Valedictorian: Follow University's founding principals to find a successful life

Ashley Hale of Pine Grove, Pa., celebrates with her parents.
Ashley Hale of Pine Grove, Pa., celebrates with her parents.

In today’s fast-paced world where technology can become obsolete in as little as six years, Misericordia University President Michael A. MacDowell urged the 378 undergraduate and graduate students who received their diplomas at the 87th annual Commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 18 to remember the Trinity of Learning, which has provided all of them a strong foundation to lead successful lives and careers.

“Those values will provide a touchstone for you as you enter a world where a smartphone dies in six years,’’ said President MacDowell, referring to Apple’s announcement that it will retire its first iPhone on June 11. “Change will inevitably take place, but the education and the values that you gained here will remain constant throughout your lives.’’

Since Misericordia was founded by the Religious Sisters of Mercy in 1924, the institution of higher education has lived its mission ably through its tenets of Mercy, Service, Justice and Hospitality. The Trinity of Learning – providing quality academics, service leadership and professional preparation – also has been a hallmark of a college education at Misericordia for many years.

“We believe that your time here has helped create that foundation upon which the rest of your life will be constructed,’’ said President MacDowell, who will officially retire June 30 after serving 15 years as president . “At Misericordia, we capsulize that foundation in four words: Mercy, Service, Justice and Hospitality, the charisms of our founders and sponsors.’’

That foundation could have come in the form of academic preparation as graduates from the Departments of Nursing and Occupational Therapy have surpassed the state and national pass rate averages on the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses and for the National Board of Certification in Occupational Therapy examination. First-time test takers from the nursing program had 98.3-percent and 88.14-percent pass rates the last two years in 2012 and 2011, respectively. OT graduates registered 97 and 93.2 percent pass rates on their licensure examinations in 2012 and 2011, as well.

Misericordia also is known for imbuing in each student a sense of service to others, especially those most in need. Through academic service-learning courses and mission trips around the world and close to home, students tutor young children, rebuild homes and lives in storm-ravaged areas of the country, and they volunteer to make a difference in the lives of underprivileged children and impoverished adults in the inner cities and in developing countries.

“With the rapidity of change so blatantly obvious in today’s world, it is reassuring, if not very comforting, to know that there are certain characteristics and tenets that remain constant,’’ said President MacDowell, acknowledging the 158,000 hours of community service the campus community provided this past academic year. “These are building blocks – the foundation if you will – of one’s life.’’

Carl Bernstein, the University’s Commencement speaker, also knows how to make a positive impact in the world and in his profession. Few authors and investigative journalists in American history have had the impact as Mr. Bernstein, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. He has spent his career reporting on important issues in politics, the culture in Washington, D.C., and writing books that chronicle the definitive accounts of three of the most dominant figures of the past half century: President Richard Nixon, Pope John Paul II and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

It is the second time in 13 months that Mr. Bernstein has been on campus to make a presentation. He was the inaugural speaker for the Dr. Midori Yamanouchi Lecture Series in which he talked about Pope John Paul II in Lemmond Theater. He also participated in an intimate question-and-answer session with communications students in which they talked about Watergate and the current culture in Washington, D.C.

Together, Mr. Bernstein and Bob Woodward earned a Pulitzer Prize for the reporting they did for The Washington Post that uncovered the Watergate scandal during the Nixon presidency. They set the standard for modern investigative reporting. Since then, Mr. Bernstein has continued to build on the theme he and Woodward first explored in the Nixon years – the use and abuse of power – in books, magazine articles, commentary, television reporting, and as editor of an award-winning website.

Mr. Bernstein and Mr. Woodward also wrote two classic best sellers: “All the President’s Men,’’ which was turned into a movie starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, about the coverage of the Watergate story; and “The Final Days,’’ that outlined the denouement of the Nixon presidency.

Maria Kidron, the valedictorian of the Class of 2013, challenged her classmates to use the values and education they received at Misericordia University to strengthen their character and better the world around them.

“We have been given the proper tools of the four core values (Mercy, Service, Justice and Hospitality) to help build our future,’’ said Kidron, the daughter of Robert and Joan Kidron. “We must now use these tools to lay down the tracks for our newest journey. To quote Mother Catherine McAuley, the foundress of the Sisters of Mercy, ‘This is your life, joys and sorrow mingled, one succeeding the other.’ Our journey through life will not always be a smooth ride, and there might be moments where we derail. Using our tools with courage, strength and confidence, we will endure.

“We have also received tools to succeed in our chosen profession. Our professors have given us the starting pieces of track. We must connect the pieces together, and in the end, the track will lead us to many successes and happiness in our careers,’’ Kidron added.

During the Commencement ceremony, Misericordia University presented Mr. Bernstein and the Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L., Bishop of the Diocese of Scranton, with honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degrees.