A grand total of 429 graduates of Newman University earned their associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees during the spring commencement ceremony Friday, May 12.
The sounds of cheers mixed with the tune of “Pomp and Circumstance” filled Hartman Arena as graduates, led by volunteer student marshals, made their way into the arena.
Vice President of Academic Affairs Alden Stout opened the ceremony and invited Director of Mission Effectiveness Sister Therese Wetta, ASC, to the podium to lead in a prayerful reflection.
She reflected on the words of St. John Henry Newman: “God has committed some work to you which God has not committed to another. You have your mission. You shall do good; you shall do God’s work.”
“Today we are grateful for the talents you have given these graduates and for the support they have received from you, their creator, from their families, significant others, professors, staff, classmates and other friends,” Wetta said. “We ask you, o God, to bless them.”
Her head bowed in prayer, Wetta concluded, “Accompany these graduates, God, as they move into their future with a determination not only to be professionally successful but also with a commitment to continue to serve their dear neighbor, all the while trusting in your accompaniment and help.”
Following Stout’s introduction of the platform guests on stage, Director of Music Deanne Zogleman led the Newman Chorale, accompanied by Carole Pracht, in a performance of “Soulspeak” by Z. Randall Stroope.
A captivating commencement address
Teresa Hall Bartels, a dedicated Newman supporter, former student of Sacred Heart College and recipient of the 2023 St. Newman Medal, presented the commencement address to graduates.
Bartels has a selfless, service-integrated story at Newman. She received an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Newman in 2010. The next year, she joined the Board of Trustees and has served as chair of the Advancement Committee, a member of the Enrollment Management Committee, Board of Trustees vice-chair, Board of Trustees chair and finally, interim university president after the retirement of Noreen M. Carrocci, Ph.D.
To begin her address, Bartels reflected on a significant line from Mary Oliver’s poem “The Summer Day:” “You only have this one wild and precious life.”
“This is not a dress rehearsal,” Bartels said. “You only have so many summer days.”
After experiencing life-altering health concerns that led to a 32-day hospitalization in 2018, Bartels shared words of wisdom to the class of 2023 graduates: “We are not in control. We are not meant to be the sole architects of our life’s journey.”
She explained that each person has a God-given purpose. Some know exactly what their mission is, some are still searching. Although we may never know exactly what our purpose is, “this journey of life provides us with so many opportunities to pursue finding out,” she said.
“You have survived a pandemic together,” Bartels said. “You have collaborated on projects together. You have had the opportunity to learn from dedicated, talented faculty. You have had family and friends encouraging you along the way. You’ve benefited from the people who have come before you to create the special place that is Newman University — especially the founders, the sisters Adorers of the Blood of Christ.”
Bartels ended her speech with a challenge: “Be the people that carry Newman’s values into the world. We need you to encourage honest dialogue — listening more than you speak — modeling curiosity and not judgment. We need you to show the world how to be kind, how to care for others, how to be grateful.”
The presentation of the prestigious Ablah Awards
Each year, Newman University selects one male and one female recipient for the prestigious Ablah Awards.
The Ablah Awards were established by Fran and Geri (Ablah) Jabara to honor the memory of Geri’s parents, Harvey J. and Leona J. Ablah, and to perpetuate their vision of entrepreneurism and the American dream. Award recipients must graduate with a minimum grade point average of 3.0 or higher, and each student receives a $2,500 award.
Stout explained that it is always challenging for the selection committee to select one winner for each Ablah Award.
“This year was unusually difficult,” he said. “Each of the nominees exemplifies the mission of Newman University: Lauren Esfeld, Marissa Freshour, Emily Maddux, Talia Powers, Michelle Tong, Ian Lee, Marcus Lines, Minh Nguyen, Austin Schwartz and Garrett Vandeventer.”
The winner of the Leona J. Ablah Award was Talia Powers, a biology major with a concentration in pre-med and minor in music.
The winner of the Harvey J. Ablah Award was Austin Schwartz, a double major in English and theater with a minor in history.
“Powers is an exceptional student with a promising future,” Stout said. “She exemplifies the four Newman core values of academic excellence, global perspective, Catholic identity and a culture of service.”
Powers has been on the dean’s list every year. Her hard work and dedication earned her early admittance to the University of Kansas School of Medicine. One nominator wrote, “I believe that she will represent Newman well at KU Med and has all the skills she needs to be a wonderful doctor who we can all be proud to claim as a Newman alum.”
Powers volunteers for a hospice center and the Salvation Army, sings for the troubadours and chorale, served as a senator in the Student Government Association, and most recently performed as Ariel in Newman’s production of “The Little Mermaid.” She is also the 2023 recipient of the Sister Claudine Axman Award, awarded to a biology major who exhibits superior academic performance in the program and leadership in the community.
