A few years ago, we had an ad campaign that urged prospective students to “Discover Catholic University.” All of it — our beautiful campus, our prime location in the nation’s capital, our world-class research and academics, our faith-filled community.
It would be difficult to get through this issue of the magazine without considering the word “discover.” There is an interview with our provost, Aaron Dominguez, a world-class particle physicist who helped with the discovery of the Higgs boson; a news story about a $64.1 million grant from NASA — the largest single research grant in University history — that will no doubt lead to discoveries in the field of heliophysics; and feature stories on three University professors who are credited with breakthroughs in their fields of study. One discovered a supernova; one has engineered a benign virus for therapeutic use; the third developed a clinical method that has proven effective in preventing suicide.
We place high value on the research enterprise at Catholic University. When it comes to higher education, discovery takes on meanings beyond research. College is where our students discover their callings, their faith, and sometimes a life partner.
In September, I announced that I would be stepping down as President in June 2022. As I said at the time, “I became President of The Catholic University of America in 2010 hoping I could contribute something to building up the institution. I did not foresee how much I would fall in love with it.”
I have been thinking about the many things I have loved (and will have several more months to love) about this job, and discovery is among them. The list of things I’ve learned is endless. After the numerous renovation and building projects that have revitalized campus in recent years, I have discovered a love for blueprints, elevations, and floor plans.
Even higher on the list is getting to know our students as they mature into adulthood. Two of my favorite days on campus are move-in day and graduation day, the bookends to those years of discovery. In late August each year Jeanne and I greet new students and their families, sharing their excitement and wonder. And nothing tops the bittersweet joy we all feel each May when we celebrate our graduates.
If someone had told me we would have a Commencement ceremony on an NFL football field, followed five months later by an October graduation ceremony for a class that left the University 18 months prior, I would not have believed them. But that’s what a pandemic does.
This past spring it became clear, because of pandemic-related restrictions in place in D.C., that we would not be able to include guests in any Class of 2021 Commencement ceremony we held on campus. So we decamped to FedExField in Maryland, home of the Washington Football Team. The size of the stadium allowed each graduate to invite four guests. It was an unforgettable day full of joy and gratitude — complete with fireworks.
Five months later, on another sunny day, we made good on a promise to bring the Class of 2020 back to campus for an in-person graduation. It was held on a Friday afternoon in October in conjunction with Cardinal Weekend (just as this issue of the magazine was headed to press). That ceremony, too, was filled with joy and gratitude for the simple pleasure of being able to gather and celebrate our graduates’ achievements as they closed one chapter and opened another. Like the graduates, I am preparing for a commencement. And like the graduates, it helps to know I can always return home.