By Renée K. Gadoua | Contributing writer
As Le Moyne College’s Classes of 2020 and 2021 celebrated — likely with fatigue and relief as well as joy — Jesuit Father Charles O. Oduke highlighted the specific challenges students faced in the last 15 months.
“Dear God,” Father Oduke, the college’s interim director of inclusive excellence and global education, prayed at the start of multiple commencement services, “inspire us to be women and men for and with others and to continue to collaborate with one another in addressing the causes of poverty and the three pandemics: COVID-19, mental health, and systemic racism.”
He continued: “Healers of COVID-19, restore us to wholeness of mind, soul, and body and enable us to seek ways that transform our race relations, foster peace, build bridges, and create an enabling environment for all to thrive.”
Usually held over a weekend, commencement this year included six
ceremonies — two each for undergraduate students and one each for graduate students in the Classes of 2020 and 2021 — May 22 to May 28 because of COVID-19 crowd limits and
social distancing. Each graduate could invite two guests to their outdoor in-person ceremony. Events were also pre-recorded and livestreamed. Bishop Douglas J. Lucia presided at the May 23 Baccalaureate Mass.
At the commencements President Linda LeMura followed Father Oduke’s somber invocation with a more personal, emotional message. “I want you to remember that the Class of 2021 showed incredible grace and resilience in the face of a crisis none of us could ever have imagined,” she said May 28. “What you have shown, in the words of St. Paul, is love.”
LeMura included a special message May 22 to the Class of 2020, who missed many senior year traditions. She held a sign reading “You have my heart,” which hung behind her when she recorded videos from her Syracuse home. “How many times did I weep underneath a stupid mask because I missed you so much?” she said. “This class will always have a special place in my heart.
Le Moyne is “your home,” she said. “I want you to come back often and I want you to stay long because this is your home. You will overwhelm the world with greatness and goodness … You have my heart. We love you.”
Commencement 2020 was postponed by the pandemic that kept students off campus starting in March 2020; the Class of 2021 returned to campus in the fall to attend a mix of remote and in-person classes, a testing regimen, and safety precautions that limited social interaction.
Le Moyne celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, although pandemic restrictions scuttled in-person events related to the milestone. The college did, though, honor its first graduates: the Class of 1951. Of its 259 graduates, about 60 are living, including Dan McNeil of Cortland, an honorary degree recipient whose family donated $7 million to the college to create an undergraduate major in risk management and insurance.
“For 98 I’m feeling pretty good,” McNeil told the Sun in a telephone interview. He remembers driving to a nearly empty, muddy campus, where most of his classmates were World War II veterans. “I’m certainly glad I went there,” he said.
Le Moyne is the youngest of 27 Jesuit colleges and universities in the United States and the first to open as a co-educational institution. Bishop Walter A. Foery, who led the Syracuse Diocese 1937 to 1970, envisioned a Catholic college that served returning veterans and educated local Catholics — including women — who could not afford to attend Catholic colleges outside Syracuse. He also sought an alternative to Syracuse University, a Methodist institution.
New graduates join about 35,000 Le Moyne alumni (including graduate students, who attended master’s programs beginning in 1993).
The Baccalaureate Mass was held in-person at the college’s Panasci Family Chapel and livestreamed online. Clergy, including many of Le Moyne’s 13 Jesuits, and some worshipers, wore red to mark Pentecost. The day commemorates the Holy Spirit’s descent upon the Apostles and other followers of Jesus Christ while in Jerusalem celebrating the Feast of Weeks.
The Mass, which many graduating students planned and participated in, included a blessing of the students and singing of the college’s alma mater.
During the Prayer of the Faithful, graduating senior Phillip S. Hoffman requested prayers “for our beloved Le Moyne,” saying, “May Christ always dwell in the hearts of this community, rooted and grounded in love, rich in diversity, bound together in unity, working always in a faith that does justice.”
Bishop Lucia closed with praise for the college community’s efforts to prevent spreading the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19. “I commend you all that you have been an example in this community, in this local church, for the way you have cared for one another and the way you have cared for your community,” he said. “I commend you all for all that you did out of love of neighbor.”
To the graduates he said: “You will be even a more precious gift to the world because of the way you lived this year.”
Referring to Pentecost, the bishop urged graduates to “go out from that Upper Room, go out to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.”
Watch commencement events at https://lemoyne.edu/Events/Commencement/Commencement-Watch-Live
Le Moyne College 2021 honorary degrees
Le Moyne College honored eight with Doctor of Humane Letters honorary degrees in a May 15 ceremony:
Jack Boorman ’63 (posthumously): International Monetary Fund economist, author on monetary theory, and longtime member of Le Moyne’s Board of Trustees
Sharon Kinsman Salmon ’78: Former Pfizer finance and human resources executive and longtime member of Le Moyne’s Board of Trustees
Jesuit Father David McCallum ’90: Commencement speaker and executive director of the Discerning Leadership Program, a collaboration between Le Moyne College, the General Curia of the Society of Jesus, the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, ESADE in Spain, and Georgetown University. He previously held several administrative positions at Le Moyne.
Cornelius “Neil” Murphy: Former president of the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse
Daniel McNeil Jr. ’51: A veteran of World War II, and president of McNeil Development Company in Cortland
Joyce Stokes Jones: Coauthor, with her daughter, Michelle Jones Galvin, of “Aunt Harriet, Moses of Her People,” her great grand aunt, Harriet Ross Tubman
Dr. David Dasher ’69: Retired dentist; volunteer dentist, volunteer executive director, and one of the founders of Syracuse’s Amaus Dental Services, a free outreach of the Cathedral
Dr. Robert Fangio ’78: Retired dentist; volunteer dentist and volunteer director of operations at Amaus Dental Services, deacon, and director of deacon personnel for the Diocese of Syracuse