We were honored that Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, chose Ave Maria University to deliver her only Commencement speech for a graduating class of 2018. Her visit to our campus received national coverage. Visit the links below to read each article.
Time.com published the full transcript of Secretary DeVos’ prepared address in which she encouraged our students to “go for greatness.”
Watch the video of President Towey’s eloquent introduction of Secretary DeVos and her full address to the graduating class of 2018.
The Honorable Betsy DeVos chose Ave Maria University to deliver her only Commencement speech for a graduating class of 2018. The ceremony took place on Saturday, May 5th. This was the largest class to graduate from the University since its founding, with 232 bachelor’s degree recipients, ten Masters of Arts in Theology, and five Doctors of Philosophy in Theology.
Secretary DeVos was well received by the audience and students, earning a standing ovation following her 20-minute speech. Her speech focused on service to others and the teachings of the Saints who inspire Ave Maria University most, Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Saint Pope John Paul II. She also advised graduates to “embrace the mess.” She said, “Know that your life won’t always unfold according to plan. Anticipate being called to something different, to something unexpected. Be not afraid!”
Many graduates commented that they thoroughly enjoyed hearing Secretary DeVos’ speech. Following the ceremony, Secretary DeVos took the opportunity to meet with students and their families outside for photos. Student volunteers of the Mother Teresa Museum on campus, the only museum in honor of Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta in the United States, provided Secretary and Mr. DeVos a tour before they ended their day at Ave Maria University.
The graduating class of 2018 was blessed to have such a dynamic and influential speaker for their Commencement ceremony. We look forward to sharing with you what our graduates do next!
Ave Maria University’s graduating class of 2018 is a group of 247 devoted scholars, diverse in their passions and hobbies, but united in loyalty to their new alma mater. While most students completed their bachelor’s degree, ten students earned a Masters of Art in Theology, and five received a Doctors of Philosophy in Theology. This was Ave Maria’s largest graduating class to date. These graduates are capable, inspired, and ready to show the world what an Ave Maria University graduate can do! We are delighted to share a few success stories from the class of 2018.
Valeria Tkacik graduated with her degree in Politics. If that wasn’t enough, she double minored in Environmental Science and Theology. While on campus, Valeria was an accomplished student, both in academics and athletics. Despite being born without a left arm, she was an outstanding member of the women’s lacrosse team, an accomplishment which serves as an incredible testament to her tenacity and drive. She spent her time at Ave Maria training, praying with her sisters in her household, the Sisterhood of Mary Magdalene, and playing an active role in Student Government Association. While Valeria’s plans continue to unfold, she is excited for her next adventure.
Breanna Backstrom double majored in Psychology and Health Science. During her time at Ave Maria, Breanna served as treasurer for the Apologetics club, an on-campus organization that strives to educate students in the art of justifying the multiple aspects of one’s faith. During her junior and senior year, she spent her free time tutoring local high school students in math and science. Ultimately, she discovered her calling through an internship at the Naples Community Pregnancy Clinic. She found her work in the pro-life field to be so fulfilling that she chose to pursue the ministry after graduation. Since graduation, she has relocated to South Bend, Indiana, where she will work as a counselor for the Women’s Care Center.
The graduating class of 2018 at Ave Maria University had its first seven students graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in Marketing, and Nick Root was one of them. His accomplishments in high school provided him the opportunity to receive the Kazma Leadership Scholarship, a highly competitive scholarship sought after by many students. Having discovered firsthand what a blessing a scholarship could be, he decided to help other students have the same opportunity. For the past two years, Nick worked in the Office of Advancement as a student caller and Lead Philanthropy Specialist in the Phone Center, raising scholarship funds for students in need. Since graduation, Nick has become a full-time Advancement Associate for the University.
By: Johnnie Eagan, ‘19
Hunter Rose (’18) Finds Ave’s Challenge to Say “Yes” Prepared Him Well
Hunter Rose chose AMU because he was looking for a return on his investment. “The school was and has remained affordable over my four years and has offered exceptional value for the cost incurred,” the senior majoring in Finance and Managerial Economics & Strategic Analysis explains as he prepares for graduation on May 5th. Another motivation for attending AMU was the opportunity to play college ball. “The thought of playing baseball outside in the winter months without a hint of snow…made my decision a rather easy one,” he says.
