Fr. Dobbin announced as Commencement speaker

Courtney Scrib

When selecting the Commencement speaker, the appointed committee looks for an individual whose accomplishments will inspire others. Generally, it is someone who works toward social justice, and ideally, who has the ability to captivate an audience with both presence and words.

This year’s Commencement speaker not only embraces all of these qualities, but for the past 18 years, has dedicated himself to instilling these qualities into the University.

Rev. Edmund Dobbin, O.S.A., the University’s longest-serving president, will be the featured speaker at the Commencement exercises on May 21.

While it is not always the case that the Commencement speaker is directly affiliated with the University, Dobbin appeared a natural candidate. In late June last year, he announced his intention to step down as the president of Villanova at the conclusion of the 2005-06 academic year.

“There was unanimity on the committee that he was the most appropriate choice,” Rev. John Stack, O.S.A., vice president of Student Life and a member of the selection committee, said.

The process of selecting the Commencement speaker began in early September. Usually, the president sends out a letter to members of the faculty and Villanova community, as well as to student government representatives, asking for nominations for both a speaker and honorary degree recipients.

Once all of the nominations have been collected, the selection committee, which is made up of the University’s president and vice presidents, selected faculty members and the president of SGA, meet after fall break to narrow down the list of individuals.

From there, the committee discusses each candidate until eventually a consensus is reached. With the potential for cancellations and changes, the committee prefers to withhold releasing the information until April, when the speaker is officially announced to the student body via the Villanovan.

While the committee recognizes the appeal of inviting a famous personality to speak at Commencement, the members deliberately choose people who are good speakers and who understand their audience.

For Stack and the other members of the committee, the choice was obvious.

“In any university, the president sets the tone. They serve as a symbol and remind the group that they are talking to of the school’s values,” Stack said. “Father Dobbin does a great job at this. He stays focused on the mission and is able to adapt its understanding to the particular group or constituency he is speaking to.”

According to Stack, what set Dobbin apart from the other nominated speakers was his ability to not only engage the audience members, but also relate to them. Throughout his term as president, Dobbin’s presence was visible. From basketball games to Special Olympics to Christmas tree lighting ceremonies, he could be seen interacting regularly with students and the community – a rare quality to find among university presidents, especially in schools of Villanova’s size.

However, Dobbin initially was reluctant to accept a nomination.

“People nowadays want celebrities,” Dobbin said. “It was the expectation that I was most concerned about. I didn’t want the students to be disappointed.”

Yet the committee never wavered from, and in fact was quite insistent on, its decision.

Unlike in years past in which he presided over the Commencement ceremony, this was the first time in 18 years that Dobbin was asked to give a formal speech. In his first year as president, which was also the first year that Commencement was held in the Stadium with students from all of the colleges present, Dobbin also served as the ceremony’s featured speaker.

“I don’t have any hesitations about speaking,” Dobbin said. “I’m enthusiastic about the chance. I want the students to know how proud Villanova is of them. This is the message I want to capture. It’s not going to be about me or what I’ve done as president. It’s going to be strictly about them.”

As the school year winds down, Dobbin has been busier than ever attending various ceremonial events. Whether witnessing the inauguration of the newly-elected SGA president and vice-president, presenting awards to members of the men’s basketball team at their annual banquet or delivering a speech at the Navy ROTC’s Spring Review, Dobbin is constantly surrounded by students who perform acts of great leadership.

“What impresses me the most about these students is the grasp they have of Villanova,” Dobbin said. “I’m confident that when they go out to work in the world, they will have a lot to offer. We expect this of them, and anticipate it.”

In addition to Dobbin, senior biology major Michelle Cifone will also address the class. Cifone, with her speech entitled, “Villanova: The House that Love Built,” was chosen from a group of finalists from each of the colleges to deliver the Commencement Oration.

“I’m psyched.” Cifone said. “Who in their life gets to speak at their college graduation, let alone graduation from Villanova?” Like Dobbin, Cifone is a native of New York.

“It’s my hope that on graduation day, I’ll be able to inspire at least a few people to have the courage to take what we’ve learned at Villanova and share it with individuals that they’ll be working with in the future,” she added.

Following Cifone’s speech, Dobbin will award three distinguished individuals with honorary degrees. This year’s recipients include Sr. Rosalie Bertell, Judith G. Cook and Antonio Muñoz Molina.

Bertell, a Grey Nun of the Sacred Heart, was one of 1,000 women peace activists nominated for the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize for her service and work with actual and potential victims of industrial, technological and military pollution.

Cook is the wife of the late David Cook, a Villanova alum, and whose three sons attended the University. She and her husband made numerous philanthropic contributions to the University, including funds for the David R. Cook Endowed Chair in Philosophy. The final recipient, Molina, is considered one of Spain’s most prolific contemporary novelists and will be honored for his accomplishments in journalism and academics.

The Commencement ceremony is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. on Sunday, May 21 in the Stadium.