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2024 Villanova Commencement Speaker Announced

Courtesy of Archdiocese of Philadelphia
Archbishop Pérez will address the graduating class of 2024.

On May 17, Archbishop Nelson J. Pérez will address graduates at this year’s Commencement ceremony for the Class of 2024. In a sit-down conversation with University President Rev. Peter M. Donahue, O.S.A., Ph.D., The Villanovan was the first to receive this news and deliver it to the community on April 25. 

The search for this year’s commencement speaker began in August and September. Father Peter shared that it is a long process to acquire someone, noting that the University typically has to wait to see if commencement will align with the speaker’s packed schedule. He explained that for this year, the University considered several other speakers, and it was a difficult task to obtain someone. 

This year, Villanova scored the highest-ranking Catholic official in Philadelphia to speak at Commencement. Born in Miami, Archbishop Pérez is the son of Cuban immigrants. During his time in the priesthood, he has served in various positions within the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Some of his most notable work includes his leadership in the Catholic Hispanic community and his dedication to the Catholic Relief Services. 

Traditionally, the invitation to speak at commencement comes straight from Father Peter. This year, when he called Archbishop Pérez to invite him to speak at this year’s ceremony, Archbishop Pérez agreed to speak on the first phone call made, and “within a minute” of talking, according to Father Peter. 

Father Peter mentioned that he already has the speaker for the Class of 2025’s Commencement locked in. Though usually he “doesn’t have them that fast,” Father Peter secured next year’s speaker while on the phone with them about “another matter altogether.”

While Father Peter remarked that he did not know how students would react to this year’s speaker, he hoped that students would recognize that Archbishop Pérez “wants to be here.” His ties to the Villanova community and his love for the University will make for an even better speech. 

“I always find that, with the speakers in the past that we’ve had, when somebody has a connection to Villanova, the speech is much more directed towards [students],” Father Peter said. 

The reaction from the Class of 2024 is mixed. Many seniors are dissatisfied with the choice, claiming that this year’s speaker is a seemingly arbitrary pick, especially to address a group of students who did not get a high school graduation, due to the pandemic. 

“Since I and the rest of the [high school] Class of 2020 missed our high school graduation, I had high hopes for my college graduation, and I must say I was highly disappointed to see the choice of commencement speaker,” senior Hannah Phillips said. “While I appreciate the attempt to be more inclusive by having a Hispanic speaker, as a Hispanic myself, Archbishop Peréz’s lack of notability made his being the choice of speaker feel random and inconsequential.”

Though many seniors share this sentiment, there are some others that enjoy this year’s speaker selection. 

Rev. Kevin M. DePrinzio, O.S.A., the Vice President for Mission and Ministry, remarked that he is in favor of the decision. 

“Archbishop Pérez is an excellent choice,” DePrinzio said. “He is a good friend of Villanova. He has visited campus several times the past few years and presided at Palm Sunday Mass two years ago. Based on that alone, I have every confidence that the Class of 2024 will find him incredibly dynamic, engaging, and down to earth, with a message that will hit home.”

Father Peter anticipates a profoundly positive and uplifting message from Archbishop Pérez. 

“[I hope that] it’ll be something that will really encourage people to carry on what they’ve learned here, to use their education for the benefit of others,” Fr. Peter said.

Father Peter shared that Archbishop Pérez “knows Villanova, so he knows what Villanova is about.” As a result, the Archbishop’s anticipated speech promises to deliver a highly-personalized message for the students, reflecting their shared values and experiences. 

The Class of 2024 is certainly unique, with the majority of students missing out on the traditional high school graduation ceremony. The impact of COVID-19 on students is hard to ignore. 

“There isn’t a senior I’ve talked to that hasn’t mentioned [not having a high school graduation],” Father Peter said. 

Those students’ transition to college was just as jarring, learning to navigate a new environment amidst a pandemic. Father Peter recalled the Class of 2024’s Orientation and how, in that year, “…it was masks, and small groups, and small group settings and ‘don’t touch anybody.’”

Students faced challenges that the following classes did not have to encounter. From plastic shields in the dining halls to online courses, it was a difficult time for both faculty and students alike. Father Peter recognized the disruption that the pandemic brought to the University as a whole, but also underscores that this disruption carried an important lesson.

“They learned something about themselves because of the importance that it was to have relationships with people,” he said. “And COVID, in many ways, stifled that relationship.”

Father Peter also highlighted the qualities of the Class of 2024 and students’ contributions to the University, despite facing hardships. 

“We got through that year because of the students,” Father Peter said. “They came here and they incorporated themselves into this community, they wanted to be here, they didn’t want to be home. They wanted to make it work, and they made it work. They are a strong, dedicated, resilient group.”

He is conscious of the incredible sacrifices made by the graduating class and plans to “celebrate the Class of 2024 with great dignity and fanfare” by trying to make it “as festive as possible.”

Father Peter described graduation as “bittersweet,” acknowledging that bidding farewell to the graduating class can be a difficult task. They have experienced some of the most pivotal and formative moments of their young lives at this institution. The lessons they have learned are destined to stay with them for a lifetime. 

Father Peter left some lasting remarks and a final call to action for the Class of 2024, emphasizing the importance of community in both the University setting and beyond. 

“If anything that we’ve tried to instill in people here at Villanova, a message of Villanova, is that we thrive in community and we thrive with each other,” Fr. Peter said. “So go out and build community.”

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Emma Cahill
Emma Cahill, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Emma Cahill is one of the Co-Editors-in-Chief of The Villanovan in 2024. A junior Political Science and English double major, Emma held the position of Co-Culture Editor in 2023. Emma has covered anything and everything during her time writing for the paper, ranging from March Madness in New Orleans, to horoscopes, to interviewing Sebastian Stan. Emma is a very passionate person, namely about her family and friends, Taylor Swift, and especially Long Island bagels. When she is out of the office, Emma can be spotted giving tours of campus for Blue Key or strolling around Villanova with an iced coffee in hand.

Nicole Liddicoat
Nicole Liddicoat, Co-News Editor
One of three Villanovan Co-News Editors, Nicole Liddicoat is currently serving her first year. Nicole is a sophomore double majoring in Political Science and Environmental Studies, while additionally completing an Economics minor. She is an ambitious student whose passion lies in environmental policy and social justice. Nicole has grown a love for journalism through her time writing with The Villanovan and hopes to continue fostering her dedication to accurate and compelling news. Nicole loves all things music, nature, and gluten-free foods. As a native of the Golden State, she will not let you forget it.
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