Senior Send-Off celebrates the Class of 2024’s commitment to the common good

May 28, 2024

The Center for Social Concerns celebrated the Class of 2024 on May 17 with its annual Senior Send-Off during Notre Dame’s Commencement Weekend.

More than 80 graduating seniors were recognized for their pursuit of the common good through Center for Social Concerns courses, minors, research programs, and immersive experiences in South Bend, across the country, and around the world.

Two graduates were selected to receive special awards — the Sr. Thea Bowman Award and the Research for the Common Good Award.

Annika Barron, a neuroscience and global affairs major who completed the center’s Catholic Social Tradition Minor, was selected to receive the Sr. Thea Bowman Award for her commitment to justice and dignity through active engagement within and outside the Notre Dame community.

Faculty nominating Barron highlighted her capstone project for the Catholic Social Tradition Minor. Her project synthesized her work with South Bend’s DePaul Academy, which is a residential school within the St. Joseph County Juvenile Justice Center, along with her summer experience through the center’s NDBridge program at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation in Chicago and her incarceration research in Norway.

“Annika developed a resource for the DePaul teachers and staff to consider trauma-informed approaches in their work at the intersection of neuroscience and restorative justice, with a view toward helping them present the significant impact of their work as they seek renewed funding from St. Joseph County,” the nominating faculty wrote.

Fabrice Uwihirwe

Fabrice Uwihirwe, an economics and global affairs major who completed the center’s Poverty Studies Interdisciplinary Minor, received the Research for the Common Good Award. The award is presented annually to a student for a major piece of original, independent research that addresses a question of justice or promotes the common good.

Uwihirwe’s research projects included traveling back to his native Rwanda to focus on education as a driver of upward mobility, including the role parents and teachers play in student retention.

His capstone project for the Poverty Studies Interdisciplinary Minor explored the official policies and informal practices that create what he calls the racial capitalism that unjustly prevents Black Americans from buying homes equitably. “This paper taught me a few things, and I hope to use it in my reparatory justice work,” a faculty member wrote in nominating Uwihirwe for the award.

Each of the 85 graduating seniors at the ceremony received a copy of The Book of Delights by Indiana poet Ross Gay and walked across the stage in the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center’s Leighton Concert Hall, pausing at the podium for a moment to share their postgraduate plans and something they learned in their Center for Social Concerns experiences and courses.

The Senior Send-Off featured remarks from two special guests: incoming University President Rev. Bob Dowd, C.S.C., and Feeding America CEO Claire Babineax-Fontenot, the 2024 recipient of Notre Dame’s Laetare Medal.

“You graduates have all grown over the years here at Notre Dame and beyond because you have left your comfort zones. It’s the only way we grow intellectually; it’s the only way we grow spiritually,” Dowd said. “And so here tonight I just want to commend you for the ways you have left your comfort zones, and I want to encourage you to continue to leave your comfort zones in order to grow, in order to serve, in order to learn.”

Feeding America CEO Claire Babineaux-Fontenot

Babineaux-Fontenot described how she advanced in her career as a tax lawyer and landed at Walmart, where she was on the company’s global leadership team for 13 years. A cancer diagnosis in 2015 caused her to discern how she could serve a higher purpose in the next stage of her career. Since 2018, she has led Feeding America — “the greatest opportunity for service that I’ve ever had,” she told the graduates.

She explained how the experiences she had as a tax lawyer and the many relationships she developed during her career proved useful once she was at Feeding America, determining how to solve the various logistical questions posed by a nationwide network of food banks, food pantries, and meal programs. “It all counts,” she said.

Babineaux-Fontenot encouraged the graduates to invest in learning who they are, just as they have already invested in learning all kinds of things in school, and to remember that they are built to be of service.

“I happen to be a person of faith. I do believe that my steps are ordered, and I believe that yours are, too,” she said.

“If I have a concern for youth, it is that you think you have to be everything — with all that’s been invested in you, somehow that translates into ‘I have got to do so much, and I have got to do it right now,’” she said. “What I think we’re actually called to do is to be who we’re meant to be, and we each get to be on a journey to discover that in its many beautiful facets.”

Watch a video of the full Senior Send-Off ceremony.