Go forth and set the world on fire

Go forth and set the world on fire

With commencement right around the corner, here’s a look at the more well-known commencement speakers John Carroll has hosted in the past.

By John Walsh

The John Carroll community knows how special it is to experience commencement on the University’s beautiful campus, even if it isn’t a sunny, blue-sky day. Having it take place inside the Wolstein Center in Cleveland – where the University has had commencement more recently if the weather doesn’t cooperate – is a letdown. This year’s speaker is Fr. Myles Sheehan, S.J., M.D., the assistant to the provincial for senior Jesuits of the Maryland and Northeast provinces. Fr. Sheehan, a physician with specialties in internal medicine and geriatrics, works alongside provincial assistants to oversee health-care centers and strengthen care for older Jesuits. Additionally, the following alumni from the medical profession will receive honorary degrees at commencement: Michael Anderson, M.D. ’86; Robert Juhasz, D.O. ’77; Robert Hostoffer, D.O. ’81; George Lewandowski, M.D. ’78; and Holly Perzy, M.D. ’85. As commencement approaches, here’s a look at some of the more high-profile speakers who’ve imparted their wisdom on Carroll’s most recent alumni.

1973 – Don Shula ’51
“There was a threat of rain, and we had to move into the gym. It was hot, muggy, and crowded, so I think Don Shula kept it brief.”

– Bob Larocca

“My brother Bob Patno ’73 and I were residents of Winter Park, Florida, when we started our freshman year at JCU. We actually lived in Miami during the time the Dolphins were established. We were born in Cleveland and moved to Miami, so we were first and foremost Browns fans, but the Miami Dolphins, especially when Don Shula became head coach, were a close second. Coach Shula was still riding high in fame and football fortune when he agreed to speak at our commencement and receive his honorary doctorate in philosophy, his favorite subject at JCU. It was a great thrill and honor having him back on campus for our big day – even more so as time went on and he became the winningest coach in the NFL. Thank you, Coach Shula. I met him years later at JCU for the dedication of Shula stadium and got him to autograph his “Man of the Year” Sports Illustrated cover.”

– Gerry Patno

1976 – Bob Hope
“He was terrific. It was the country’s bicentennial and people throughout the nation and John Carroll were ready to celebrate. In some file at the school there should be a brochure of Hope’s speech. All graduates got them. They were mailed with our diplomas.”

– Diane Coolican Gaggin

“I was the singer for our graduation and sang the national anthem and the JCU alma mater. It was a very foggy, humid, hot day, but the greatest day of my life. Bob Hope was a great speaker, and he acknowledged my singing and voice. He was kind.”

– Patrick Cataldo

1978 – George H. Bush
“On a dreadfully hot, humid, broiling day, he began with the usual thank yous and recollections. He then held up a binder and said, ‘Here is the text of the address I planned to share today … but it is waaaay too hot for that.’ He then visibly turned a large chunk of pages in the notebook while continuing, ‘So in conclusion …’ Laughter and cheers filled the Quad. I don’t remember what followed, but his folksy common sense won the day – and a few elections after that.”

– Dr. George Lewandowski

“The biggest highlight for me was that my oldest friend, Jack Schufreider ’78, was the first Millor Orator who shared the podium with then-presidential candidate Bush. Though I remember little of Bush’s remarks, I believe Bush, though not known well at the time (even after his stints in China, with the Central Intelligence Agency, and as chair of the Republican National Committee), was a good representative of JCU’s core ideals.”

– Bruce Luecke

1983 – Erma Bombeck
“She was a treasure of our time, and I was thrilled she was our commencement speaker. Honestly, my graduation experience was spent laughing rather than in deep thought. I remember her telling stories about her children and thinking about how fun it would be to have this funny lady as my mom. I also remember her sharing that if she could do it, so could we. I believe she was referring to the elusive success she had achieved in her published books, weekly columns, and various speaking engagements. Having her as our commencement speaker is one of the highlights of my JCU career. I’m grateful my four years culminated in laughter and joy, as she shared her wit and wisdom on that sunny May afternoon.

– Suzanne Greenberg

1997 – Tim Russert ’72
“He talked about having a successful career after school. But he also talked a lot about the Jesuit principles of social justice and emphasized that the best ways for us to be successful were to not only do well for ourselves but to give back to the community, whether it was financially or through service. He also described the trials and tribulations he had gone through in his years at JCU, many of which, as a fellow communications major, were familiar to me. After he was done talking, I was ready to make a difference. I’ve tried to live out his message in what I do today.”

– Brian Sparks

“I just remember everyone was very excited to have such a well-known speaker come to JCU.”

– Rev. John Shea, S.J.

2010 – Tom Brokaw
“He talked about his friend Tim Russert ’72, saying that, in Tim’s eyes, only now would Tom have officially ‘made it’ by being the commencement speaker at JCU. It really stuck with me; not just the pride that Tim had for the school, but how much of an advocate he was to have someone like Tom Brokaw being proud to give the commencement address there.”

