John Cabot University Celebrates the Class of 2023

On May 15, 2023, John Cabot University celebrated the Class of 2023 at the Villa Aurelia on the Janiculum Hill overlooking the city of Rome. 12 students received their Master of Arts in Art History, 184 received their Bachelor of Arts, and 4 received their Associate of Arts degrees.

This year’s Commencement ceremony was the culmination of JCU’s 50th anniversary year as an American university in the heart of Rome, Italy.

Class of 2023

The Class of 2023 with Dean Stefano Arnone (left) and President Franco Pavoncello (right)

President Franco Pavoncello’s Address
After an ecumenical invocation by Father Riccardo Lufrani O.P., JCU President Franco Pavoncello congratulated the Class of 2023, recalling that 50 years ago John Cabot International College opened its doors to 31 students. “Thanks to the committed vision of its inspired founders, and with the academic support of Hiram College in Ohio, we began,” said the President.

The secret of this 50-year story, which transformed JCU from a tiny college on the outskirts of Rome to a first-class liberal arts university with over 1600 students, can be summed up by the words “persistence and resilience,” according to President Pavoncello. These qualities certainly describe the graduating class, whose university studies were characterized by one of the most challenging periods that humanity has faced in decades, a global pandemic. But our students never wavered nor lost sight of the goal ahead of them.

The President reminded the Class of 2023 that as graduates of JCU, they have received an education that, while preparing them for continued studies or successful professional careers, and instilling skills and passion for lifelong learning, has nurtured an enthusiasm for engaged citizenship. “I strongly believe that all these qualities have been amplified in the special international setting of John Cabot University, which brings together unique students from more than 70 countries. It is in this diverse and inclusive international environment, in this global agora, that you have learned to appreciate the value of other cultures, of all cultures, and to realize that no group holds ownership of truth.”

Congratulations from Board of Trustees Vice-Chair Portia Prebys
Dr. Portia Prebys conveyed heartfelt congratulations to the graduates on behalf of the JCU Board of Trustees.

“You graduates are the institutional treasure that John Cabot University is entrusting to the world today, and we are doing so willingly, knowing full well that each of you possesses the inner strength and formal academic skills to continue to create, inspire, and maintain a world full of truth, beauty, and goodness,” said Dr. Prebys.

David P. Hainey

David P. Hainey

Commencement Speaker David P. Haney, President of Hiram College
Serving nearly 40 years as a college administrator and faculty member, in 2020 Dr. David P. Haney became the 23rd President of Hiram College, an institution whose vision and courage were essential for the birth of John Cabot University.

Dr. Haney said that he was impressed by what JCU achieved in 50 years, which in academia is a very short period of time. He recalled the words of Paul Frohring, a member of Hiram College’s Board of Trustees and one of JCU’s founders, who said, “We have to put an international horizon in the minds of our students.”

“When I was an exchange student in Scotland in the early 1970s, I realized that what I thought were universal truths were in fact narrowly tied to my own American perspective… Make your bubble as expansive and as inclusive as you can,” urged Dr. Haney.

Dr. Haney discussed the concept of liberal arts, which is so important to both JCU and Hiram. “Some say that being a liberal arts institution means that all perspectives should be valued equally. I say no to this. Although every perspective needs to be carefully considered, every perspective needs to earn the right to be taken seriously as it’s tested against the horizon of facts and values. That’s what a liberally educated citizen has the courage to do.”

“You’re probably tired of being told that you need to go out and change the world. It’s totally unfair because my generation has given you a world that needs changing,” Dr. Haney told students. He provided the graduates with four questions that they will be able to use as a guide for the future: 1. What kind of world do you want to live in? 2. What needs to change for that world to come into being? 3. What part of that change do you want to be? 4. What do you need to learn to take on your part of the change?”

President Pavoncello then conferred the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa to Dr. Haney: “Your outstanding contributions to the growth of the institutions you have served set a shining example of commitment to the values and principles of academia and are an inspiration for all of us.”

Conferral of Honorary Degree to Luise Drüke, scholar and practitioner of international relations
Dr. Luise Drüke has more than 40 years of practical experience in national, regional, and international refugee work. For more than three decades Dr. Druke has headed offices and missions of the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) in Europe, Southeast Asia and Central Asia, Latin America, and Africa, including major humanitarian operations in Namibia, Honduras, Kazakhstan, and Bulgaria. During and after her work for the United Nations Dr. Druke found the time to lecture at many prestigious universities, including The European Institute, Boston University, the Kennedy School at Harvard, and MIT.

Luise Druke

President Franco Pavoncello confers honorary degree upon Dr. Luise Drüke

President Pavoncello conferred the degree of Doctor of International Affairs honoris causa to Dr. Drüke “for her contributions to the dissemination of knowledge about human rights and refugees matters, and for having led major efforts by the UNHCR in bringing protection and assistance to refugees and other persons in need in many parts of the world.”

In thanking President Pavoncello and JCU for the honor, Dr. Drüke shared the lessons she has learned in her long career. To summarize, she said: ” 1. Freedom cannot be taken for granted. 2. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. 3. Democracy is not a spectator’s sport, it is for individuals and governments to support. 4. Without peace and security neither international nor local development is sustainable.”

Lastly, Dr. Drüke told graduates, “Volunteering, hard work, and lifelong studying and learning in areas you are interested in may well get you to do what you love to do for your own good and that of humanity.”

Class of 2023 Valedictorian Irene Palermo
Hailing from the Puglia region in southern Italy, Irene earned a B.A. in English Literature summa cum laude, with minors in Communications and Creative Writing. She is currently enrolled in a master’s program in Film Production and Screenwriting at La Sapienza University of Rome.

Irene Palermo

Valedictorian Irene Palermo

Determined to pursue a career as a professional screenwriter, Irene told fellow graduates, “Every single one of you here today has a story to tell and a story still to be written. As you enter this new chapter of your lives, don’t let anyone lock you into their fixed narrative, much less yourself. It’s hard to follow all the twists and turns of a movie’s plot, so imagine trying to do that with your life— The road of life is not a straight line but a circle, and it feels very much like driving a scooter on cobblestones in Rome: it’s a bumpy road, but geez, the view is great!”

Irene concluded by quoting the protagonist from a memorable graduation moment in the movie Reality Bites (1994). “‘How can we repair all the damage we inherited?’ Fellow graduates, the answer is simple. The answer is… The answer is… I don’t know.” But if I am sure of anything when it comes to our generation, our Class of 2023, it is this—not only will we fix some of that damage, but we’ll do it our way, we’ll do it right, and we’ll be alright.

Conferral of Degrees
Dean of Academic Affairs Stefano Arnone presented diplomas to graduates, who received their Master of Arts in Art History, Bachelor of Arts in Art History, Business Administration, Classical Studies, Communications, Economics and Finance, English Literature, History, Humanistic Studies, International Affairs, International Business, Italian Studies, Marketing, Political Science, and Psychological Science, and Associate of Arts in International Affairs, International Business, and Communications.

Congratulations Class of 2023 from the entire JCU community!

Watch the ceremony on JCU’s YouTube channel.