2018 Marylhurst University Commencement Address
Sister Joan Saalfeld, SNJM, Ph.D.
June 17, 2018
Thank you, President Rose. I feel privileged to speak today in behalf of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary.
And I address you, dear Class of 2018, as a member of the Order who founded Marylhurst University. I bring you today greetings and congratulations and blessings from all the Sisters of the Holy Names throughout the world! We are a Congregation of Sisters who have been dedicated to the transforming power of education since 1843, when our Order was founded in Quebec, Canada. We were founded for the purpose of educating girls and young women who, at that time, had no avenue to education. And let me assure you that from that day to this, the Sisters always pray for all our graduates from all the schools we have founded across the United States and Canada, as well as those in South America and Africa. Wherever we are, we pray for our students’ success, for their families, for their happiness.
As mentioned earlier , today is bittersweet as we experience sadness at our communal and personal loss, yet at the same time feel joy in your accomplishment, and celebrate with you this milestone in your lives. As the final graduating class of Marylhurst University, you have a special place in our history—a distinction I hope you will remember with pride and warmth.
You, our class of 2018, join more than 12,000 living Marylhurst alumni, and thousands more before them. Across the more than 100 years, you share a special bond, as graduates of a special place.
It is a place that began with the faith and vision and courage of the Sisters of the Holy Names who have always strived to provide education to those not being served by other entities.
In 1859, 12 Sisters of the Holy Names left their home in Quebec, armed with faith and pencils and books and music and art supplies, and made the 7000 mile sea journey to Portland, where they opened St. Mary’s Academy just two weeks after they arrived. Over the next 50 years, the congregation established elementary and secondary schools throughout Oregon and Washington. A generation after that, they hoped to fill an additional need in the region—a college to educate women, including those destined to become educators themselves.
So, in 1893, the Sisters expanded their high school in Portland and were awarded a state charter to become St. Mary’s Academy and College, the first women’s college west of the Mississippi. Though the first graduating class had only three people in it, the number of postsecondary students increased, and the Sisters began to search for a separate location for their college. In time they acquired this campus, and in 1930, Marylhurst College opened its doors on these lovely wooded grounds.
That was in the midst of the widespread poverty of the Great Depression, but the Sisters persevered in keeping their college open, whatever it took. In the early days they taught in the daytime, slept in the classrooms at night, and cleaned the rooms and halls before the students came each day—they were teachers, house mothers, cooks, counselors, mentors and friends to the young women who lived on campus. They also continued their own studies in order to initiate, and continually improve, programs and classes. They saw to accreditation, and to the ongoing quality of the programs offered. They provided a robust liberal arts curriculum infused with the values underlying all Holy Names education: to have respect for each individual person, to strive for excellence in all we do, to teach and model ethical behavior, to promote social justice, to provide service to those in need, and, most of all, to have faith in God, in ourselves, and in one another.
By the late 60’s, women were allowed admission to all universities in the region, and Marylhurst experienced a decline in the numbers of its residential and commuter students.
So the Sisters identified a need experienced by older women and men who wanted to go to college, but who would have to balance their studies with responsibilities to their families and their jobs. In the mid 70’s Marylhurst began to deliver a traditional liberal arts education in nontraditional, more convenient ways– with classes on weekends and in the evenings—even devising processes by which workers could receive academic credit for knowledge gained outside the classroom.
In the 1990s, Marylhurst was one of the first institutions in the country to offer courses and degree completion online, making a college education accessible to anyone, anywhere—thus pioneering the methods and practices that most universities now use.
Over the years, Marylhurst has provided access to a quality education for those whose opportunities were limited by gender, age, location, or other barriers. In so doing, the Sisters – and all the wonderful people who joined the enterprise begun by the Sisters – all those who have taught and worked at Marylhurst over these past decades– have created opportunities for thousands of Marylhurst graduates – just like you, our Class of 2018.
Countless alumni have made the most of those opportunities, using the knowledge and skills and values to do important work on their jobs and within their communities, making a living while helping to create a more compassionate and sustainable world.
For this is the legacy of Marylhurst University. It is not in this place – as beautiful as the campus is. No, the legacy of Marylhurst is in each of us; in the values we hold, in the person we have become through the community with whom we interacted and learned—those who taught here, who studied here, who worked here in support of our mission and purpose. And that legacy does not end when operations cease here in this place. That legacy never ends.
For like all the graduates who have gone before you since that time over a century ago, when those Holy Names Sisters awarded those first three diplomas, it is you who carry the legacy of Marylhurst forward, taking with you all you have learned and become, wherever you go, and whatever you do, as you step from this place into your future.
Remember—the Sisters will be praying for you!
Thank you, and may God richly bless you all!