Holy Cross Graduates 698 Members of the Class of 2019

World-renowned scholar of Islam Jane McAuliffe urges graduates to speak up even when it's uncomfortable

"Making a difference, effecting change, continuing to be 'men and women for and with others' — these actions can be part of each and every one of our futures because that is, in so many ways, who we are," Isabel Block said to her fellow classmates — the newly minted graduates of the Class of 2019 — during her valedictory address at the College of the Holy Cross' 173rd Commencement Exercises on May 24.

A total of 698 students were awarded Bachelor of Arts degrees surrounded by family, friends, Holy Cross faculty, staff, administrators and honored guests at the DCU Center in Worcester.

Inspiring themes of speaking up, starting dialogue across differences and challenging injustices were woven throughout the ceremony. Commencement speaker Jane McAuliffe, a world-renowned scholar of Islam and senior leader at the Library of Congress, shared that the key to addressing the biggest issues facing our nation — from climate change to economic inequality to international conflicts — is reasoned discourse.

"At the College of the Holy Cross, you have lived in a diverse and inclusive community," McAuliffe told graduates. "Consequently, you know how to have dialogue across differences, whether differences of religion or culture or race or gender or class. We cannot begin to deal with the enormous problems facing our nation, and our entire world, unless we can talk to each other."

"I know it sounds odd to talk about conversation or dialogue or social intercourse at a college commencement," she continued during her commencement address. "After all, what have you been doing for the last four years but conversing, in the classroom, in the dining hall, in the dorm room?"

"But that's just the point, as your remarkable valedictorian demonstrated so well: you know how to do this. It is one of the core accomplishments of your liberal arts education. You have learned how to listen to another person's point of view; you have learned how to make a persuasive argument without resorting to personal attacks; you have learned how to find and analyze the information you need. These proficiencies are now such a part of you that you may not realize how rare they are becoming in the world you are about to enter."

Throughout her career, McAuliffe has devoted sustained attention to Muslim-Christian dialogue and to the advancement of women around the world. She has served on the Vatican's Commission for Religious Relations with Muslims and participated frequently in Building Bridges, a meeting of Muslim and Christian scholars established by the Archbishop of Canterbury. At the Library of Congress, she has managed a broad range of programs, including the National Book Festival and the John W. Kluge Center for research scholars. Prior to her role at the Library of Congress, McAuliffe was president of Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania from 2008 to 2013.

Block, a mathematics and Chinese double major from Georgetown, Massachusetts, added to McAuliffe's message, addressing her classmates and what she has seen them accomplish as Holy Cross students.

"What is most impressive about the Class of 2019 is the way in which those of us graduating today have taken stands against injustices and fought for the betterment of this school and the world around us," Block told fellow graduates. "Whether it be through providing bus transportation to voting centers, participating in and helping to organize the sit-in in Fenwick to change the campus culture, attending the vigil after the tragedy at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, raising voices to advocate for the LGBTQIA+ community, or by confronting and challenging institutionalized racism, the members of Holy Cross's Class of 2019 have shown unwavering courage, strength and unity."

Block then lauded her classmates for their commitment to refusing to stay silent.

"Never have any of us had the chance to be surrounded by so many activists and advocates who are committed to making this school and the world beyond a better place than we are right here, right now. The members of this class refuse to be silent, refuse to be bystanders and refuse to not give everything they have to the issues that are important to them."

During the ceremony, students wore teal stickers on their mortarboards and faculty members teal stoles as a symbol of solidarity with victims of sexual misconduct.

While at Holy Cross, Block was a co-chair of the all-female a cappella club The Delilahs, a member of the Mathematics and Computer Science Student Advisory Committee, and a co-chair of the Modern Languages Student Advisory Committee. For the past three years, Block served as the Jewish representative at the Multifaith Community Prayer, an annual event celebrating the many faiths on campus. Block also volunteered in the admissions office as a member of the Admissions Outreach Program, greeting prospective students and other visitors on campus.

In addition to McAuliffe, Holy Cross awarded honorary degrees to Rev. Sean Carroll, S.J., the executive director of the Kino Border Initiative, a migrant shelter and assistance program that conducts work on the U.S.-Mexico border; and Frank Kartheiser '72, the newly retired founder and lead organizer at Worcester Interfaith, an alliance of Worcester religious congregations and organizations working together to empower the underprivileged.

Photos by Avanell Brock and Dan Vaillancourt

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