Bellarmine University’s Spring Commencement ceremony on May 14 was bittersweet. It was the largest Commencement in Bellarmine’s history, with the Class of 2016 receiving 603 undergraduate and graduate degrees in Owsley B. Frazier Stadium. But it was also the first Commencement since the sudden death on March 1 of long-time President Joseph J. McGowan, and his absence was keenly felt.
Interim President Doris Tegart praised her friend and colleague, who had served as president since 1990. With his guidance and leadership, she said, “we planned and executed a Vision for Bellarmine … we transformed a college into a university. We definitely owe him tribute … He created a special Camelot for us that I daresay will never be repeated.”
And then Dr. Tegart announced a new tradition: the McGowan Medal. Dr. McGowan, she said, was not just her boss; he was her mentor. “He helped me be where I am today. Graduates, somebody did that for you. Someone helped you get here today—a lot of someones, probably. Today you will acknowledge and salute that person.
“Each one of you will receive a diploma and a medal, the McGowan Medal. It’s not for you to keep. Hand it to the person who got you here, kept you here, and got you out of here, and say, ‘Thank you.’ It’s payback time. And it’s pay-it-forward time. Become a mentor. Take what you’ve learned and pay it forward. Get someone else where you are today. It’s your turn.”
The Commencement address was delivered by Louisville Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz. He also received an honorary doctoral degree, as did Bellarmine Trustee Joseph P. Clayton, a 1971 Bellarmine alumnus who retired as Dish Network’s CEO last year.