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Missionary invites grads to get world back on course

Sister Margaret "Peggy" O'Neill, founder of the Art Center for Peace in Suchitoto, El Salvador, urged Canisius College's 832 graduates Saturday to be "mystics and midwives" as she received an honorary degree from the Jesuit college.

"Yes, I invite us to be mystics to choose wisdom," she said at the ceremony held at the University at Buffalo's South Campus. "As the Holy Book says: 'Choose Wisdom rather than light, because the splendor of her never yields to sleep.' "

Sister Peggy went on to invite the class of 2012 to be metaphorical midwives, "to assist at the birthday of a world long emerging but clearly off course. To invite all generations to lend their hands and hearts and reshape how this planet is cared for, how it can continue to support life, how we can truly recognize our connectedness to each other and all life."

While the occasion marked Sister Peggy's first visit to Buffalo, she explained she has a strong connection to Canisius.

Every year, the college's Office of Campus Ministry sends students, faculty and staff members to her center to help in her ministry in Central America.

"Many of you have visited El Salvador, served us, learned our story and allowed yourselves to be touched by the memory of our martyrs," she said.

Sister Peggy has spent the last 25 years in El Salvador, a country, she said, "where my heart has been broken open to love more."

In 2004, she opened the Centro Arte para la Paz, which aims to build a culture of peace through the arts. The center offers music and English classes and activities for children, and promotes self-sufficiency for women.

She welcomed any graduates who may not yet know what to do with their lives to spend a "creative gap year" with her.

Honorary degrees were also given to Peter and Joan Andrews, philanthropists; Robert T. Brady, chairman of Moog Inc.; Brian Concannon Jr., founder and director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti; and Rick Jeanneret, broadcaster of The Buffalo Sabres.

Elsewhere Saturday, commencement ceremonies were held for:

>D'Youville College

Some 750 students earned their degrees from D'Youville, which held its morning commencement at Kleinhans Music Hall.

Donna Fernandes, president and CEO of the Buffalo Zoo, received an honorary degree and gave the commencement address to the Class of 2012.

"Leave everything and everyone you touch better than you found it," she told the graduating students.

Fernandes said she hopes to do just that for the zoo -- "to create a special place where Western New Yorkers can commune with nature and create cherished lifelong memories."

U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, who also spoke at the ceremony, told graduates "you are the first generation to understand, instinctively, the technology of today."

He continued: "Your parents and I, we have adjusted to the vast technological change, but you are fluent in it. It's in your bloodstream. And you are the first generation to truly have it in your bloodstream. You are used to it, and now you can use it. Now is the time to live your dreams."

>Daemen College

Kleinhans also was the site for the Daemen College commencement Saturday afternoon.

The Class of 2012 includes more than 800 earning undergraduate and graduate degreess from Daemen.

Philanthropist and business owner Nancy Haberman Gacioch, a 1962 graduate of the school, addressed the gathering as the commencement speaker.

Gacioch told graduates each "has within you the same essence of a life well-lived as I do. Follow your heart, and never give up on the passions that fuel your heart."

"Even when you think your passions may be thwarted, never, ever give up," she added. "You are facing a very different world than I did when I graduated 50 years ago from Rosary Hill College. It is a world filled with many more complications -- and many more challenges. But within your heartfelt passions, you hold the key. The only person who can hold you back is you."

>UB School of Law

More than 200 UB students were presented law degrees Saturday during the Law School's 123rd commencement ceremony held at Center for the Arts on the North Campus in Amherst.

Martha Minow, the dean of Harvard Law School, served as the keynote speaker. Known as an expert in human rights, Minow was tapped by President Obama in 2009 to serve as vice chair of the board of the Legal Services Corp., a nonprofit that provides access to high-quality legal assistance for low-income Americans.

email: mbecker@buffnews.com and jrey@buffnews.com