by Steve Johnson
Special to The Leaven
ATCHISON — Benedictine College held a historic commencement here May 15, celebrating two graduating classes: 2020 and 2021. Seventy-nine graduate students had earned their MBA or MASL degrees and many received their hoods and diplomas in a separate ceremony. Those at the undergraduate ceremony on May 15 were among the 447 graduates of the class of 2020 and 373 from the class of 2021.
One theme that developed early on was the resilience of these two classes — from having their own senior years altered dramatically by lockdowns, mask mandates, and Zoom classes to caring for relatives who fell sick during the pandemic.
President Stephen D. Minnis, who had promised the class of 2020 when he’d had to send them home a year ago that they would, at some future date, have a “senior week,” delivered on that promise and had this to say at their champagne brunch on May 14.
“You will hear me say tomorrow how proud I am of you — but I wanted to tell you today with just us,” he told them in his remarks. “I can’t imagine having to go through what you did. Leaving for spring break during the most glorious semester of your life — never to return to a place you had grown to love with the people you love. That is tough. I feel for you — I really do. Only you know how hard it was.”
The commencement speaker the next day, Bishop Andrew Cozzens, is a 1991 alumnus of Benedictine.
“I am not alone in my opinion that [Benedictine] is truly one of the premier Catholic colleges of the 21st century,” he told the graduates, crediting the college’s Catholic identity and its love for the faith for its success.
“This is the love which Jesus Christ revealed to us when he gave his life for you on the cross,” he continued. “This love which is so great that it can transform any struggle or difficulty — even death itself — into a way to love.”
“If you surrender your life to this love, day in and day out,” he continued, “if you seek to live for this love . . . not only will you possess the secret of joy in this life, but you will fulfill your part in God’s plan and receive from him the joy of eternal life.”
At the May 14 baccalaureate Mass, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann credited the Catholic identity of the college for making Benedictine “a jewel within the archdiocese.”
“You know you have a distinguished faculty when the college’s dean, Kimberly Shankman, is featured in Magnificat,” he said, citing the missal magazine. He also joked about Bishop Cozzens, saying that when he was made a bishop, he “raised the IQ of the United States bishops conference by 10 points.”
But he spoke mostly about the college’s Catholic identity and the vocations it produces to both the priesthood and to married life.
“Benedictine College has created a culture where the pursuit of truth is celebrated no matter if it is in the laboratory unlocking the beauty of the natural world or in the chapel kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament,” the archbishop said about the college.
Multiple valedictorians from both class years were honored at the ceremony and spoke to their classmates. Valedictorians from the class of 2020 were Nicholas Brose (biology), Daniel Fortino (mathematics and secondary education) and Sabrina Poston (finance and accounting). The 2021 valedictorians were Emma Girton (theology and music), Matthew Krishnan Myjak (electrical engineering and computer science), Danielle Rumsey (biology), Christopher Rziha (theology, philosophy and Spanish), and Hannah Tichy (elementary education). All eight had maintained perfect 4.0 GPAs throughout their college careers.