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176th Spring Commencement Address

By Peter N. Stephans, Chairman and Chief Operating Officer of Trigon Holding Inc.

by Public Relations | May 11, 2022


Saturday, May 7, 2022 – The Robert S. Carey Student Center Gymnasium

Saint Vincent College – Latrobe, Pennsylvania

Thank you, Father Paul, for the kind introduction and for the honorary degree bestowed upon me.

Esteemed faculty, graduating glass, parents, grandparents, and loved ones, commencement is indeed an important milestone worth celebrating. So, congratulations to all assembled here! To the graduates for their hard work, the faculty for their excellent job, and the parents and loved ones who formed a support group around the students and helped them through four years of challenges.

And, let us not forget to pay tribute to Saint Vincent College and praise Benedictine education on this occasion. I am convinced that Benedictine classical, liberal arts education is the best on the face of the earth.

I am qualified to make this claim because my Benedictine education made me who I am today. I am Hungarian by birth. I grew up under communism. My family was categorized as “enemy of the people,” which meant that our property was confiscated by the government, my father was imprisoned, and I was not allowed to attend high school. My only option for a high school diploma was a Benedictine boarding school associated with the Archabbey of Pannonhalma, established in the year 998.

I was lucky that the high school accepted me, gratis, in 1956. Upon arrival, I found a welcoming community of monks who accepted me lovingly, protected me when Russian tanks surrounded the school and Archabbey, and made sure that I got the best classical liberal arts education in Hungary.

These monks were professional; they figured out who I was and how best to challenge and motivate me in no time. I still do not know how they did it. I cannot remember taking a brain scan, giving a DNA sample, or going through an FBI deep background check. The only logical explanation is that the Benedictines became incredibly good at judging talent and character after 1,500 years.

The education we received was demanding, but amazing. We had teachers who had at least one Ph.D. We learned history, geography, Latin, literature, poetry, math, and physics from the monks who were motivated to mold us to be the best we could be. We learned about and lived “The Rule of St. Benedict” as we became part of this fascinating monastic community. Obedience, restraint of speech, kindness, and hard work were the principles we learned to live by. We also attended church services, became altar boys, and added the Catholic faith to the Benedictine love of learning.

The education I received gave me the confidence to handle all the challenges awaiting me, and the spirituality provided me with an impenetrable force shield that protected me against dependence all my life.

What Benedictine education did for me, I hope will do for you, too.

A number of years ago, I had the honor to talk to my daughter’s graduating class at Virginia Tech. The topic was self-discovery and transformation. It was about the steps needed to develop a philosophy of life. These included making choices, developing focus, practicing daring, developing convictions, and having confidence

Making choices can be hard because choices we make today often have consequences that may not be realized for years. So, learn to gather and analyze facts and information. They are your tools for making choices. Set your own timeframe, solicit advice from competent advisors, and learn how to choose.

Developing focus, or concentration and paying attention, is the keen ability to listen, hear what is being said, and express back what you hear. It is not being distracted by minutia but focusing on important things.

Practicing daring is taking chances, seeking success, and risking failure. Only with belief in ourselves and in our ability to make the right choices can we take the chances necessary to succeed and live a daring life.

Developing convictions means living life to the fullest. It is taking a position, believing in it, and holding on to it amid challenges or criticism.

Having confidence comes from having goals, taking risks, holding onto convictions, and building up a small arsenal of successes and failures. Successes convince you that you can succeed, and failures prove that you can survive them and thus gain assurance you will be okay.

It is quite a process to discover yourself and live a full, meaningful life, but you are fortunate! You had Saint Vincent and the classical Benedictine education guide you through this process and mold you into a person who can blossom in the years ahead!

Recently, Saint Vincent received recognition and accolades for being a “Transformative College.” Father Paul, the faculty, and staff should also be recognized and praised for making Saint Vincent better and more relevant than ever. Graduating class, you are the product of the best teaching system. You are well-educated, mature, self-confident, inquisitive, and daring. You know how to fit into a community or corporate culture. You are what employers are looking for.

You selected the best college for your future. So, be proud of your years at Saint Vincent. Be secure in your Benedictine education and spiritual underpinning. In the future, be sure to be loyal and supportive of Saint Vincent.

You are important. You are what this nation is going to be. We need you. Now, go ahead and applaud your great achievement. Go hug your parents and loved ones. Thank them for their support and sacrifices and celebrate!