Holy Cross Celebrates 762 Graduates in its 177th Commencement Exercises

President Vincent D. Rougeau encourages graduates to embody strength through differences in a polarized world.

The College of the Holy Cross graduated 762 members of its class of 2023 on May 26 at the DCU Center in Worcester. Thousands of family and friends, Holy Cross faculty, administrators, staff and guests gathered as the College conferred degrees and cheered as graduates crossed the commencement stage.

Valedictorian Emily Bouzan, a biology major from Plympton, Massachusetts, celebrated her classmates, encouraging them to keep their eyes, minds and hearts open to opportunities by simply listening and understanding one another: “When we show up with our intelligence, empathy and attention, we can transcend the ordinary, share a burden of crisis, or even make a complete stranger feel right at home.”

College President Vincent D. Rougeau expounded on that thought, noting that often unscripted conversations and actions create new friendships and provide a safe haven for individuals to leave their comfort zones and discover new passions. Such opportunities can be transformative and can happen in even the most routine of spaces.

“That is the gift of Holy Cross beyond academic excellence,” he said. “We ease boundaries and borders entrenched in our lives and seek to build bridges through shared experiences and dialogues. We open doors to destinations previously unknown. We draw strength from our unique qualities that bring us closer.”

Rougeau acknowledged that the world the graduates are entering can be divisive and polarizing. Instead of getting lost in that space, he encouraged them to be leaders who promote and foster inclusivity.

“Embody the strength you’ve gained through your differences. Carry the Jesuit ideals of compassion, understanding and empathy with you. Don’t let the unknown scare you. Instead, pursue it,” he said.

In the Commencement address, U.S. Sen. Peter Welch ’69 (D-Vt.) said Holy Cross left an indelible mark on him. In the mid-1960s, Welch was absorbed in the Civil Rights Movement. The summer before his junior year at Holy Cross, he joined a community organization advocating for basic services in a Chicago neighborhood, an experience that changed his life.

Instead of returning to Worcester to continue at Holy Cross, with support from his academic dean, Welch enrolled for one year in Loyola College in Chicago. This allowed him to continue working with the community organization, which had refocused its efforts to challenge an entrenched system of discriminatory mortgage practices that made it nearly impossible for Black families to be legal homeowners.

“Holy Cross had the flexibility not just to allow a young student to pursue his social mission, but to turn the institutional gears to make it happen,” Welch said. He added that the class of 2023 is equipped to make change happen, thanks to a Holy Cross education: “The experience of Holy Cross ... and its commitment to intellectual and open inquiry, and to using our talents for the good of others… will make you the builders of tomorrow."

During the ceremony, Rougeau bestowed honorary degrees upon Welch and Rosanne Haggerty, founder, president and CEO of Community Solutions, a nonprofit dedicated to ending homelessness.