Hailing from Kalamazoo, Michigan, Hunter decided to add Finance as a second major because of a desire “to be challenged above the norm,” and a chance encounter his Sophomore year. He vividly recalls his first real exposure to investment: “I was sitting down in the Canizaro Library next to [a fellow AMU student] who was trading on Robinhood, a free investment platform solely used on smartphones.” At this point, Hunter wasn’t even familiar with the basics of trading. What is a stock? He asked his friend. Why do the prices change every minute? “Shortly after that experience, I declared Finance as my second major and sought to answer every one of those questions that I had,” he explains.
During his four years at AMU, Hunter was President of the Investment Club, Chairman of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) Executive Council, and Co-Chair of the President’s Circle. He is also a CFA Society of Naples Scholarship Recipient, a member of the Sigma Beta Delta Business Honors Society, an Honors College Scholar, and a Dean’s List student. Adding to this list of accomplishments, he was recently nominated as one of the five finalists for the President’s Award, the highest honor bestowed upon a graduating senior of Ave Maria University in recognition of academic accomplishments, involvement in the life of the University, service to others, and exemplification of AMU’s highest Catholic ideals.
Through his campus involvement, Hunter Rose found his calling, and the tools he needs, to pursue a career in business.
A highlight during his time at AMU was the opportunity for Hunter to attend a meet-and-greet with Dr. Arthur Brooks, President of AEI. “He shared intriguing details of his friendship with the Dalai Lama, above all things,” Hunter recalls. Through his involvement with AEI on campus, Hunter had the opportunity to attend multiple intercollegiate conferences, the high point being the AEI Values & Capitalism Conference on entrepreneurship in Seattle, WA, this past fall. “This unique weekend program provided me with an opportunity to interact with rising Christian business leaders from universities throughout the United States,” he explains, “learning together how business can cultivate the conditions necessary for true human flourishing.” Going on, Hunter says that this experience confirmed in his mind the desire to pursue a career in business.
After graduation, Hunter has accepted a position as a Mutual Funds Analyst at State Farm’s corporate headquarters in Bloomington, IL. There, he explains, he will have the opportunity to help hundreds of thousands of people manage the risks of everyday life, recover from the unexpected, and realize their dreams. He expresses a desire to serve his community with his talents beyond work. “Apart from my work at State Farm,” he shares, “I plan on serving as a business plan advisor for the Prison Entrepreneurship Program and participating in my new community by volunteering at my new local parish.”
Ave Maria University challenges its students to say “yes” to new experiences and opportunities.
Reflecting on his time at AMU, how the past four years have served to shape him, both professionally and personally, Hunter muses on the University’s name. “It’s rather fitting that Ave Maria University is named after the woman who said yes to God,” he reflects. “I say this, because this is exactly what Ave Maria University asks of her students: to say yes.” Going on to explain, he says, “Ave has a unique way of helping students to become aware of God’s will and challenging them to say yes to it. This has been my experience at AMU, and I feel all the more equipped for my professional life having cultivated an awareness and willingness to say yes.”
Congratulations on being nominated as a President’s Award finalist, Hunter, and best of luck as you pursue life after graduation!
Katie Ligday (’18): Flourishing with an Ave Maria University Education
When Katie Ligday, a graduate of the Class of 2018, reflects back on her time at Ave Maria University, growth emerges a common theme. From her discernment of where to attend college, to her choice of a major, to her campus involvement, Katie’s reflections reveal that she was motivated, pushed, and inspired to grow as a person during her four years at Ave Maria.
As a high school student from St. Mary’s County, Maryland, Katie chose to attend Ave Maria because it was a place where she knew she would flourish and thrive. “I knew…I would grow academically, spiritually, socially, and physically,” she recalls. “I would grow as a whole person. I knew Ave Maria was going to help me become the person God intended me to be.”
Katie entered as a Theology major, with a love for her classes and a passion to learn more about God. “I wanted to grow in my knowledge of Him,” she says simply. When she realized she possessed strong organizational and administrative skill sets, she decided to add a minor in Business Administration. “I discovered that a lot of my talents could be applied to administrative work,” she explains. “It also broadened my skills for potential jobs!”
When she was not pursuing studies, Katie was actively involved in campus life. She was a member of the Daughters of God Household, and served the female students as a Resident Assistant in the residence halls. She regularly attended bible studies, was the Activities Coordinator for Ave for Life (a pro-life club on campus), ran with the Life Runners, and served as a Student Representative for the University’s Strategic Planning Committee. Katie was also a recipient of the Leadership Scholarship. As a crowning honor, Katie received the President’s Award; the highest honor bestowed upon a graduating senior in recognition of academic accomplishments, involvement in University life, service to others, and exemplification of the University’s highest Catholic ideals.
