Harvard Commencement Speaker to Join Dominican Sisters

by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Journalist

A native of Queens, New York who delivered a commencement speech at her Harvard graduation ceremony in Latin has revealed that she is planning to enter the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, now that school is finished.

The Harvard Gazette is reporting that Mary Ann Marks, who majored in classics and English at Harvard, is planning to enter a Dominican convent in Ann Arbor, Michigan this fall where she will eventually become a Catholic school teacher. This is the same order of sisters who was recently featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show.

“I’ve always thought about being a nun but came to Harvard planning to go to graduate school and perhaps also do some other things before entering,” she told the Gazette. “I decided in January of last year to enter right after college, but a master’s or Ph.D. is still a possibility. One of the exciting things about being a nun is that one never knows what the future holds!”

Marks participated in a long and treasured tradition at Harvard when three graduating students are chosen to deliver a five-minute oration on current events or lessons learned from their years at Harvard.

She was chosen by the school’s Commencement Office after participating in an open speech-writing competition for graduating seniors. Even though these particular speeches were once made only in Greek, Latin or Hebrew, this rule has been relaxed.

However, Marks fell in love with Latin while studying Cicero’s Catilinarian Orations and was the only orator who chose to deliver her address in Latin.

“The links between Latin and Romance languages are fascinating, and, at the same time, Latin has the ability to say things in ways that are not available to Romance languages or to English,” she said. “I mused about ideas for the speech for weeks before setting pen to paper, and, once I’d picked a topic, I consulted with friends and acquaintances from various departments to make sure it spoke to their experiences at Harvard.”

In her speech, she spoke about the surprising warmth and enthusiasm of the people she met in Harvard over the years, and compared the University to its library – the Widener Library.

“Made of granite and marble, standing with solid strength above the Yard’s other buildings, it is a fitting edifice for a temple of learning. As you will recall, however, this library was actually built as a mother’s monument to her son, Harry Widener, a Harvard student who died in the wreck of the Titanic. For this reason, the library’s upper floors were built around an empty space so that the first floor could be occupied by Harry’s room with his books and desk, where even now the librarians regularly place fresh flowers.”

She went on to say that just as a mother’s devotion shaped the form and nature of the library, so should their enthusiasm shape what they choose to do. “If we allow our hearts to be moved, if we pursue what stimulates us, our zeal for our work will bring us joy and sustain us through long hours and the tedium of daily life,” she said.

She concluded by calling upon her classmates to let their enthusiasm benefit the world around them. ” . . . If we overcome our fear of vulnerability, if we cultivate warmth and share it with others, we will inspire them and open to them new horizons. Go forth, therefore, from the heart of Harvard with your own hearts ready to receive and to give!”
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