on Sunday, the largest graduating class in UP history. He also spoke to the Class of 2014, as well as delivering a commencement speech for 212 graduate students in a separate ceremony on Saturday. And prior to his speech on Sunday, he was surprised to learn that he was being awarded an honorary doctorate, a Doctor of Public Service.
Beauchamp challenged the undergraduates to use the lessons they have learned in the University’s classrooms, in the residence halls, in the Chapel of Christ the Teacher, on retreats, in volunteer service, on the playing fields and athletic courts, in time they spent with their friends and classmates.
“It is up to you whether or not you will make a positive difference in the world. Your special years here at UP must not be in vain. I pray that it will always be a place at which your mind and heart were forever touched,” Beauchamp said.
Thompson paid special tribute to Beauchamp for helping transform the physical look as well as the attitude and spirit of the campus. “Here at UP, Fr. Bill has created a campus and a community that exists to feed the mind, the heart, and the spirit.”
She also made special note of the research of Sr. Angela Hoffman, O.S.B., a professor at the University since 1989, who has helped undergraduate students with more than 150 projects involving the ingredient paclitaxel and the anti-cancer drug Taxol (marketed by Bristol-Myers Squibb).
“Sister Angela’s work to find new sources of the drug Taxol saves lives,” Thompson said. “It is crucial for many people fighting cancer, and a few years ago, it helped me defeat cancer.”
Receiving the University’s highest honor, The Christus Magister Medal, was Carolyn Woo, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, which reaches some 130 million people in nearly 100 countries annually with its relief and development work.
In addition to Thompson, others receiving honorary doctorates were:
John Beckman, of the University of Portland’s Class of 1942, who was instrumental in the invention of the photo-finish camera; James Popham, of the University of Portland’s Class of 1953, who is a professor of education emeritus at UCLA and an internationally renowned scholar on testing methods and efficacy; Ed Ray, president of Oregon State University since 2003, who has directed a remarkable era at one of the state’s largest public universities; and Most Reverend Alexander Sample, the eleventh Archbishop of Portland in Oregon, who was twice appointed a bishop by Pope Benedict XVI.
Valedictorian Ryan Gillespie, in his address to fellow graduates, invoked some words of Woodrow Wilson who spoke to Swarthmore College during his first term as President of the United States. “You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand,” Wilson said.
Gillespie concluded his speech by noting, “Our true contribution to the world has just commenced. Let’s celebrate all that we will accomplish, and all that we have yet to do.”
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