Over the last four years at Ave Maria University, Katie Ligday says she was challenged to grow into the person God intended her to be.
“My experience at Ave Maria has been such an amazing one!” she exclaims. “Each semester was filled with new ways to grow and learn about myself. My time here has shaped me personally through time spent in prayer, building relationships with incredible people–students, professors, and staff–and the countless opportunities.” When asked to select one experience as a highlight during her time at Ave Maria, Katie recalled the mission trip to Calcutta, where she served alongside the Missionaries of Charity. “I will never forget this experience,” she states. “I learned how to love in a new way: through action, sacrifice, and silence.”
Looking to the future with joy, Katie will be celebrating her marriage to fellow classmate, Jeffrey Henkel, this summer. After their wedding, the couple plans to settle in Augusta, Georgia.
Congratulations to Katie on her accomplishments over the past four years, and for receiving the 2018 President’s Award.
Aaron Ockenfels, just days away from graduating with a B.A. in Accounting from Ave Maria University, took a break from his studies for an interview that prompted him to reflect back on the last four years, particularly his experience of Hurricane Irma. The graduating senior who grew up on a farm near Wellman, Iowa, was one of five members of the Class of 2018 who were being profiled in the week leading up to graduation. These select five were each nominated for the President’s Award, the highest honor bestowed upon a graduating senior of Ave Maria University in recognition of academic accomplishments, involvement in the life of the University, service to others, and exemplification of AMU’s highest Catholic ideals.
Although not an official member of any club or student organization, Aaron was still actively involved with life on campus and committed to serving the larger community. Every Wednesday he, along with a fellow AMU student, served as a sidewalk counselor outside of the abortion clinic in Naples. Sunday nights would see Aaron assisting with the high school youth ministry at the local parish. Aaron played baseball his junior year and earned Daktronics-NAIA Scholar-Athlete honors. He also performed often with his band, Tom MonaBAND & The Dominos (a playful nod to the University’s founder, Tom Monaghan, and the pizza business that made him his fortune). The student band took first place at the annual campus competition, Battle of the Bands, his sophomore and junior years. The other two years, they took second.
Working 12-hour shifts on campus security, Aaron Ockenfels witnessed the community pull together during Hurricane Irma.
Aaron was well-known more generally around campus. He could be seen almost anywhere, at any given time in his position as a campus security guard. It was through his position with security that Aaron had one of his most memorable and unique experiences at Ave Maria University: Hurricane Irma. “Coming from Iowa, where we have tornadoes, Irma was a step up in intensity,” Aaron says. “I worked security leading up to, during, and after Irma. I worked shifts 12 hours on, 12 hours off and stayed in the Student Union with CCSO [Collier County Sheriff’s Office] deputies, EMS, First Responders, and Firefighters.” For his efforts during Hurricane Irma, Aaron received the Meritorious Service Award from President Towey.
Aaron goes on to talk about the intensity of those days, how it brought everyone together and created a bond between everyone who lived through it. “Everyone had stories about Irma,” he explains, “whether they stayed and worked to prepare beforehand, cleaned up the aftermath, or if they traveled somewhere to avoid the hurricane.” Thinking back on his own experience of those days, Aaron was struck by how the entire community pulled together as a team, working toward the same goal “The part I was most impressed with during Irma was the sense of unity and purpose shared by everyone who stayed on campus and worked together,” Aaron shares. “Everyone came together to help out and nobody complained about doing bad jobs or the amount of work that needed to get done.”
Over the summer, Aaron has plans to continue working for his alma mater as a member of Campus Security while he pursues a job as a Customs and Border Protection Officer for the Department of Homeland Security. When asked how AMU contributed to his formation, Aaron says it challenged him, academically, spiritually, and socially. “It really helped me working with others and working in groups,” he says, “as well as personal responsibility for making sure deadlines are met and things are taken care of.“
Many thanks to Aaron as he continues to serve the campus community of Ave Maria University and congratulations on being named a President’s Award finalist. Best of luck navigating the adventure ahead!
“Personally, being at Ave Maria has given me hope and encouragement for life,” reflects Wisconsin-native John Zambo. “It has always been a major gift to be here, and I try to share the hope and joy that being at Ave Maria has given me with everybody else.”
