You learn a great deal about a university through alumni. That certainly has been the case during my first year as president. I’ve experienced how much alumni love their alma mater. They have openly and gladly accepted my family and me into the Marquette family.
My experiences throughout the country — meeting more than 3,000 alumni and friends during the Journey Continues initiative with visits in 12 cities — showed how alumni continue to embrace their education though it may be decades since they last attended a class on campus. Even years later, they bring to life the university’s core values of excellence, faith, leadership and service through their words and actions.
This was particularly evident during Alumni National Awards Weekend, when I heard individual after individual express great love for Marquette. Alumnus of the Year Don Herdrich especially amazed me. Like me, he earned an engineering degree yet found a satisfying career path in a different direction (for Don, investment management). As is the case for so many alumni, Don wants to make a better future possible and he does something about it through the Donald J. and Frances I. Herdrich Scholarship. For decades the scholarship fund has supported students who seek to be the first in their families to attend college — an objective that is part of the university’s founding mission.
I was also grateful during that weekend when family and friends of Rick Majerus, our late alumnus and one-time men’s basketball coach, through the Majerus Family Foundation, stepped forward to commit $1 million to scholarships for incoming first-generation students in the Klingler College of Arts and Sciences. It is the largest scholarship gift in the college’s history.
These are humbling commitments to Marquette. Perhaps most striking, though, are instances in which the university experiences a great loss and rises up to better understand and move forward after the loss.
When we experienced the tragic death of alumnus James Foley, Arts ’96, last August, our university gathered in Church of the Gesu with more than 100 of Jim’s friends, including rugby teammates wearing their jerseys from 20 years earlier, to pay homage to Jim, to what he stood for and how he represented Marquette in his effort to serve others. Ignatian themes of social justice, the search for truth and a desire for peace were all brightly illuminated by Jim in life.
After the death this spring of alumnus Marc Marotta, Arts ’84, Church of the Gesu filled again with people who came to celebrate his life. Their words and memories were remarkable.
Just weeks later a plain white envelope from Cleveland arrived on my desk. Inside was a letter from alumna Kathy Povinelli Presley, Bus Ad ’84, and a women’s basketball player when Marc was a member of the men’s team. Though she and Marc rarely saw each other after their years at Marquette, Marc stepped forward to lend a hand when she called to ask him for help with a family medical crisis. When Marc passed, Kathy wrote, she felt an obligation to honor him by attending his funeral. Once there, she learned Marc’s willingness to help her was the norm of his life. Those gathered shared story after story about Marc living his life for others.
Kathy’s message was so touching and her words so striking that, with her approval, I’m pleased to share some of her message to me: “I can only rely on my faith to make sense of it all, that same faith that began as a child and then was nurtured by Marquette University. In that huge developmental part of your life when you’re questioning everything, the people that I have met through Marquette have become those friends that are with me through-out life’s challenges. I think that the ‘Marquette family’ that is often referred to is very real in that we all feel so close to each other even though many miles and many years have since come between us. There is a tie that binds us together through faith. Marquette is a very special place and I wish you the best in continuing to lead and guide it in the Jesuit tradition.”
Thank you, Kathy, for those wonderful words, and thank you, Marquette, for a remarkable first year.