SAU graduation: Be the best bee you can be

Anne Marie Amacher
Aaron Cox of Iowa City stands between Amy Novak, president of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, and Bishop Thomas Zinkula, chair of the Board of Trustees for the university. The commencement ceremony was held May 21 at the TaxSlayer Center in Moline, Ill.

By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

MOLINE, Ill. — “Don’t let anyone discourage you from your life’s dreams or hopes,” said Edward Rogal­ski, president emeritus of St. Ambrose Uni­versity in Dav­enport, during the university’s undergraduate commencement ceremony May 21 at the TaxSlayer Center.

He recalled that during his 1965 graduation ceremony at Parsons College in Fairfield, the commencement speaker was former U.S. Senator Wayne Morse of Oregon. Morse voiced his opposition to the conflict in Vietnam. “Perhaps because I majored in history and political science, I remember that time and his talk well. But I think it stands out more because three years later, I became dean of students at St. Ambrose where I found our students beginning to protest the ensuing war and coping with the stresses of a most unpopular draft. We grew up fast those days.”

This year’s commencement reminded Rogalski of another commencement speaker, Andrew Young, the former mayor of Atlanta and a U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations who gave the commencement address at St. Ambrose 30 years ago. “Mr. Young was very impressed with all our graduates that day who earned honors designations and without skipping a beat, shared with the audience that he did not graduate ‘cum laude’ but rather ‘oh thank the lordy.’” The crowd laughed.


Rogalski said the simple take away from this year’s commencement was “Be the best bee you can be.” (The university’s mascot is a bee.) He shared the story of growing up in the small town of Manville, New Jersey, where the main employer was an industrial plant that specialized in making asbestos. For many in town, that was the primary means to earn a living. “None of my siblings were blessed with a formal education, and so it was an important decision when my entire family helped position me for being the one to experience a higher education and hopefully be destined for a career that was as far away from that asbestos plant as possible.”

He told he graduates about a high school counselor who advised him to enter a vocational tech program since no one else in his family had attended college and worked blue-collar jobs. “That counselor became my greatest motivation toward achieving my goal to become the best possible student I could be.”

Rogalski advanced in his career at St. Ambrose, eventually becoming president, the position he held for 20 years. “The goals that you establish for yourself are obtainable and if you strive to be the best you can be and work to the best of your ability, your future success will be assured.”

He asked the students, “What will you aspire to? To what purpose will you share your personal gifts with those around you? How will you improve our world and support those who stand in need of your help?” The true spirit of St. Ambrose is to “aspire for greatness by showing people that you care.”

Prior to Rogalski’s commencement address, St. Ambrose University awarded posthumously an honorary doctorate to the late Patricia VanBruwaene, a successful business leader and St. Ambrose graduate who gave back generously to the university.

In her charge to the graduates, St. Ambrose University President Amy Novak said, “It is always an awe-inspiring moment to look out and see those who have faithfully run this race and have now finished this period of preparation. The faculty, staff, Board of Trustees and alumni of St. Ambrose University join me in congratulating you in this noteworthy achievement.”

Collectively, the members of the St. Ambrose University “charge you to be unapologetically Ambrosian.” She told them to use their education to put others before themselves, to offer grace, to extend kindness, to listen authentically, to appreciate difference, to find common ground.

“Go forth and see your work as a ministry to strengthen our community through a myriad of professional and community engagements.” She advised the graduates to think adaptively, to embrace change, to become tomorrow’s problem-solvers, to stay curious, to see challenge as opportunity, to be innovative in response to the crises of the future.

“You are now and always will be an Ambrosian. May your actions be unapologetically Ambrose, committed to nourishing one another, healing one another and being the light of Christ to all whom you encounter for the transformation of our world.”

Earlier in the day, the graduate student commencement took place. Beth Tinsman, CEO of Twin State Technical Services, gave the commencement address.

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