In an announcement Monday, April 16th, the university announced Archbishop of Los Angeles José Gomez as the commencement speaker for this year’s graduation ceremonies. Gomez will address the class of 2018 at Catholic’s 129th annual Commencement Ceremony on May 12th.
Gomez, who will receive an honorary fine arts doctoral degree, currently serves as archbishop of the largest archdiocese in the United States and as the vice president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). Born in Monterrey, Mexico, he has been a prominent supporter on behalf of immigrants, encouraging Catholics to advocate for an extension to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in recent months. Gomez is a member of Catholic’s Board of Trustees, and will be the first clergy member to deliver the commencement address since Cardinal Timothy Dolan spoke to the class of 2012.
In the announcement, university President John Garvey expressed delight in the prospect of the archbishop speaking to this year’s graduates.
“His efforts on behalf of immigrants, in particular those in the DACA program, are significant,” Garvey said. “It’s important that our graduates and their families will hear from such a prominent voice in the immigration debate.”
The announcement was met with varying reactions from the senior class of 2018. Some are excited to hear the archbishop’s inspiring story and message, and others seem a bit underwhelmed at the choice.
Senior politics major Zanas Talley is happy that a leader and man of faith will address the graduating class.
“I’m looking forward to whatever charge he gives to our class, but I hope he can speak to the importance of private citizens working inside communities to bring about change,” Talley said. “I hope he doesn’t just speak to the religious aspect of our lives but to our lives in this world.”
On the other hand, senior Brianna Howard feels that many seniors were hoping for a bigger name to come and speak this year.
“Although Archbishop Gomez is very obviously an accomplished member of the Catholic community and will deliver inspiring remarks, he has also been a speaker at earlier campus events,” Howard said. “Students would have been more excited to have a fresh name as our commencement speaker.”
This will not be the first time Gomez will serve as the commencement speaker, nor the first time he will address Catholic University students. The archbishop spoke to the 81 graduates of Thomas Aquinas College’s class of 2011, warning them of an increasingly secularized society, and reminding them of “the important duty to confront this culture with the power and the promise of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Last March, Gomez spoke on the topic of immigration at a CUA on Tap event sponsored by Campus Ministry. Having been a U.S. citizen since 1995, he noted how personal an issue it is for his family.
“For me and the Catholic Church, immigration is about people,” Gomez said. “We’re talking about souls, not statistics.”
The choice comes during a year in which the university has shown much support for foreign students and those potentially affected by DACA. Last September, Garvey issued a statement responding to the ending of the DACA program, noting that elimination without comprehensive reform would be a serious harm to the country and the thousands affected. Then last November, the university decided to waive a semester’s worth of tuition and fees for up to forty Puerto Rican students who wished to continue their own education on the mainland. Students commented on Archbishop Gomez’s background and thoughts on this ongoing situation.
“At this time, it will be important for all of us to hear a reminder about what our Church teaches us about the just treatment of immigrants,” said senior Thomas Doyle. “I am looking forward to hearing what Archbishop Gomez has to say on the subject.”
“I like that he always speaks about the central role of the family in society and that he clearly sees simplicity as a way to be close to the Lord,” said senior Maria Flores. “He is also Mexican, as am I, so I am looking forward to hearing someone who has a similar background to me speak!”
Senior Justin Andreani hopes the address won’t be too political.
“I believe the story of his life will be very inspirational and what he discusses will probably carry a great message,” Andreani said. “I do worry a little, though, that if he talks about immigration that might spark a political debate among families who have divided opinions.”
As a peek at the comment section of the university’s Instagram post about the announcement might suggest, there are some seniors who feel let down about the pick. Students had spent the past few weeks guessing who the university could have invited, including names like Gary Sinise and Joe Biden.
“Because of the delayed announcement of this year’s commencement speaker, students had hopes of a large name speaker that required extra time to confirm,” Howard said.
“I would say that I am a little disappointed with the choice after reading about who he is,” said senior Heston Priestley. “I kind of feel like President Garvey just chose someone he would be interested in and not us.”
“I found it interesting that Archbishop Gomez is on the Board of Trustees here at CUA,” said senior Kim Myers. “I think it would’ve been nice to have a member outside of the CUA community come to speak; however, I’m sure he will have an empowering message for the graduating class.”
Gomez will speak the morning of Saturday, May 12th outdoors on the east steps of the Basilica, weather permitting.