Ecumenical Pioneer Urges Bonaventure Graduates To Embrace ‘Commitment That Binds Us Together’

ST. BONAVENTURE – More than 600 St. Bonaventure University graduates were urged to embrace the “faith of their childhoods,” but only if they “respect that same passion in the faith of others.”

The Rev. Dr. Joan Brown Campbell, director of the Department of Religion at Chautauqua Institution for 13 years, offered the keynote address to 404 undergraduates and 206 graduate students Sunday morning in the Reilly Center Arena at the university’s 154th Commencement ceremony.

Campbell framed her speech around the tale of a 9/11 survivor, who ignored the call to remain in his office that day and raced down 47 flights of stairs to safety.

“He was unable to get out of his mind the scene that he left behind – people of all ages, races, gender, nationalities were praying, in languages he could not understand, in postures of prayer with which he was unfamiliar,” she said. “But all were praying to one God.”

The indelible memory left the man not with guilt but with hope.

“Perhaps it is this vision that should be the passion of our hearts – a vision, a commitment that binds us together in pursuit of a better world,” said Campbell, 82, an international pioneer in interreligious dialogue.

“The point is that the world we are in and the world of our children and grandchildren will be an increasingly interfaith world. It will ask the very best from the religious faith that is in us – the living of our finest religion. – And from our religious variety, the faith we live by inside will touch our common life for the good of all.”

Makeda Loney, a journalism and mass communication major from Brooklyn, was the student speaker and talked about the unique experience of a Bonaventure student.

“No other campus can produce young men and women like the ones that are about to march out of this arena as graduates,” Loney said. “No other school has the soul or qualities or feeling of warmth, home and energy like Bona’s. So once you leave this campus today, do not for a second doubt yourself as a person. St. Bonaventure has provided you with the tools to grow spiritually, educationally and professionally.”

Dr. Gregory J. Privitera, associate professor of psychology, was presented the Professional Excellence in Teaching award. It is the second consecutive year that Privitera has been honored with a Professional Excellence award, having last year received the Junior Faculty Award for Professional Excellence.

Receiving honorary degrees were Dr. Campbell; Ann L. Swan, a longtime benefactor of St. Bonaventure and a staunch supporter of Catholic higher education; and Neal J. Johnson, class of 1973, president and CEO of Special Olympics New York.