Holy Cross Class of 2022 Urged to Seek Light, Hope and Joy

College confers 755 bachelor of arts degrees in 176th Commencement Exercises

Despite the rain that will inevitably fall in their lives, valedictorian Rebecca L. Henion ’22 told the College of the Holy Cross class of 2022 that she hopes that, like her, they’ve learned to seek out hope and light in every situation.

Henion addressed classmates at the College’s 176th Commencement Exercises, held Friday, May 27, at the DCU Center in Worcester. Thousands of family and friends, Holy Cross faculty, administrators, staff and honored guests gathered as the College conferred 755 bachelor of arts degrees, listened to speakers — including College President Vincent D. Rougeau and Abraham Verghese, M.D., infectious disease physician and bestselling author — and cheered as graduates graced the commencement stage.

The College community stood as one for a moment of silence in memory of their classmate, the late Grace Rett. They rose again for a standing ovation after Rougeau and Michele Murray, vice president for student affairs and dean of students, honored classmate Hannah Strom with the Heart of St. Ignatius Medal, which is bestowed upon a student whose tenacity and example through extraordinary circumstances bear witness to the legacy of St. Ignatius Loyola. 

In her address, Henion spoke of the literal storms that rolled over the Worcester hills and Mount St. James, and the life-altering figurative tempests, including the heartbreaking loss of Rett in January 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic, which swept through the campus, the greater Holy Cross community and the world.

“It felt like sheer thunderstorms sometimes,” she said. “But what I have learned over the last four years is to seek out hope and light in every situation — to remember that when rain pours, the sun is on the other side. It is our Holy Cross community — made up of wonderful, resilient people, all of you — that carried us through, every time.

“Let’s not forget the gold mine of joyful days that we will carry with us forever. We’ve had more than our fair share of those, too,” she continued, citing memories such as dorm hallways full to bursting; volunteer work in the city; the collective sigh of accomplishment after pushing “Submit” in Canvas when an assignment was finally finished; and the close bonds formed through student organizations, such as Pride and the Black Student Union.

That resilience, joy, and sense of community are now part of the Holy Cross class of 2022’s story, one they started writing the day they walked onto The Hill and one that they will continue to compose as alumni.

As the class leaves Holy Cross and begins the next phase of their lives, commencement speaker Dr. Verghese asked graduates to consider how they will define success in their personal stories.

“My advice to you would be: Don’t set the bar too high. Don’t live your life waiting for the one magical moment when you have particular letters behind your name or have this much in the bank … You and I know too many people, often successful, famous, accomplished people, whose success was not enough to keep them joyful. I would urge you to define success simply, such that on a daily basis you experience joy,” he said.

Dr. Verghese shared this definition of success, to which he aspires: “Every day that you get to see and admire the boundless beauty nature offers, every day you interact with the people who love you, every day you give something back to others, is a good day, a success.”

Having grown on the Holy Cross campus infused with the Jesuit spirit of living as men and women for and with others, the class already has the framework under which to shape their stories and create their own definitions of what it means to be successful, Dr. Verghese said.

In his remarks to graduates, his first as College president, Rougeau used the analogy of the Holy Cross tradition of opening doors for others to encourage graduates to continue to embrace their faith in God, in progress and in humankind.

In that everyday act, Holy Cross students and alumni practice simple courtesy and good manners; partake in a moment of uncomplicated humanity; and simultaneously set their gaze on what lies ahead and behind.

“It’s a unique vantage point from which we can see the failures of yesterday, the needs of today and the promise of tomorrow,” he said. “Lead, as you were destined to do, by inviting others on your journey.”

Prior to the commencement address, Rougeau bestowed honorary degrees upon Dr. Verghese and Rev. Philip L. Boroughs, S.J., 32nd president of Holy Cross and Rougeau’s predecessor.  

Friday morning’s ceremony not only capped four years on Mount St. James, but also a week of celebrations for seniors, including the Phi Beta Kappa induction and senior awards ceremonies, the Baccalaureate Mass, the Mosaic Graduate celebration and the Last Sunset on The Hill event, where families and friends met one more time with their students, soon to be alumni, on the Hoval, a student-favorite spot on campus. 

Writer Mike Bonner contributed to this story.

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