739 Members of Holy Cross' Class of 2018 Cross the Commencement Stage

Famed NPR journalist Michele Norris to students: 'Your future is our great hope.'

"The degrees you receive today are tremendously important, but they also represent something that carries even more currency," Emmy and Peabody Award-winning journalist and longtime NPR host Michele Norris said to the newly graduated Class of 2018 at College of the Holy Cross' 172nd Commencement Exercises on May 25.

"How will you use the knowledge you absorbed in the pursuit of that degree?" she continued. "How will you harness that knowledge to become the caretakers of our culture, our politics, our economy, our moral compass and our national character? How will you reach across cultures and disciplines and dialects to solve the world's problems? Because in a lot of areas, the current caretakers have left behind a bit of a mess. We are going to need you to solve the world's problems and light a candle for the world with the power of your mind and the strength of your ideas."

A total of 739 students were awarded Bachelor of Arts degrees while surrounded by family, friends, Holy Cross faculty, staff, administrators and honored guests at the DCU Center in Worcester.

Norris, the executive director of The Bridge, is one of the nation's most recognized voices in radio, having served as NPR's first African-American female host of its flagship program, "All Things Considered." While working at NPR, Norris created The Race Card Project, an initiative to foster a wider conversation about race in America, by inviting people to submit comments on their experience of race in six words.

"Look to your right and your left — and this isn't just an off-hand comment — I actually want you to look to your right and your left. Look behind you," Norris told graduates. "Take in this sea of diversity and know that some of us never take it for granted. Within our lifetime, to see a graduating class of this composition would have been unusual. In some states, within my lifetime — and I'm not that old — it would have been illegal. Never take that for granted. It's part of your education. Fight for it, wherever you are. Fighting for it means reaching across an aisle; reaching across a perspective and engaging with someone that you don't agree with."

Norris, whose husband, Broderick Johnson '78, graduated from Holy Cross 40 years ago, told graduates she recognizes that the College — and what it stands for — has never left her husband.

"No matter how far you travel after graduation, no matter how far your talents and your dreams and your new skills take you, make sure a piece of this place never leaves you — the incredible campus, this intellectual circle, the wonderfully spirited community, the cocoon of faith," she concluded.

After Norris spoke, Taylor K. Pels, a chemistry major in the Health Professions Advising Program from Chattanooga, Tennessee, offered the valedictory address. While at Holy Cross, Pels conducted research in the organic chemistry lab of Brian Linton, associate professor of chemistry; served on the planning committees for Holy Cross Dance Marathon benefiting the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation and Holy Cross' second annual Women in Science Day; was both a peer assistant learning tutor and STEM+E tutor; was a member of the Holy Cross cheerleading team; and served as a fall orientation leader.

"It can be so easy to just go through the motions, to check the box, to run for president of a club because it will look good on your resume, or take that extra class to improve your transcript," Pels told fellow graduates. "But what I, and I'm sure most of you, have found to be so special about Holy Cross, is that it is a community that encourages a high standard and reinforces a mission that motivates us to pursue the bumpier road and seek a greater reward."

Pels continued that justice, passion and orientation towards service are at the core of every Holy Cross student.

"The success of the Holy Cross mission within the Class of 2018 will not be judged by the job rate of its graduates or the graduate school acceptance rate, but by how we are able to accept the need for those Jesuit ideals to act, not just as a frame of reference, but a personal mission for each of us as we leave the hill and pursue our futures. Your futures are our great hope."

In addition to Norris, Holy Cross also awarded honorary degrees to David P. Ryan, M.D. '88, chief of the division of hematology and oncology at the Massachusetts General Hospital and clinical director at the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, and Ellen S. Dunlap, president of the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester.

Photos by Tom Rettig and Dan Vaillancourt

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