May 20, 2013—As graduates, friends, and families celebrated during Commencement Weekend 2013, speakers encouraged students to leave with one more lesson: the value of genuine human connection.
This year, Georgetown College graduated 907 students in a ceremony on Healy Lawn. The weekend began at Senior Convocation with alumna and actress Brit Marling (C’05). “The truth is, which we are sometimes reluctant to admit in a culture that loves the meteoric ascent of solitary genius, … we need each other, probably more now than ever,” Marling said. Marling shares her success in film with her friends and frequent collaborators Mike Cahill (C’01) and Zal Batmanglij (C’02).
At Friday’s Tropaia Exercises, Dean Chester Gillis honored those students who achieved the highest academic honors and presented departmental awards. Valedictorian Steven Waldorf (C’13) gave the Cohonguroton address. The ceremony also honored Professor of Psychology Steven Sabat, who received the Edward B. Bunn S.J. Award for Faculty Excellence. Given by the students of the senior class, the award recognizes faculty members for their dedicated service to students and Georgetown.
During his 38 years at Georgetown, this is the third time that Sabat has received the Bunn Award from the senior class. “My fellow students, teaching you and working with you have brought me great fulfillment,” he said. “In the darkest days of my life, having to walk into the classroom and give you my best has made those days far, far brighter than they otherwise might have been.
“There are some lessons in this—do with your lives something that you love and let that something be bigger than yourself, and you will find joy. Indeed, you will be happy to love what you do just as I have been happy to love to teach and work with you. So we can be happy in more ways than one by loving to do good for others.” he continued.
This year, Sabat also nominated Lisa Shannon to be the keynote speaker at the College’s commencement ceremony, where she received a doctorate of humane letters, honris causa. Shannon is the founder of Run for Congo Women and the author of A Thousand Sisters: My Journey into the Worst Place on Earth to be a Woman. Shannon started working to raise public awareness for Congolese women after learning about the war in Congo on an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2005. “Instead of choosing a comfortable life, working to build a thriving business, Lisa went to the Congo and devoted herself to helping extraordinarily vulnerable people, living in the direst of conditions,” Sabat said at Saturday’s ceremony.
Shannon’s efforts to organize Run for Congo Women events in 10 states and 3 foreign countries has raised over $12 million to support more than 66,000 Congolese women. In 2011, she helped found Sister Somalia, the first rape hotline and support program for survivors of sexual violence in Mogadishu, Somalia.
At commencement, Shannon encouraged graduates to find human connection through empathy. Shannon found herself even more dedicated to her cause after traveling to Congo and exchanging letters with Congolese women. “Some people talk about compassion fatigue, like empathy wears you down. I’ve found the opposite,” she said. “It’s not that that stepping up is more comfortable; it’s just that comfort becomes less relevant in the face of empathy override,” she said.
Shannon told students not to wait to effect change, but to act when the moment arrives. “I have one wish for you all: that you don’t pass up that invitation. That you don’t choose comfort, soul-numbing comfort. Flip on your empathy switch,” she said.
As “men and women for others,” Georgetown students have found that these human connections are an integral part of their liberal arts education. “I think that’s something that Georgetown has taught us—that this is not just an education with textbooks,” psychology major Christina Gil (C’13) said.
“It’s an education where you’re learning to engage with your fellow human beings, so that when you move forward you can change the world through connections.”