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May 14, 2017

Saint Joseph’s College sends off Class of 2017

The difference between a successful life and a significant life

Graduating students process across campus for the 122nd annual commencement exercises at Saint Joseph’s College. (Photos by Jesica E. Hollinger)

Graduating students process across campus for the 122nd annual commencement exercises at Saint Joseph’s College. (Photos by Jesica E. Hollinger)

By Jesica E. Hollinger

RENSSELAER — I don’t have a single memory of anything that was said during my commencement.

That’s what Father Bill Nordenbrock, CPPS, told the 250 graduates of Saint Joseph’s College, who were joined by hundreds of faculty, staff, alumni, family and friends for the historic commencement on May 6.

Father Nordenbrock is currently the moderator general of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood, who founded the college.

His message to the graduates looked to the future, well past graduation day, and encouraged the students to focus on leading meaningful lives in service of others.

His keynote address marked what could be the college’s last commencement after 122 years, since plans for a temporary closure of the campus were announced for this fall.

“Though I don’t remember any of the words uttered during my entire commencement; I do remember the hope and excitement I had about the future,” Father Nordenbrock said. “And, I hope you have that same excitement here, today.”

A 1977 alumnus with his undergraduate degree in philosophy from Saint Joseph’s, Father Nordenbrock told the students that he realizes now how little he knew when he was their age, about how his life would actually be.

“Along the way I’ve learned a few important things,” Father Nordenbrock said.

“What is the difference between a successful life and a significant life?” he asked the crowd.

A successful life, he said, is marked with accomplishments — a good job, a nice house in a nice neighborhood, money in the bank, with enough to travel — material things.

A significant life, however, “speaks to the depths of our relationships with those around us, living our lives for the sake of others, and coming to the ultimate realization that our lives are not our own,” he added.

Victoria Morrison, who graduated last year, said she appreciated that the day was focused more on the graduates, rather than the closing of the school.

“Today was their day, and for being (what could be) the last commencement today, it was quite underwhelming for being the final chapter,” she said.

Morrison currently works as an ABA Therapist for Lighthouse Autism Center. She said staff and professors at Saint Joseph’s shaped how well she was able to apply everything she learned in the classroom.

“I’ve been able to apply everything I’ve learned, all they instilled in me here, and everything I learned in the classroom has helped me so much in my current career,” she said.

Gabrielle Pepple, a junior at the Rensselaer college, said that she was proud and thankful that her senior friends and some of her junior friends got to graduate from Saint Joseph’s, instead of transfer.

“I was also a little jealous that I would never get to experience it as a Puma,” Pepple said.

“During the ceremony, I thought about my friends — the close ones I’ll see often and the ones for who this day means the goodbyes are permanent,” she added.

“I love everyone at St. Joe’s, because good or bad, we are family and we all cared for our own,” she said.

Dr. Cheryl Wistrom, a professor of chemistry for more than 27 years, said that while she never really thought the college would close, in the back of her mind she had been prepared, in case the worst happened.

“I earned my pharmacy degree in 2003, because I’ve been interested in health and health care for many years,” Wistrom said.

“Now, I have something new to do, and my husband — who was also a professor of biology at St. Joe’s — found a position in Buena Vista, Iowa, and we will relocate there,” she added.

Established in 1889, Saint Joseph’s College was home to more than 900 students and 200 staff members during the 2016-17 school year.

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