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Civil rights champion is 2015 Commencement speaker

05.08.15
By: Mark Tarnacki
bernard lafayette jr

Bernard Lafayette Jr. is the 2015 Saint Michael's College Commencement speaker. Honorary degrees will be presented to John L. Allen Jr. and Sister Cyril Mooney (photos below)

Bernard Lafayette Jr., distinguished senior scholar-in-residence at Emory University and civil rights activist for over 50 years, will be Saint Michael's College's Commencement speaker and recipient of a Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, at the  May 10 ceremony in the College's Ross Sports Center.

Two others also will receive honorary doctorates: John L. Allen Jr., journalist and author, and Sister Cyril Mooney, an education innovator in India.

"Lafayette, Allen and Mooney, exemplify the mission and education of Saint Michael's College," said Saint Michael's College President John Neuhauser. "Each has spent a life connecting communities, working for the social good and promoting the Catholic mission. They reflect the Edmundite core values of social justice, education, spiritual renewal and ministry that are the cornerstone of Saint Michael's College, which was founded by the Society of Saint Edmund."

With this year's national observance of the 50th anniversary of "Bloody Sunday" in Selma, Ala., and the subsequent march from Selma to Montgomery that led to the 1965 Voting Rights Act, this 108th Saint Michael's commencement will celebrate the role that Selma-based missionaries of the College's founding religious order, the Society of Saint Edmund, played alongside Lafayette and others in that era's Civil Rights movement across the South.

Lafayette, who turns 75 this year, has been a civil rights activist for over 50 years. He was a cofounder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, a leader in the Nashville, Tenn. lunch counter sit-ins, and was a Freedom Rider, and an associate of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Lafayette arrived in Selma in 1963 and worked closely with Father Maurice Ouellet, SSE (Society of Saint Edmund). In his book, "In Peace and Freedom: My Journey in Selma," Lafayette, one of the few remaining witnesses of the courage and commitment of that time, acknowledges the stand taken by Ouellet during the movement.

Lafayette is currently a distinguished senior scholar-in-residence at Emory University's Chandler School of Theology in Atlanta, Ga., and chair of the national board of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Allen, 49, is a journalist and serves as associate editor of The Boston Globe and writes regularly for the website, Crux, a site covering the worldwide institution of the Catholic Church. He is also the author of several books about the Catholic Church.

Allen specializes in news about the Catholic Church, and was the Vatican watcher, covering news about the Holy See and the pope for 16 years before joining The Boston Globe in 2014. During those years, he also served as a senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter and analyst of Vatican affairs for CNN and NPR.

Allen has written several books, focusing primarily on the papacy and the Catholic Church. He has written two biographies of Pope Benedict XVI, including "Cardinal Ratzinger: The Vatican's Enforcer of the Faith," a book on Pope Francis, "Against the Tide: The Radical Leadership of Pope Francis," and "Opus Dei: An Objective Look Behind the Myths and Reality of the Most Controversial Force in the Catholic Church."

Sister Mooney, 78, is principal at the Loreto Day School in Kolkata, India, which she has run for 32 years. She has devoted her life to charity and those in need; she is a champion of the education of the poorest, and has used a community-based approach to education, which has allowed the poorest of the poor to attend schools in Kolkata. In 2007, Sister Mooney received the Padma Shri Award, the Government of India's fourth-highest civilian honor. She has worked with Saint Michael's Mobilization of Volunteer Efforts (MOVE) program, a program where students coordinate 22 separate service programs.

Stephanie Mertens '15, who will graduate from Saint Michael's College in May, nominated Sister Mooney for the honorary degree. As a MOVE volunteer, Mertens was captivated by the stories Mooney told of her years growing up in Ireland and her work in Kolkata.

"To Sister Cyril, it doesn't matter if you're one of the richest children in India or one of the poorest … all children deserve the right to education," said Mertens.

Numbers: According to the registrar, 452 undergraduate students are expected to walk across the stage Sunday, and 22 graduate students/

Commencement Schedule of Events 

Baccalaureate - Saturday, May 9, 2015

Families are encouraged to attend the Baccalaureate Mass. No tickets are required. Additional seating will be available in Dion Family Student Center Digital Lounge where the Mass will be broadcast live.

3:00 PM Graduation Rehearsal; Seniors report to Alliot Student Center
4:00 PM Baccalaureate Mass, Chapel of Saint Michael the Archangel
Main Celebrant: Bishop Christopher Coyne, Bishop of Burlington, VT 

Commencement - Sunday, May 10, 2015

8:00 AM Mass - Chapel of Saint Michael the Archangel (regular Sunday celebration)
9:00 AM Senior class picture w/cap & gown, Front of Library, rain or shine
9:15 AM Robing - (Masters Candidates - 9:00 AM), see below
9:50 AM Procession
10:00 AM Commencement, Ross Sports Center
Speaker: Bernard Lafayette, Jr.

Immediately following Commencement, there will be a reception on the lawn in front of the Library. In case of rain the reception will be moved to the Tarrant Recreation Center.

Commencement will take place in the Ross Sports Center. Tickets are required (but free access to media).  Live broadcasts can be seen in Dion Family Student Center or McCarthy Arts Center (no tickets required), on the College cable channel or at smcvt.edu, or  to connect to the live stream off campus use the link, http://live.vpt.org/smc/.

Recessional will continue to the reception area on the lawn in front of the Library.

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