Mariano Rivera, Shiba Russell Provide Inspiration at 107th Commencement
The approximately 1,000 graduates who received their degrees during The College of New Rochelle's 107th Commencement on May 28, 2014, had great inspirations and examples to look up to on stage -- people of service whom President Judith Huntington described as "authentic models of impactful lives."
Alice Gallin, O.S.U., a stalwart of American Catholic higher education, and legendary Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera received honorary degrees during the ceremonies at Radio City Music Hall, while alumna and NBC 4 New York anchor Shiba Russell served as speaker and interviewed Rivera live on stage.
Huntington said they exemplify Serviam, Latin for "I will serve," understanding the obligation of sharing one's gifts, talents, and resources with others. She shared two quotes that echoed the goals and accomplishments of Sr. Alice and Rivera.
One, from pioneering baseball star Jackie Robinson: "A life is not important except in the impact it had in others." The other, from St. Angela Merici: "You have a greater need to serve others than they have to be served."
Sr. Alice graduated from The College of New Rochelle in 1942, where she would go on to teach as well as serve as an administrator. But her impact has been felt far beyond CNR. She served as a research analyst for the Military Intelligence Service during World War II, and then entered into religious life with the Order of St. Ursula.
She was Executive Director of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities from 1976 to 1992, where she became involved with the Secretariat for Higher Education as the group's only female member. Sr. Alice served as Visiting Research Scholar at The Catholic University of America, Visiting Scholar at St. Louis University, and published numerous books and articles on Catholic education in the United States.
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Rivera, described as the greatest closer in the history of baseball, has been dedicated, along with his wife, Clara, to humanitarian causes. Inspired by their childhood challenges with poverty, they established the Mariano Rivera Foundation in 1998, seeking to "share with the community a portion of the blessings God has bestowed on them and their family."
The foundation recently renovated an old church in New Rochelle, opening Refugio de Esperanza (Refuge of Hope), where Clara serves as senior pastor. In addition to religious services, the church will offer education, food, an after-school program for youths, and more.
"We're trying to help by bringing the word of God," said Rivera during his interview with Russell. Rivera revealed that he has a soft spot for the city of New Rochelle, because it was where he first lived in New York.
Rivera said he first started learning about Jackie Robinson, with whom he shares the uniform number 42, when it was retired from all of Major League Baseball. "It was a challenge to me, a privilege and an honor to represent that number," he said. "Every day, I was so proud, being a minority, coming from Panama, and representing Mr. Robinson."
Asked about returning to baseball as a coach, manager, or owner, the recently retired Rivera said he loves teaching the game. "That's what I know," he said, although he'd prefer to share his knowledge with minor leaguers, who need more guidance.
Rivera, who dropped out of school in the 9th grade, congratulated the graduates numerous times, truly impressed by their achievements. In closing, he said, "I don't have all the answers," he said, "but I know one who knows all the answers. And that is God."
Rivera proved to be a good sport during the conferring of degrees, as many students marching across the stage stopped to shake his hand, give him a hug, or take photos with him.
Russell, who described The College of New Rochelle as her home away from home, said it had been an emotional day for her, along with the graduates. "I was unable to hold back tears," she said.
Russell urged the graduates to focus on the positive, sharing a story she said she rarely discussed: her mother leaving her family when she was 4 years old. "I had questions," she said. "Why did she leave? Was it my fault?"
But her father would marry again, and she would grow up in a home with a caring stepmother and siblings. "I focused on their love, instead of my mom's mistakes," she said. "Bad things happen every day, but you succeed by focusing on what's right and not what isn't."
Russell also talked about the power of imagination. Her daughter had recently wrote that she "uses her imagination to fix problems," a surprise to Russell, who doesn't think of herself that way.
But kids in general, she said, often make observations adults are too busy to see. "It takes imagination to juggle work with motherhood; to be a great listener after a long day at work, to help her with all that homework," she said. "I now know that it also took a great imagination to say, years ago, that I wanted to be a broadcast journalist and to make that dream happen."
"Everyone sitting here at Radio City Music Hall, we all share that imagination," she said. "You imagined a degree, and you made it happen."
"Bottom line, do not let fear get in your way. And don't let you get in your way -- step out of your comfort zone once in a while."