Antoine Garibaldi, president of the University of Detroit Mercy and a St. Thomas trustee, is scheduled to address both the St. Thomas undergraduate and graduate classes at the May 19 commencement ceremonies.
Susan Alexander, executive adviser to university president the Rev. Dennis Dease, said originally the university tried to set Garibaldi for one ceremony and Liberian President Ellen Shirleaf Johnson for the other, but a scheduling conflict prevented Johnson from being able to attend. However, Alexander said she did not want it to seem as though Garibaldi was a “second choice.”
“We were worried all along that (Johnson’s) schedule would not permit her to come at the last minute. When the schedule didn’t work out, we very fortunately were able to have (Garibaldi) for both,” Alexander said. “I guess you’d call it contingency planning.”
After serving as Gannon University’s president in Erie, Pa., since 2001, Garibaldi became Detroit Mercy’s first lay president on July 1, 2011. His career spans more than 35 years as a tenured professor, researcher and educational administrator.
Garibaldi earned his Ph.D. in educational psychology from the University of Minnesota in 1976 and his bachelor’s degree in sociology from Howard University in 1973.
Alexander said Garibald appealed to Dease because of his scholarly work.
“(Dease) has great respect for Dr. Garibaldi’s scholarly work. It’s on diversity in gender and ethnicity and higher education and disparities. It’s close to his (Dease’s) heart,” Alexander said.
Liz Pojar, a program manager for St. Thomas’ Alumni and Constituent Relations staff, said she has been working with the commencement ceremonies since 2004 and does not remember ever having an undergraduate and graduate ceremony with the same speaker.
Senior Stephen Schmitz said he hopes that the university had good intentions when choosing Garibaldi for both ceremonies and that they were not trying to cut corners.
“I hope it’d be for the fact that they think he’s a good speaker, and he can cover undergraduate and graduate. Personally, I think it’d be better to have two separate speakers because everyone knows undergraduate and graduates are two completely different types of students with different types of needs,” Schmitz said.
Alexander said Dease has the final say, with approval from his staff, on who speaks at the ceremonies and that he likes to have presidents from other universities speak, especially Catholic universities. However, Alexander said there are a variety of other criteria that are considered.
“We weigh various things: do we think the person will be interesting to students, do they have something valuable to say, do they have a connection to St. Thomas?” Alexander said.
Overall, Alexander believes that Garibaldi will have a strong message for both the undergraduate and graduate classes.
“I think he’ll give an inspiring talk,” Alexander said. “Sometimes you get some big name and they give you a canned presentation, but I think he’s going to give an inspiring talk for us because of his good values.”
Alexander also mentioned that St. Thomas hopes to have Johnson speak at a university program next fall.
Briggs LeSavage can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.