Speaker to grads: ‘Never give up on your dreams’

Anne Marie Amacher
St. Ambrose University graduates participate in a commencement ceremony May 20 at Vibrant Arena in Moline, Ill.

By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

MOLINE, Ill. — St. Ambrose University, based in Davenport, awarded academic degrees to 550 students May 20 at the Vibrant Arena during two separate ceremonies. In the morning, 150 students received their master or doctorate degrees and in the afternoon 400 received bachelor degrees.

St. Ambrose University (SAU) also awarded honorary degrees to commencement speakers Lisa Killinger and Jabari Woods and a posthumous Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology to senior Patrick Torrey, who died in November. His sister, Christy Torrey, accepted the award.

During the undergraduate ceremony, Woods (SAU, ’02 and ’05), expressed appreciation for “a once in a lifetime experience” as a commencement speaker. He recalled walking onto the St. Ambrose campus with dreams for the future, hope and curiosity. “I learned about servant leadership, unconditional love, collaboration, perseverance, integrity and most of all, authentic faith. I also learned giving back to others is often a true measure of happiness.”


His academic degrees from St. Ambrose “transformed me.” Life doesn’t always proceed as planned, however. Worried about not having a job lined up after graduation, “I signed up for the Peace Corps with my assignment being in South Africa. The idea sounded great, but I never made it (there).” Instead, he began working as an educator assistant at the Putnam Museum in Davenport. He now serves as associate director in the Davenport Community School District Administrative Service Center.

He spoke of this time in history as a time for “vigorous and positive action” on behalf of real justice, equality, love and absolute truth.” He told the graduates that failure and struggle are inevitable at times but “you will celebrate immense success. You will laugh, love, dance, sing, soar…. Never give up on your dreams. Your dreams will never expire. Dreams are prayers in the creator of the universe. … The degree you receive today,” Woods said, “Is your sacred key that will unlock your doors to the future.”

Woods reminded the graduates “good will always triumph over evil” and encouraged them to choose healing if they are hurting. Stand up for something bigger and pray for guidance, he advised. Acknowledge “your own potential. Remember nothing is greater than the love of God.” He encouraged them to “realize you have the power to make changes no matter what. Choose to soar.”

St. Ambrose University President Amy Novak told the graduates, “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.”

“We charge you to use your education, an education anchored in the Gospel values of justice and mercy, to always put others before yourself. To offer grace. To extend kindness. To listen authentically. To appreciate difference. To find common ground. We charge you to use your Ambrosian education to be aware that we are each called to serve. … We charge you to use your education to think adaptively, to embrace change (and goodness knows, you all experienced that), to become tomorrow’s problem-solvers. To stay curious. To see challenge as opportunity. To be innovative in your response to the crises of our future.”

“We charge you to use your education to be a servant leader amplifying the voices of those who are marginalized, those whose perspective may not be around the table, and those whose opinions, experiences and perspectives may differ from your own.”

She quoted the university’s namesake, St. Ambrose: “Whether following the will of God or our bond with nature, let us be a help to each other … let us bring aid to one another, either through effort or duty or money or good works or in any way we can so that we might increase the sense of fellowship among us.”

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