– Joe Toohey

“I sat in the bright sun and watched Tom Brokaw put on his baseball cap in honor of Tim Russert ’72. I could tell the close connection the two had, and Tom Brokaw mentioned how every day and in every interaction Tim Russert would share something that could be related to his time with the Jesuits at JCU. That was the kind of person I wanted to be, and that even if people didn’t know about JCU before me, they would understand what it meant to be a Blue Streak and a man for others. It was empowering to see Tom Brokaw at commencement because I had seen him so many times on television, meeting with the president, heads of state, foreign dignitaries, and celebrities. The focus on JCU was special, and I felt the charge to become part of the next greatest generation.

– Chris Lewandowski


Following is a list of commencement speakers dating from 1954:

Thomas Patton
Assistant president and first vice president
Republic Steel Corporation

John Greene
Ohio Bell Telephone Co.

Paul Martin
Minister of national health and welfare
Ottawa, Canada

Carlos Romulo
Ambassador of the Philippines to the U.S.

Benjamin Fairless
Iron and Steel Institute

Frances Payne Bolton
U.S. Congresswoman, Ohio

Fred Andrew Seaton
U.S. secretary of the interior

John Allen Krout, Ph.D.
Vice president and provost
Columbia University

Kurt von Schuschnigg
Former chancellor of Austria
Political science professor, Columbia University

James Roche
Executive vice president
General Motors Corp.

Kent Smith
Lubrizol Corp.

Very Rev. Hugh Dunn, S.J.
President (1956-67)
John Carroll University

Theodore August Distler, Ph.D.
Commission for Independent Colleges and Universities

Abe Silverstein
NASA Lewis Research Center

Glenn Seaborg
U.S. Atomic Energy Commission

Edmund Muskie
U.S. senator, Maine

Rev. Robert Henle, S.J.
Georgetown University

William Taft III
Scientific affairs officer
U.S. Department of State

Fred Harris
U.S. senator, Oklahoma

Don Shula ’51
Head coach
Miami Dolphins

Lowell Weicker Jr.
U.S. senator, Connecticut

Rev. Henry Birkenhauer, S.J.
President (1970-80)
John Carroll University

Bob Hope

Most Rev. James Hickey
Bishop of Cleveland

George H. Bush
Chairman, executive committee
First International Bank of Houston

Dr. Robert White
Director of neurological surgery, Cleveland Metro General Hospital
Co-chairman, department of neurosurgery, Case Western Reserve University

Philip Crane
U.S. congressman, Illinois

Vice Admiral James Bond Stockdale
Senior research fellow, Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace
Stanford University

Rev. John Powell, S.J.
Professor of theology
Loyola University of Chicago

Erma Bombeck
Author and syndicated columnist

Rev. William Byron, S.J.
Catholic University of America

Mark Hatfield
U.S. senator, Oregon

John Powers, Ph.D.
Author and playwright

John Breen ’56
Chairman and CEO
The Sherwin-Williams Co.

Very Rev. Howard Gray, S.J.
Provincial, Detroit Province
Society of Jesus

His Eminence Joseph Cardinal Bernardin
Archbishop of Chicago

Lawrence O’Rourke, J.D.
White House correspondent
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

J. Joseph Whelan ’65
Fellow in Urban Education, JCU education department
National Distinguished Principal, 1988

Most Rev. Rembert Weakland, O.S.B.
Archbishop of Milwaukee

Dr. Bernadine Healy
National Institutes of Health

John Boler ’56
Chairman of the board
The Boler Company

Wayne Embry
President and COO
Cleveland Cavaliers

Charles ’52 and Helen Dolan
Chairman and CEO, Cablevision
Artist and civic leader

Timothy Russert ’72
Senior vice president and Washington bureau chief
NBC News

Sr. Mary Rose McGeady, D.C.
President and CEO
Covenant House

Rev. Howard Gray, S.J.
Director, Center for Ignatian Spirituality
Boston College

Sr. Maureen Doyle, O.S.U.
Urban Community School, Cleveland

Sara Bloomfield ’77G
U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

Leslie Lenkowsky, Ph.D.
Corporation for National and Community Service

Col. Carl Walz ’79G
NASA astronaut

Rev. Gregory Boyle, S.J.
Founder and director
Jobs for a Future/Homeboy Industries

Rev. Jim Wallis
Founder of Sojourners and editor of Sojourners magazine

Sr. Mary Peter Traviss, O.P.
President, Queen of the Holy Rosary College
Professor emerita, University of San Francisco

Sandra Pianalto
President and CEO
Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland

Patrick Rombalski
Vice president for student affairs
John Carroll University

Robert Dickinson ’65
Retired president and CEO
Carnival Cruise Lines

Tom Brokaw
Special correspondent
NBC News

Rev. Timothy Kesicki, S.J. ’84
Provincial, Chicago-Detroit Province
Society of Jesus

Charles Geschke, Ph.D.
Co-chairman of the board and co-founder
Adobe Systems

General Carter Ham ’76
U.S. Army

Deborah Delisle
U.S. assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education

Dave Short ’81
Chair, JCU board of directors
Chairman and co-chief executive, American Funds Group

Beth Mooney
Chairman and CEO

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