Business Leader Sherie Swiess Dodsworth '78 Tells Grads to "Believe in Yourself."
Saint Mary's College conferred degrees on more than 530 students on May 21 in the College's 148th undergraduate commencement ceremony. On a sunny spring day, Brother Ronald Gallagher, FSC, the College president, congratulated the graduates, saying they had already made Saint Mary's "known to the nation and the world for teamwork, commitment, quality education and achievement."
He noted that this year marked the 40th anniversary of women entering Saint Mary's College, a comment that drew a roar of approval from the audience.
One of the early women graduates was commencement speaker Sherie Swiess Dodsworth '78, CEO of Securita, Inc. and chair of Borel Private Bank & Trust Company. Dodsworth has served in senior financial roles in industries ranging from investment management and semiconductors to e-commerce and venture capital. After Hurricane Katrina, she founded Securita, Inc., and invented a water-resistant portfolio â€“ Vital Records PortaVault â€“ that organizes and safely stores important documents.
An appropriate choice to speak before the class that marks 40 years of women at Saint Mary's, she was the first alumna to serve on the Board of Regents, the first female president of the Alumni Association and the first Alumna of the Year.
Life Lessons from 'Clouds'
Dodsworth credited the College's Collegiate Seminar program for helping her achieve success but admitted that she didn't always recognize its value. "My freshman seminar teacher was a brother who was endearingly referred to as â€˜Clouds' because we, the bright, smart freshman students, could not understand what he was trying to accomplish with some of our discussions," she recalled. "Little did we know that in retrospect â€˜Clouds' introduced us to a learning style which would greatly influence our lives forever."
The lessons learned in the seminar program â€“ how to speak clearly, listen objectively and engage in intelligent discourse â€“ will serve the new graduates well, she said.
She advised the members of the graduating class of 2011 to set goals that "require focus and commitment in order to strengthen their resolve." She recalled how, at age 50, she set a goal to complete a marathon. During the race, she kept repeating the motto, "If it is to be, it is up to me." It worked, she said, adding: "I crossed the finish the with my arms held high overhead and a smile on my face, feeling like I could accomplish anything."
She encouraged the graduates to aim high, too. "Believe in yourself," she advised. "You are a member of a community that welcomes involvement and leadership, celebrates accomplishments, embraces new ideas and change, and encourages you to pursue your passions."
Valedictorian Urges Grads to Leave a Legacy
The valedictory address was delivered by Marlena Griffin. She recalled how "a few weeks ago I was in yoga class, teetering between meditation and sleep, as many college students tend to do, when my instructor asked the class to meditate on the empty millisecond between each breath." In that moment, she realized the importance of every second, every action, in shaping who we are.
"Your values and your life choices are much more important than where you work or what you attain," she said. "The person you are lies within the emptiness, the pause between each breath. In this suspended state, we find the greatest richness of all: ourselves and our place in life."
She urged her classmates to use those precious moments to leave a legacy that will live beyond them.
"Though our stories may be told and our successes recounted, the only active part of ourselves we will leave on this earth is the place we've taken in life, the person we become and the ideas we leave for others," she said. "We have earned the opportunity to pass on our talents and knowledge to others. We have earned the opportunity to impact real, lasting change in our world. As long as we continue these pursuits in our community, we will earn a lasting legacy every moment for the rest of our lives."
Griffin is one of the 13 founding members of the Honors Program at Saint Mary's, which also included Kelly Fisher, who graduated from both the Honors Program and SMC in just three years; Caitlin Graveson, who is the first in her family to attend college and won the John XXIII award for theology and religious studies; and Kayla Diemoz, winner of the Brousseau Award for math and computer sciences, among others.
After the addresses, Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Frances Sweeney announced the academic award winners for 2011. They included Megan Dagang, winner of the De La Salle award for general excellence; and the all-school award winners: Chelsey Marderosian, the Brother U. Jerome Griffin award for the School of Economics and Business Administration; Joy Makin, the James L. Hagerty award for the School of Liberal Arts, and Kurt Thompson, the Arthur S. Campbell award for the School of Science. (View a full list of the class of 2011 academic award winners.)
The ceremony ended with renditions of "The Bells of Saint Mary's" and the alma mater â€“ and impromptu shouts of "Go Gaels!"
Parties on the Lawn Celebrate the Grads
After the commencement ceremony, the guests and graduates spilled out of the stadium and spread out across campus to honor a longstanding tradition at Saint Mary's: the festive party on the lawn, complete with tents, catered parties and DJ music. Friends, parents and whole extended families exchanged hugs as the grads kicked off their shoes for their last celebration on campus.
Among them was Stephanie Milz, an enthusiastic business major who will be joining Insight Global as a recruiter in June. "This is the best day at Saint Mary's because you're here with your family and friends," she said.
Albert Garcia, a politics and religious studies major who is headed to law school in Minneapolis in the fall, was enjoying the party, too, but was a little wistful about leaving Saint Mary's. "It'll be tough to leave this place and all the people you see every day," he said. He was hanging out with a couple of those people â€“ Nick Krizek, who's been his buddy since they were roommates in their freshman year, and Hector Rodriguez. Looking around at all the happy faces, Rodriguez smiled broadly and said, "It was worth every minute for this â€“ this party â€¦ and the diploma."
Office of College Communications
View a slide show of the undergraduate commencement ceremony.