Notre Dame seniors react to change in commencement speaker
Lesley Stevenson and Ann Marie Jakubowski | Friday, May 16, 2014
In a change that pleased many Notre Dame seniors, Rev. Ray Hammond will deliver the 169th Commencement address instead of Lord Christopher Patten, the chancellor of the University of Oxford and chair of the BBC Trust, the University announced in a press release May 1.
Hammond, a Philadelphia native, founded Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Boston. He entered Harvard College at age 15, graduated with a bachelor’s degree at 19 and earned his medical degree at 23, according to the press release.
Senior Lucy Smith said she thought Hammond would be a better speaker than Patten would have been.
“Originally the speaker, Christopher Patten, sounded cool but entirely not relatable to a good portion of our student body,” Smith said. “He was a wealthy, Catholic, British man who had a sparkly resume of success and power, but was also very old and past his prime.
“When the news came out, no one really cared. However, when they announced the new speaker, Ray Hammond, there was a shift in campus-wide support.”
Smith said Hammond’s experience using his “brilliance” to graduate at a young age from Harvard and serving his community through hands-on work would allow him to speak about issues relevant and significant to the graduating class.
“He has done work with the people of Boston to end gang violence,” she said. “That’s pretty darn cool, and applicable to many people in our class.
“While Lord Patten is accomplished, Reverend Hammond is doing the work of God in the streets. He actively goes into the streets and tries to help people in need, people who are avoided by most.
“He recognizes the importance of the dignity of each human person, and I think our class could use and would love to hear and be inspired by that sort of spirit before we go out into the real world. While he might not be the premier Catholic man in England, Rev. Hammond is spreading the love of God through action to those who need it. That is the sort of message I want to hear.”
Senior Ben Finan said Patten spoke two years ago in Geddes Hall about Oxford and his time as the last British governor of Hong Kong. Finan said he regretted Patten could not attend but looked forward to hearing Hammond speak.
“Although I am sad to see Lord Patten fall ill and become unable to make it after I heard him speak two years ago, Ray Hammond seems to be a fantastic replacement,” Finan said. “As an incredibly accomplished man—both a medical doctor and a preacher, he is an inspiration to our rising generation.
“I hope that Rev. Dr. Hammond will discuss what drove him to such revolutionary ideals, as well as offering some level of advice on what remains to be accomplished.”
Senior Antoinette Pusateri, a biology and theology double major, said Hammond’s experience between medicine and faith-based ministry particularly interested her.
“As a doctor-to-be myself, I am excited to hear Dr. Hammond speak of how his medical career, but moreover, his Christian faith, informs the way he lives his life,” she said. “But surely his advice will transcend all majors, and remind us of our mission as Notre Dame alumni to heal, unify, and enlighten the world around us according to our abilities.”
The University announced in March that Hammond will receive an honorary degree in humane letters at this year’s Commencement ceremony. Patten canceled his speech at Notre Dame, as well as several other engagements, for health reasons, vice president for public affairs and communications Paul Browne told The Observer.
“We are disappointed that Lord Patten will be unable to join us and will keep him in our prayers,” University President Fr. John Jenkins said in the press release. “At the same time, we are delighted and grateful that Rev. Ray Hammond has accepted our invitation to address the class of 2014.
“His life’s story and work are an inspiration, and I know he will provide our graduates with a powerful address.”
Browne said Jenkins’ personal interactions with Hammond played a role in the decision.
“Fr. John had met [Hammond] personally and was impressed with his spiritual demeanor as well as his life’s accomplishments and thought he would deliver a powerful message to the students,” Browne said.
Hammond worked as a doctor before turning to ministry in 1976 and earned a Master of Arts degree in the Study of Religion (Christian and Medical Ethics) at Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in 1982, the release said.
Hammond served as the former chair of the Boston Foundation and founder and chairman of the Ten Point Coalition, which the release described as “an ecumenical group of Christian clergy and lay leaders behind Boston’s successful efforts to quell gang violence in the 1990s.”
He also has served as executive director of Bethel’s Generation Excel program, executive committee member of the Black Ministerial Alliance, chair of the Boston Opportunity Agenda and a member of the Strategy Team for the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, the release said. Beyond that, he is a trustee of the Yawkey Foundation, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation and the Math and Technology Charter High School.