By Tori Sanders, The Circuit

Benedictine College’s 160th Academic Year began in an encouraging way at the schools annual Academic Convocation.

The Convocation, last Tuesday, followed an opening all-school Mass at St. Benedict’s Abbey.

Beanie-clad freshmen were then led to front-row seats in the Ralph Nolan Gymnasium to hear this year’s speaker: Harvard’s Dr. Jacqueline Rivers, the Director of the Seymour Institute on Black Church and Policy Studies.

President Stephen Minnis opened the event by thanking Fr. Joseph Tatro, ‘92 for the homily he gave at Mass.

He also spoke with excitement about Benedictine’s new Byron G. Thompson Center for Integrity in Finance and Economics.

Dr. Rivers husband – the Reverend Eugene F. Rivers, III was also awarded the “Do Something Beautiful for God” Award.

DeMaria Walters, a senior Mass Communications major and summer intern for Dr. Rivers, was then welcomed to the stage to introduce Dr. Rivers.

He is the first student to ever be given the honor of introducing a Convocation speaker.

“Our Benedictine values speak to our belief in service for the common good,” Walters said in his introduction.

Walters, who interned with Dr. Rivers this past summer, believes that she is an example of this service and introduced her not only as a mentor, but as a friend.

Dr. Rivers gave the freshmen many examples of courage to look to. She praised the movie Black Panther and the impact it has had around the world, and went on to detail the work done by Martin Luther King, Jr. and Dorothy Day, not only for African Americans and for women, but for all.

She encouraged students to be good Christians to family and friends.

“Love them, and let them know you love them,” Rivers said.

Her words seemed to resonate with the students present, including freshman Veronica Hausher.

“You have two choices when faced with opposition from the world or any other source: bow under the weight or rise with new strength,” Hausher said.

Walters said he received positive feedback from many faculty members as well.

The internship Walters and fellow senior Isaiah McBride had this summer was the result of a relationship that began two years ago, when Rivers’ husband spoke at Benedictine. At that time, several students approached him with questions.

“We were talking to him so long that Dean Wurtz opened up a room for us to sit down and talk with him. We were with him until 11pm that night,” Walters said.

The conversation inspired action in the two students, who started the Black Student Union on Benedictine’s Campus.

Walters and McBride helped the Rivers realize a dream of theirs this summer in a pilot program for the newly-founded Seymour Institute in Boston, Mass. There, they mentored inner-city youth in the King Project.

Benedictine is the first college to partner with the Seymour Institute, whose key initiative is a Program on Bioethics, Human Life and Marriage. The program asserts and defends the right of the church to pursue the practice of biblical faith as well as promote in society the sanctity of human life and the correct understanding of marriage as a conjugal partnership of husband and wife.

Dr. Rivers has worked on issues of social justice and Christian activism in the black community for more than 30 years, committing her personal and professional life in service to the inner city youth. She has even presented her ideas at the Vatican.

Back here at home, DeMaria Walters’ hopes a continued partnership between Benedictine College and the Seymour Institute will continue to have a positive impact on Benedictine students as they pursue academic success.