Graduation 2021 – Speeches

It’s the People

Abigail Houseal – Student of the Year 2021

Thank you, Dean MacAlister.  Good morning. Thank you, Abbot Placid, President Thierfelder, professors, monks, faculty, staff, coaches, alumni, friends, families, and fellow classmates of the class of 2021 for making Belmont Abbey College the special place that we all hold dear in our hearts.

Four years ago, when I was just Abbey from Belmont Drive in Hockessin, Delaware, I never could have imagined that this small Catholic school in North Carolina would play such an important role in my life, and I am assuming many of you feel the same way. Whether it was the academics, athletics, Christian foundation, or a mixture of the three that brought you here, I can say for certain it is the people who make this place feel like home.

It’s the people. The girls on my soccer team welcomed me with open arms before I even decided to commit here. Like many of you, athletics was the initial reason I found the Abbey.  The team that became my family and best friends all wrapped in one that pushed me to my limits and taught me grace and humility in everything I do.  Whether you had the opportunity to win a conference title or just play alongside a spectacular program, we were all given the chance to glorify God in everything we do both on and off the field.

It’s the people. The academics and honors program of a liberal arts college that allows for excellence and virtue, just as our motto states.  Whether you’re a member of the Honors College, Hintemeyer, or a St. Thomas More scholar like myself, each program helps you become a better citizen and scholar. Similarly, the professors dedicated their time and effort to help us succeed both academically and professionally.  Their encouragement and sacrifice helped me discern my future career path, and they walked alongside me the entire way. It is their hard work and commitment to each student and their departments that continues to help the Abbey flourish.

It’s the people. The Christian foundation through the Catholic pillars of the Benedictine monastery makes the Abbey unlike any other institution. I am sure that many of you have pointed out the monks wandering around campus to friends and family, and where else would that be normal? Where else could I start my morning with a class taught by a brother, stop by daily mass, and end the day in a bible study with some of my closest friends? I am grateful for the opportunity to grow in my faith, especially as a protestant at a Catholic school.

It’s the people. That’s what we tell everyone about why we chose the Abbey.  In one way or another, it’s the people that make this institution amazing.  Mission first, people always.  It’s the people that make up your athletic teams and clubs that mean so much to you.  It’s the people you’re sitting next to in the classroom, struggling alongside when the test was harder than expected, especially if you’re graduating with a BS today. 

It’s the people who dedicate either time and effort to your education and growth as a student and friend.  It’s the people you schedule time out of your day to pray or attend mass.  It’s the people you’ve spent four years, give or take,  growing alongside in excellence and virtue sitting beside you. I’m grateful to represent the class of 2021.  You were the people that made me excited every summer to come back to Belmont, North Carolina.  You’re the people I cannot wait to throw my cap off to in the coming moments. 

God has blessed us with each other.  While we may not be sitting next to each other next fall, we will always be the people that shaped us, formed us, and made us into the graduates we are today. I pray this class of 2021 will be strengthened and guided by God’s hand in the next stages of life and that all continue to seek to glorify Him in all things.  Thank you, God bless, and raise the red.

Moral Compass

Ronald Freeman – CCPS Student of the Year 2021

It is a great honor to be nominated for this award. In fact, it’s a great honor to be a member of this graduating class at this wonderful learning institute. I would like to thank the faculty, the staff, administration, and monastic community of Belmont Abbey, along with my beautiful wife and our children, Cody, Nicholas, and Sarah, whose love and support have helped me get here today. 

I grew up in a small town in Eastern North Carolina.  Higher education was not the norm. My parents never really pushed me towards college.  In all honesty, they just hoped I would make it through high school. And, I did. After graduation, I worked some hard manual labor jobs and quickly realized that the Army was for me.  And at the age of 19, I signed up.

The Army provided me with some of the best training I had ever received. I was a forward observer.  That job entailed directing artillery, mortars, rockets, attack aircraft, and naval gunfire.  This made me an expert in map reading and using a compass. I had a great time as an enlisted soldier. I got to travel to and live in some wonderful places. I got to meet and work with some great people. My experience in the Army helped set my moral compass in the right direction. It helped me focus and work hard on doing the right thing.  

In 2012, after I retired from the Army, I felt my moral compass begin to move. It was pulling me towards the North. However, not just the North, it was more in the direction of straight up. I could tell that my moral compass wasn’t just talking from my heart, but it was talking from my soul. It pointed me in the direction of the Church, and I became Catholic. I began to feel more fulfilled than I ever had before. I had a loveling family who, most of all, was grounded in the same Catholic faith, and I had a good career as a general manager for a well-known company here in Charlotte.

Yet still, my compass was moving, pulling me toward something bigger.  Towards the end of 2017, I realized that I would not be complete without a college degree. Throughout the years, I had taken a few classes during the 90s, but I was never able to move forward because of personal obligations and work, but now, I was ready.  I had the support system that I needed through my wife and kids, and thankfully the Army was there with my GI bill.  SO, I resigned from my general manager’s position and jumped in, feet first, in the beginning of 2018. Actually, I didn’t jump; I dove. I dove deep into the unknown.  I’m not going to lie; I was nervous, but my compass was pulling me, and I couldn’t just ignore it. 

I encountered a few unique situations being the oldest in the class. I remember one student came up to me at the end of a math class and asked me to explain a formula.  I told him I didn’t know the answer.  I was just a student.  We both laughed.  Another time, a student came up to me at the end of class and thought I was an evaluator for the professor in the back of the class. There were some challenges.  I learned that my computer skills needed some work, and I type really slow.  Don’t get me started on virtual learning.  But, throughout my years as a student, I remained focused, and I worked really hard.

So now, I would like to address all of you, my fellow classmates of the graduating class of 2021.  We had quite a ride.  We have gone through the challenges together that 2020 brought us, and we learned to adjust and adapt to new ways of learning. I would like to leave you with one message, which I hope you will remember as you walk through the path of life. 

Each one of you has your own moral compass. Listen to this compass.  It will guide you through your life. Listen to it, follow it. It will lead you in the right direction on the path of goodness and righteousness.  Don’t be afraid of where it leads you. Trust in it.  You will succeed.  Let us all look forward to new coordinates and a compass reset as we venture beyond our time at the Abbey.  God bless all of you.  God bless the faculty and the staff of Belmont Abbey, and thank you for this great honor.