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Catholic University class of 2020 returns for graduation

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When the COVID-19 pandemic sent the world into lockdown in spring 2020, The Catholic University of America in Washington honored the Class of 2020 with a virtual commencement ceremony and a promise to hold an in-person celebration at a later time.

Last month, nearly 300 members of the Class of 2020 gathered in caps and gowns at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington for an in-person ceremony, held in conjunction with the university’s annual homecoming and reunion weekend.

The class was "deprived of the pomp and circumstance of a real graduation," said Father John P. Beal, a doctor of canon law. "We are grateful, Lord, that you brought them back for a more fitting closure. We are grateful for the benefits and blessings you showered on them during their time here. Our lives are richer because they sojourned here." 

The graduation address was delivered by Kevin Ryan, president and CEO of Covenant House International, one of the largest charities in North and Central America serving homeless, trafficked and sexually exploited youths.

"The pandemic taught us everything we need to know about life," he said.

"First, we need each other," he said. "The absence of social connection may be why so many of us struggled with anxiety and malaise these past 20 months."

The second lesson, he said, "is that heroes are ordinary people who love with courage."

"The heroes of our lives inspire us because they love courageously and in so doing, they reveal the scale of love’s power: potential to move us beyond our comfort and position and privilege." 

The third lesson of the pandemic, he said, is that "heroes are everywhere." When the story of the pandemic is told 100 years from now, it will include "helpers and healers and advocates and activists and first responders (who) loved heroically and became humanity’s arc in the flood," he said.

This brought him to his fourth and last lesson. "Now more than ever, the world needs heroes. And here you are, Class of 2020. You are already heroes to me.

"You lost a season of joy, a place you called home, your community. Some of you, I know, lost loved ones and your own health. But you have returned today and you rise this afternoon to reveal at this university that a resurrection people will always insist on joy, on celebration, on overcoming, on hopefulness, and on life."

Catholic University President John Garvey also addressed the graduates following his tradition of choosing a virtue for each one of his commencement addresses. This year, he chose meekness, which he said is related to serenity.

"The meek shall ‘delight in abundance of peace,’ Psalm 36 says. They shall ‘inherit the earth,’ according to the Sermon on the Mount. St. Augustine says the meek have a special kind of stability: they draw their peace from God, and nothing can rob them of that."

"I was really emotional sitting there in the basilica," said 2020 graduate Elizabeth Seablom. "I originally didn’t think I needed this. We missed out on so much, but I moved on. I’m so glad I came. This was more than I could have hoped for."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021