To Our 2020 College of Education Graduates

Great happiness and celebration should have been the spirit of the day.  

May 17, 2020, stood as a date that all College of Education faculty, staff, and graduating students, along with their families and friends, had marked on their calendars long ago. When the academic year began last August, no one could have envisioned how today would turn out. All went according to plan until February. Then soon afterward, EVERYTHING changed.

The insidious COVID-19 virus has profoundly rocked our world, now claiming over 300,000 lives and destroying the fabric of far too many families. No one has been left untouched. The  rhythms of our professional and personal lives have been thoroughly disrupted, and this very day the disease has stolen the momentous celebration all Marquette University graduates, like you, so richly deserved. 

Maybe it’s fitting that it never stopped raining and the clouds refused to part. Almost nothing seemed likely to raise our spirits anyway.   

Frankly, I pouted all day. Genuine mourning. Every time I looked at the clock, my mind turned to what I should have been doing instead. 

First off, at 7:00 a.m. I would have been getting ready for the University commencement. On the road by 8:00 to arrive at Fiserv Forum and park. Head to the dressing room to get robed along with my University leadership colleagues and the stage party, then visit with faculty next door. Line up around 9:15 to enter the arena, and emerge to the wonderful sight of our graduates and tens of thousands of guests in the audience. That always makes my heart beat faster. Then I’d take in the full ceremony – from the invocations to the degree recognitions to various show stopping “pyrotechnic displays” – as well as the many words of wisdom and the singing of the Alma mater.  Just plain glorious, and it gets me every time. 

Then around 11:30, I’d hustle to the Pabst Theater for the College of Education reception and our own more intimate ceremony. There is no event all year long that is more meaningful, joyous, and gratifying to me, nor to the rest of our faculty and staff. Marching in with the graduates to "Pomp and Circumstance," then having the opportunity to savor our own Jesuit-inspired invocation, a musical tribute to the students and their parents, the graduation address, and most prominently, the awarding of the individual degrees. 

Literally nothing in my role as dean gives me greater pleasure than watching our excited graduates walk across the stage, one by one as their entourage cheers.  The brightness in their eyes and the enormous promise it portends electrifies me.  And when I hand them a diploma and shake their hands, it’s genuinely humbling.  What an honor it is to offer heartfelt congratulations for an achievement that represents so much hard work and dedication, including the sacrifices they and their loved ones have made.  

When the ceremony concludes, the faculty and I process out to the song Set the World on Fire by Britt Nicole. Go ahead, click on the title and give the tune a listen right now. Why?  

Because I did about halfway through writing this message, and much to my surprise, my spirits were lifted even if it was through teary eyes.       

Right then and there, EVERYTHING changed yet again. But this time for the better. No more funk. My focus shifted from gloom and doom to a deep appreciation for all the gifts we have been given, and most importantly today, the privilege to have joined you on your journeys to well-earned Baccalaureate, Master’s, and Doctoral degrees. What a treat it has been for our faculty and staff. 

Speaking of whom, I also thought about the significant efforts they put forth to create videos to acclaim and congratulate many of you, and the modest tokens they sent to bachelor degree recipients (until something more substantial can be given to all graduates later)! These gestures are done out of respect for, pride in, and care for you. Cura personalis after all… 

Graduation from Marquette University signifies a significant tribute to your intellect, your perseverance, your skill acquisition, and your commitment to social justice. The sinister coronavirus couldn’t stifle any of it.  In fact, it made you and all of us in the College of Education resilient and stronger. So, try to think of May 17, 2020, as a case of delayed gratification, because on August 30, God willing, we will be able to accomplish most of what should have happened today for all of you who can make it. 

And with luck, the sun will be shining.

In winding down, I encourage you to pay attention to the lyrics of our final processional, an homage to God and the plans He has for you.  My favorite stanzas are:

….take my dreams
Come and give them wings.
Lord with you
There's nothing I cannot do.

I wanna feed the hungry children.
And reach across the farthest land
And tell the broken there is healing
And mercy in the Father's hands.

And finally, I came across a prayer today that feels like a nearly ideal gift for our situation, and it appears below.    

My parting words to you now are, just as they would be at our College ceremony, “May you hold Marquette University, the College of Education, and the Society of Jesus forever in your hearts.” 

God bless you, our beloved graduates. 

Dr. Bill Henk, Dean
College of Education
Marquette University  

A Prayer for All Graduates Facing an Uncertain Future
By Debbie McDaniel

Dear God,

We pray for our graduates today and lift them before you. We thank you so much for these we love and for the work you are continuing to do in their lives. They are a gift to us and to many others. And during this season of new beginnings, we ask that you would make their way clear. We ask that you would keep their footsteps firm and remind them that you are with them, always. May they sense the freshness of your Spirit over their lives in amazing ways, may they be strengthened, instilled with hope, for the new roads you have in store.

And today, again, we release our children straight into your tender care. Because we know that’s the best place they could ever be. We thank you in advance for all you have in store, for this day, for this year, for their lives.

We pray for protection, for your covering, that you would surround their lives as with a shield. Protect their coming and going. We ask that you would help them to live aware in a dark world and keep harm or evil intent far away. We ask that you would hide them in the safety of your powerful presence.

Our world is currently anxious, fearful and uncertain. We pray our graduates are filled with your courage and strength, that they may be a light to their friends and neighbors in this uncertain time.

We ask for your wisdom and clear direction over their lives, that you would give them understanding beyond their years. Thank you that your timing is perfect. We pray that you would direct their steps, that your plans for them would prosper; that every place you have determined for them to walk would be paved clear. We ask for you to open doors that need to be opened and close every one that should be shut tight. Allow every gift and treasure you have placed inside their lives to grow, develop, and flourish, to bring you glory.

We ask that you would remind them every day how very much you love them, that they would find security and confidence fully in you, knowing that you are trustworthy and true.

We ask that you would teach them your ways and fill them with an unquenchable desire to learn your Word. Give them a compassionate spirit, and the wisdom to look beyond outward appearances to the heart within. We pray that you would surround them with friends and leaders who would challenge them to press closer to you.

We ask for your peace to cover them. We ask for laughter and joy to fill their days. We pray that you would give them boldness and courage to face challenges set before them, with the confidence and peace that can only come from your spirit.

We ask that you would raise up greatness in their lives, greatness in this generation, willing to stand strong and true, passionate for you, believing that you have designed them for purpose and good works, which you have planned and prepared in advance for them to do.

Be a lamp for their feet, and a light to their path. Shine over them. Fill them with your spirit. Bless them with your favor and peace.

In Jesus’ Name,

Amen.