When Stout first called out Powers’ name, Powers said she was simply “shocked.”
“It was a huge honor, and then it was an even bigger honor to hear one of my really good friends’ names right after me,” Powers said. “Every single year, the Ablah winners are just such great people. So it’s incredible to even be grouped in that category of people.”
Powers is grateful for the friendships and skills developed during her time as a Newman student, member of the cheer and dance team and within the biology department.
“Schwartz embraces the spirit of a liberal arts education,” Stout said. “He exemplifies academic excellence by graduating cum laude and participating both within the Newman University Honors program and the Pi Gamma Mu honors society. He also has published 11 journal articles.”
Schwartz lives a culture of service. As one nominator noted, “What I believe is that Austin has a commitment to service, he has a passion for the activities in which he is involved and he will make a transforming difference in the lives of those who will be part of his future journey.”
Schwartz has acted or directed in 19 theater productions, helped host the biggest student-led event, Multicultural Extravaganza and is part of the Newman chorale. He is also a recipient of the 2023 Burbage Award, which signifies leadership qualities within the theater department on and off the stage.
“I had to double-check and look around to make sure it was me,” Schwartz said of hearing his name called as the winner. “My heart started beating really quick just out of surprise.”
For Schwartz, this award is a token of honor.
“I did go to Newman trying to get my degree and accomplish my own goal, but at the same time I wanted to make sure that all of my peers around me could thrive at this university,” he said. “And to get this recognition makes me feel like I have succeeded in doing that.”
What’s next for Schwartz in his post-college career? “We’ll leave that up to fate,” he said.
The awarding of the degrees
Many graduates balanced school while working, raising families and being away from home as they completed their studies at Newman.
Emily Hua traveled to the U.S. from Vietnam at the age of 16. With English as her second language, she worked especially hard to earn her Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from Newman.
“When I first came to Newman, I was shy and my English wasn’t that good,” Hua said. “But over the years and with the help of my dedicated professors, I’ve become better and more successful than I thought possible. I’m so happy I can finally graduate with a degree I want to go into in the future.”
Hua’s ultimate goal is to secure a job as an analytical chemist, which she feels that Newman has prepared her for.
“The chemistry program is rigorous but it actually prepares you,” she said. “Newman is a small school, but I really do believe that what we learn will help us transform society.”
Although the commencement took place at 1 p.m. in Wichita, it was midnight for Hua’s parents, who still reside in Vietnam.
“They’re excited to watch the ceremony first thing tomorrow morning,” Hua added.
Jose Morales, a double major in theology and philosophy, juggled being a full-time student and employee in his senior year. Now, he’s excited to begin Newman’s graduate school theology program in the fall.
“Dr. Joshua Papsdorf, the director of the program, has been really encouraging,” Morales said. “Newman has certainly been a home to me.”
Interdisciplinary studies graduate Mai Dao has looked forward to graduation day for the past four years.
“Many individuals have gone through college and it’s not an easy route,” Dao said. “I feel very proud that I’ve taken those steps to come to where I am.”
For graduate Diego Feitosa, making it to commencement day means “taking a big, deep breath.”
Feitosa, who hails from Brazil, received his Bachelor of Arts degree in communication as he walked the stage. He got the most of his time at Newman both academically and through various involvements: playing on the men’s soccer team, participating in theater productions and attending on-campus events.
“My journey at Newman has taught me a lot academically and it’s getting me one step closer to the life where I want to be,” Feitosa said.
Newman President Kathleen S. Jagger, Ph.D., MPH, said commencement “is always one of the best days of the year.”
“We celebrate our purpose, why we’re here and we’re so proud of all the graduates who have met and surpassed their dreams to graduate from Newman. Some of them have accomplished far more than they could have imagined when they came in.”
At the end of the year, every pinning ceremony, reception and awards convocation are just a few of the ways Newman celebrates student success. Commencement is the ultimate representation of the Newman community coming together.
“I’m so grateful to be at Newman,” Jagger said. “I love how our students, faculty and staff live out our mission and it’s an honor and privilege to work with everyone that’s here.”
From students to alumni
Whether they walked the stage in person or tuned in virtually from all around the world, undergraduate and graduate students rejoiced in closing this chapter of their lives and making way for a new beginning.
Cindy Miles, president of the National Alumni Board of Directors, closed the ceremony by welcoming the graduates into the Newman University Alumni Association.
“I would like to congratulate all of you on this momentous achievement and formally welcome you into our family of more than 15,000 alumni worldwide,” Miles said.
She encouraged the graduates to take the generosity they’ve received and pay it forward for the generation of future Newman Jets.
“Volunteer on campus, serve as a mentor, come to campus events,” she said. “This is our university and the future is in our hands.”
The complete ceremony can be viewed on the Newman University Facebook and YouTube.
Photos from commencement can be viewed on the Newman University Flickr page.