MESA — Benedictine University at Mesa’s 12 graduating students, comprising its first graduating class, received diplomas May 16.

Benedictine at Mesa began two years ago with fewer than 100 students, said retiring Benedictine University president William J. Carroll. The school is a branch campus of Benedictine University, an independent Catholic university in Lisle, Ill., about 25 miles west of Chicago. The Mesa school had 200-plus students this past year, and Carroll hopes for 400-plus in the fall, he said. In addition, the school was accepted into the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.

“It’s a very competitive market but I think we offer a difference,” Carroll said. “It’s small but it’s growing every day.

“One of the things Mesa does for us is open up California. Parents who would not send their children to Chicago but they certainly would here because it’s closer.”

Graduate Meghan Doherty praised Benedictine at Mesa as “a great place to grow and thrive,” where she learned how to deal with “people who are diverse, so you can see different sides of cultures so you can grow intellectually and personally.”

Doherty is from Chicago, and attended the Illinois campus, where she learned about the plans for Mesa.

“I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to get out of my comfort zone and kind of create the Benedictine way. There it’s established. Here, we created it.”

Father Dan Vanyo, parochial vicar of Queen of Peace Parish in Mesa and chaplain for Benedictine University at Mesa, blesses the graduates at the Baccaelaurate Mass held at Queen of Peace before their graduation ceremony May 16. )Courtesy Benedictine University at Mesa)
Father Dan Vanyo, parochial vicar of Queen of Peace Parish in Mesa and chaplain for Benedictine University at Mesa, blesses the graduates at the Baccaelaurate Mass held at Queen of Peace before their graduation ceremony May 16. (Courtesy Benedictine University at Mesa)

Charlie Gregory, executive vice president of Benedictine, told the graduates, “This is a major milestone. Thank you for being the first…”

He also implored the graduates to spread philanthropic Benedictine values.

“You are now a different individual. Your values matter. You have responsibilities to your communities.

“You also bring the faith that goes along with those values. You have that responsibility. It’s not even a choice.”

Mesa Mayor John Giles suggested that the university’s growth will be part of his plan to take downtown Mesa to a higher level. “I’m excited you are here and on the ground floor and a big part of making that happen.” He pointed out that the light rail will extend into downtown within the next few months.

More photos from Benedictine University

Giles noted he was born a few steps from the ceremony’s location on the south side of Main Street at Gillett Hall, then made one joking request:

“The only thing that we ask is that you commit to stay in Mesa for the rest of your lives.”

The first graduation in Mesa also was the last one presided over at Benedictine by Carroll, who has served as the university’s president for more than 20 years.

In addressing the graduates, Carroll urged them to learn to listen, to play together — which he said would allow them to work together better in an atmosphere of respect — to move past disagreements and to promote diversity.

“For me to be whole, I have to welcome the stranger,” Carroll said.

“In welcoming the stranger, Benedictines teach us that God is among us. When we welcome a Muslim student into our midst, we’re actually welcoming Jesus.

“In your lives, don’t be afraid of the stranger. The stranger contains your future.

“As I leave here and you leave here….Leave as a new person imbued with the ability to listen, to play…to make peace…and to embrace ‘the other’ as the presence of God and go and create harmony in the world.”

— Mike Tulumello, The Catholic Sun

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