Friar Flashback: Commencement

by The Cowl Editor on April 6, 2017


Photo courtesy of

by Gabriella Pisano ’18

News Staff

Commencement is a celebration of all that students have learned and worked for during their education at Providence College. This celebratory event is the last event that the graduating class has with one another.

Commencement at PC is a long program with many parts. Throughout the years, the College has been consistent with the order of the events. Starting at 10:30 a.m., the procession takes roughly 20-25 minutes. The event proceeds with official greetings in which the heads of state, the Bishop, the College’s President, and the Head of the Alumni Association address those in attendance.

Awarding of the degrees follows, beginning with undergraduate Bachelor of the Arts degrees and undergraduate Bachelor of Science degrees, followed by the School of Continuing Education degrees, and lastly the degrees awarded to the honorary recipients. The number of honorary recipients vary from year to year, however the keynote speaker is always awarded a degree from the College.

While Commencement is the event in which students receive their degrees that they have worked  hard for throughout their college careers, it is the speaker that is primarily considered the highlight of the event.

With a great deal of planning put into the Commencement activities, choosing the speaker is an intricate task. A committee in charge of planning Commencement meets weekly throughout the year leading up to the event. The committee consists of faculty, current students, administrators, and alumni. When looking for a speaker, the committee enlists the assistance of the PC community, for both nominations and contacts.

Before a speaker is chosen, the committee must do their due diligence to ensure that the speaker is not only well-versed, but will also have a positive message for the students about to embark on the next part of their lives. “It is important to make sure the parting message is forward thinking and positive,” states, Ann Manchester-Molak ’75, assistant to the president and executive vice president/treasurer. “No matter what is happening in the world we want to offer someone at the podium who will fulfill that, and not be pessimistic about society.”

The keynote speakers at PC are not paid to speak, but are given an honorary degree. The committee believes that this ensures that speakers who attend are coming for reasons reflective of PC values and ideals. Throughout the history of Providence College Commencement, there have been many unique speakers who have offered students positive messages about the future.

Some notable speakers include, Jane Pauley, Grace Murray Hopper, Major Michael Manning, Darlene Love, Tim Russert, Viola Davis, Tom Brokah, Heather Abbott, Temple Grandin, John O’Hurley, and Mike Leonard.

Commodore Grace Murray Hopper, was the keynote speaker in 1984. This 66th Commencement Exercise honored Commodore Hopper as the first woman to give the keynote address in the history of PC. Hopper was a computer scientist and U.S. Navy rear admiral. With great attention to the future, Hopper exclaimed, “You’ve been drafted into the future. It’s going to be quite a future.” Her speech addressed the potential each person possesses.

The 2006 keynote speaker was John O’Hurley ’76. O’Hurley, an alumnus and current trustee at PC shared many personal memories from his time at the College. With many moments of humor, O’Hurley addressed the issue that is no doubt in the hearts and minds of graduates during their commencement ceremonies, leaving their home of PC. He was thoughtful in addressing how students are leaving the security of their roommates and friends in the world of PC and entering into the “real world.” In a personal anecdote, O’Hurley emphasized the importance of choices, stating, “You have only two choices in life. You can have an ordinary life or you can have an extraordinary life. That’s it. It has nothing to do with money or power. It has everything to do with the power of your choices.”

Major Michael Manning ’97, received a standing ovation for his 2008 keynote address. As a Providence College graduate himself, Major Manning ended his speech with an acknowledgement of the meaning of a PC education. “You will be successful. You’re a Providence College graduate, and by definition, members of an elite organization. You know that. Don’t forget what you learned at PC, and never lose faith in God and in your own abilities.”

In 2014, Temple Grandin, a professor of animal science at Colorado State University and autism spokesperson, gave the keynote address. In Grandin’s address, she urged students to “do some real projects.” Noting Grandin’s inspirational speech, Manchester-Molak remembered, “It was an amazing speech. Her notes were all drawn in pictures and diagrams, because she explained, that is how she thinks.”

The keynote speakers give the parting words at Providence College Commencement ceremonies. Before sending students out into the world, they offer students hope for not only their personal future, but also the future of the world.