John departs from AMU on May 5th alongside his fellow members of the Graduating Class of 2018. On April 22nd, John was announced as one of the five finalists for the President’s Award, the highest honor bestowed upon a graduating senior of Ave Maria University in recognition of academic accomplishments, involvement in the life of the University, service to others, and exemplification of AMU’s highest Catholic ideals.
During his time at AMU, John was in the Honors Program, a Mother Teresa Scholar, and involved with the AEI on Campus Executive Council. In terms of his campus involvement, he was a member of the Fishers of Men faith household, the Investment Club, and Students for Life. Academically, he is a five-time Dean’s List recipient–an impressive number for someone who suffered a severe traumatic brain injury during his college career.
The summer after John’s freshman year at AMU, he was in a car accident that caused his traumatic brain injury from which doctors said he would not survive. After a miraculous recovery, John returned to school the Fall of the following year. “For a long time after I suffered my traumatic brain injury, I had the feeling that the only reason that God kept me alive was to give His love and His mercy to everyone that I encountered,” he shares. “I felt that I was alive to give my life, which is a huge gift, back to everyone around me as a gift. I felt like that’s why He let me come back to Ave. So that’s what I try to do every day,” he goes on. “And Ave Maria is a great environment for me to be able to practice that.”
After a miraculous recovery, John Zambo is committed to living a life of service.
John is eager to devote his life in service to others. He expresses how his time at Ave Maria University, especially his involvement with the Mother Teresa Project, helped him practice the life of service that he desires to live, but also how, professionally speaking, AMU has helped him discover a career that allows him to use his talents to serve. John elected to earn a bachelor’s degree in Managerial Economics and Strategic Analysis because he loves exercising the skills that go along with it: critical analysis, logical reasoning and deduction, and strategic planning. But also, a career in finance affords John the opportunity to help others use their money well, and by doing so, become better persons. “I would love to be a financial planner from a Catholic perspective,” he explains, “so I can build relationships with people and help them use their money well to meet their goals and grow to become better people.”
John received an internship with Macke Financial Advisory Group, an opportunity which he credits to the resources available at AMU. “Career Services has helped me with my resume, job hunting, and interviewing,” he says. In the future, he hopes to land a starting job in the field of finance, and eventually, to become a financial planner. Until then, he continues to work hard, trust in God’s will, and live a life of serving others. “We will see what happens,” John states, “but I am just trying to do my best every day and I will see where God has me end up.”
Congratulations to John on his outstanding achievements at AMU over the last four years, and for earning yet another honor by being named a President’s Award finalist. We wish him the best of luck as he prepares for graduation!
An OP-Ed by President Towey. As self-appointed guardians of political correctness and progressive purity plot elaborate protests on America’s college campuses against conservative commencement speakers this spring, Ave Maria University is proud to welcome one of our nation’s most controversial but effective public servants, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, to our commencement exercises next month.
AMU is a small but growing Catholic liberal arts institution in southwest Florida that is celebrating its 15th year. National media featured us last September when Hurricane Irma menaced our campus and our students helped provide aid and comfort to local residents. We thankfully survived, and not just through the power of prayer. In a strange way, we also had the Obama Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) to thank for teaching us how to weather eight years of Category 5 storm conditions.
The regulatory storm came in the form of so-called “guidance” letters issued by OCR, which would have made George Orwell blush. OCR bypassed standard regulatory procedures, hijacked the lawmaking authority of Congress, and decreed its new policies. The message was clear: play by the government’s new rules or give up federal money.
One of the biggest threats to Ave Maria and other higher education institutions in the Obama era was the 2011 OCR directive on how colleges were to proceed in investigating Title IX sexual assault claims on campus. While the goal was widely supported – to ensure colleges “take immediate and effective steps to respond to sexual violence in accordance with the requirements of Title IX” – the implementation and fear of a forced settlement agreement meant that university officials everywhere scrambled to hire “regulatory czars” and more staff to deal with the mountain of new requirements. By government edict, the evidentiary standard on sexual assault cases was lowered to a “preponderance of the evidence test” and any college with a higher standard or other safeguards for the accused had to amend their procedures and rules . . . or else.
