Very Rev. David M. O'Connell, C.M. , university president, was the speaker at Niagara University's commencement in New York on Sunday, May 18. The Niagara Gazette and Buffalo News covered his remarks. See his comments in the Niagara Gazette story below.
NIAGARA UNIVERSITY: Class of 2008 has 1,200 graduates

From: Niagara Gazette Date: May 19, 2008 Author: Rick PfeifferAMHERST - As a former Niagara University graduate, Father David O'Connell spoke from experience when he addressed the Class of 2008 at the university's commencement exercises Sunday.

The current president of The Catholic University of America, in Washington, D.C., and a member of Niagara's Board of Trustees, O'Connell told the gathered undergraduates he hoped they'd remember his address for different reasons "than why he remembered his commencement speaker, Canadian media scholar Marshall McLuhan.

"When I sat 30 years ago, like you, (I was) hoping that the commencement speech would be short. It was not," O'Connell recalled. "(McLuhan spoke about) 'The Untapped Resources of the Left Hemisphere of the Brain.' He spoke for an hour!"

O'Connell, who chose the topic "Life After Niagara" was significantly more to the point in his remarks.

He told the graduates he wanted to share "some rules to live by." Among those rules: believe in yourself, respect others, put others first, live your faith and make a difference.

"When you first arrived at Niagara University, you brought with you a suitcase full of hopes and dreams," O'Connell said. "It was your opportunity to begin, to strike out on your own, to test everything you had known and seen in a laboratory of new ideas and knowledge."

He reminded the grads they'd been tested by peers and professors and had opened their minds and looked to new horizons.

"Now, on your graduation day, the time has come for you to pack up that suitcase and move on," O'Connell said. "What will you bring with you on this new journey that you begin today?"

O'Connell said belief in themselves would be the key to their future.

When it came to respecting others, O'Connell said common courtesy is not all that common and urged graduates to "be the exception" by being civil in all their relationships. He also asked that they put aside selfishness and self-centeredness, calling them "cancers" that destroy healthy opportunities in life.

O'Connell said the graduates choice of a Catholic university made clear the importance of faith in their lives. He told them Niagara's Vincentian history should guide them.

"Our Vincentian identity and mission recognize that there is something good and purposeful in every life, especially the poor," O'Connell said. "That there is a right and a wrong way to live in this world and that our choices and our freedom are not arbitrary things."

Finally, O'Connell told his audience commencement is a beginning, not an end. He said it was time for the graduates to step into the world and leave their mark.

"Have the courage to make a difference because of what you have learned and the person you have become, right now as you walk out these doors," O'Connell said. "Have something to show for your life, right now. Have something to show for your efforts, for your study, for your sacrifice and that of your parents, right now."

Candace Miller, of Syracuse, received the Senior Medal signifying the highest academic achievement in the graduating class. Jaclyn Rossi, of Fairport, the senior class president, was honored with the Niagara Medal, selected by her fellow graduates on the basis of personality, character and success in her studies.

"Though our school is small in size, it is not small in heart," Rossi told her classmates. "We are entering (the world) with an education that makes a difference."

University President Fr. Joseph Levesque told the graduates their time at Niagara was his pleasure.

"It has been a pleasure to have had you with us," Levesque said. "I hope the world embraces you as enthusiastically as we have."