“The most unique experience I had with AMU was volunteering in the Dominican Republic for 10 days at a children’s home,” recalls graduating senior Elizabeth Cox. “It was incredibly inspiring to witness the pure joy of each child, regardless of their poverty and background.” Going on, Elizabeth shares: “This mission trip motivated me to pursue medicine, knowing that I had the potential to make a difference in global health.”
Elizabeth will walk across the stage at Ave Maria University’s Commencement Exercises on May 5th to receive her diploma for a Bachelor’s Degree in Biochemistry. She says she chose this major because she has a long-standing interest in the chemical processes that underlie human physiology. She chose AMU because of the unique education it affords. “I knew that I would have a chance to become a well-rounded student through the core curriculum,” Elizabeth explains. “I also found the small faculty-to-student ratio very appealing because I sincerely value relationships with my mentors and professors.”
Elizabeth Cox is Vice President of the Biochemistry Club, and President of Students Against Domestic Violence. She is also an Easton Campaign Scholar, an academic scholarship for students from South Florida (Elizabeth hails from Miami, FL). More recently, she earned the high honor of being named one of five finalists for the President’s Award, which recognizes a graduating senior’s academic accomplishments, involvement in the life of the University, service to others, and exemplification of AMU’s highest Catholic ideals.
Elizabeth’s commitment to her academic life has immediate fruit; she will be attending University of Florida School of Medicine in Fall 2018. “I am humbled to call myself a future physician,” she says.
AMU has helped Elizabeth Cox deepen her spiritual life and has equipped her for a future in medicine.
Reflecting further on her time at Ave Maria University, Elizabeth is grateful for the opportunities she received to integrate her Catholic faith with her studies. “It has helped me grow as a person, and has motivated me to reach for spiritual success,” she shares. But it would be remiss not to include specific mention of the role her professors have played in shaping Elizabeth’s professional aspirations. “I have had an opportunity to conduct research in HIV-1 and Alzheimer’s Disease under their supervision and guidance, and this kindled my interest in scientific inquiry,” Elizabeth states. “Because of the research experience I have had at AMU, I hope to pursue clinical research as a future physician.”
We wish Elizabeth the best of luck as she heads to medical school, and congratulate her on being nominated as a President’s Award finalist!
The cry “I Thirst” from Jesus on the cross is usually associated with intense suffering, and justly so. He was pierced for our offenses and crushed for our sins. But “I Thirst” is also an expression of Jesus’ deep desire for a relationship with us–-quite literally, a thirsting for our love.
Reflections on Jesus’ last words are fitting for Lent, but what about afterwards, in the jubilation of the Resurrection? Can the words of the crucified Lord be applicable to the joyous weeks of the Easter season? The answer is: yes, they can, and the insights of Fr. Robert Conroy (MC) at a recent campus retreat helped AMU students figure out how.
Missionaries of Charity priest Fr. Conroy traveled from his residence in Mexico City to lead AMU students in a retreat on campus in the new Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapel. Through talks, guided meditations, a holy hour and confessions, Fr. Conroy offered insights focusing on “I Thirst,” Jesus’ cry for souls from the cross.
“What’s your spiritual blood pressure?” Fr. Conroy challenged students. In other words, Where are your hearts? Are they guarded by Mary, present at the foot of the Cross, willing to suffer with Jesus for souls and to do His Will in all things? Considerations such as these, formed by the theme of the retreat, might seem incompatible with Easter, but Fr. Conroy gave advice on how the suffering of the cross carries us through to the joy of the Easter season.
We need to become spiritually childlike, he explained. Children are cheerful, even in the toughest times. The virtues of purity, humility, and total trust belong to children, and they can belong to us too if we present ourselves to Our Lady, our spiritual mother. She can give us hearts of children, hearts that are spontaneous, trusting, and eager to follow wherever God leads. “Stay with Mary,” Fr. Conroy urged. “Don’t be afraid. Pray the rosary, and she will show you the way!” The key to moving from Good Friday’s sorrow to Easter’s joy lies in Mary, Our Mother, who served the Lord with unabashed trust. She can show us how to “give Jesus the wine to drink of our service” and respond to His thirst for love.
Fr. Conroy, born in 1961 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, is a Missionary of Charity priest who works in both rural and urban areas with native peoples and the homeless, alcoholics, drug addicts, and gang members in prison. His ministry also includes retreat work with priests, religious, and lay people. He has been active for nearly 30 years in over 30 countries. He is currently editing the work of Fr. Joseph Langford, cofounder of the MC Fathers with St. Teresa of Calcutta, for future publication.