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June 2018

Kirk Hanson speaking at lectern, 2018 commencement

Kirk Hanson speaking at lectern, 2018 commencement

Be Different, Ethics Expert Kirk Hanson Tells SCU Class of 2018

Outgoing Ethics Center leader Kirk Hanson urged SCU grads to embrace and nurture what makes them different.

SANTA CLARA, Calif., June 16, 2018— The qualities that distinguish Santa Clara graduates—compassion, purpose, preparation, and courage—don’t come with a lifetime guarantee. They require daily fortification and commitment to uphold the values that set Broncos apart in work, life, and love.

That was the message of Kirk O. Hanson, the outgoing executive director of Santa Clara University’s acclaimed Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, as he addressed nearly 1,300 members of the Class of 2018 at a ceremony at Buck Shaw Field in Stevens Stadium Saturday morning.

“You will shape your own character and your own strengths every day of your life,” he said. “You will weaken or strengthen your compassion, your purpose, your preparation, your courage, by the decisions you make every day.  Who you are tomorrow depends on what you do today.”

Hanson, who is stepping down after 17 years at the helm of the Ethics Center, said his perspective from different universities has led him to conclude that Santa Clara students are different in four key ways, each of which provide profound advantages:

  • Compassion. “When I have been more compassionate and attentive in my own life, I think I have been a better teacher, a better friend, a better manager,” he said. “Those times I was preoccupied with myself, things always started to go wrong. And those have been painful lessons.”
  • Purpose. “Employers often tell us Santa Clara graduates really do dedicate themselves to a purpose, a passion in life beyond getting rich and looking out for number one... They say that there is another dimension to a Santa Clara student—a depth, a commitment to bettering this world we live in, a willingness to cooperate, a commitment to using your talents for others. Don’t underestimate the importance of this advantage. It will enable you to accomplish more, have deeper relationships, and be happier for your entire life.”
  • Preparedness. Santa Clara graduates “know you have to create some space in your life to think before you act, to ask the really important questions in life – particularly when the pressure is greatest. There will always be someone hoping that you won’t reflect too much.” He added “I have spent my life studying how people prepare for, recognize and handle life’s ethical choices—when a boss asks you to falsify a report; when you are tempted to lie to cover up a mistake you made yourself; or when you have to deal with a colleague who thinks everything is competitive and that cooperation is for losers...I have learned that every job and every role you will have has a set of predictable—even unavoidable—ethical choices.”
  • Courage. Hanson said he knows of countless confidential examples of Santa Clara University alumni who bravely spoke up in sticky ethical situations, “who headed off engineering disasters because they persistently raised safety questions at the right moment; corporate whistleblowers determined not to let misbehavior continue; graduates taking great risk to create companies with humane and ethical cultures and to create programs and ventures for the poor around the world, and of countless graduates before you who have stood up for women or minorities who are demeaned in their organizations. We salute your forbears who have made this a characteristic of their lives.”

Hanson led the Ethics Center as it became the largest and most active university-based ethics center in the world. He also holds the John Courtney Murray S.J. University Professorship in Social Ethics at Santa Clara. A graduate of Stanford University and the Stanford Graduate School of Business, he has held graduate fellowships and research appointments at the Yale Divinity School and the Harvard Business School, and received an honorary doctorate in 2013 from the University of Portland. At the ceremony, Santa Clara University awarded him an honorary doctorate in education.

A founding chair of numerous national and international business-ethics organizations, Hanson writes extensively on managing the ethical and public behavior of corporations, including co-editing a four-volume series titled The Accountable Corporation. Since 1973, he has advised over 100 businesses on the design of corporate ethics programs.

He currently serves on the board of directors of the Skoll Community Fund and sits on the advisory board of the Neely Center for Ethical Leadership and Decision Making at the University of Southern California.

Watch a video with highlights of this year's commencement online

Valedictory address

Valedictorian Athena Nguyen 2018 speaking closeup

After the degrees were conferred, valedictorian Athena Nguyen ’18, a public health and political science double major, spoke to her peers about internalizing the concept of “accompaniment,” or being with people that one seeks to serve.

“A popular name in the public health field and my personal hero, Paul Farmer, discussed the importance of accompaniment,” she said. Quoting Farmer, she added “To accompany someone be present on a journey with a beginning and an end.”

She also shared how SCU experiences helped her overcome past shame about being different, bullied because of her Vietnamese parents and heritage. “By engaging in cross-cultural dialogue and finding my place among friends and families throughout the world, I have come to realize that my multicultural background is an asset,” she said.

three SCU graduating women cheering in cap & gown 2018

Santa Clara University’s undergraduate class of 2018 comprised 1,290 students, ranging in age from 20 to 38, with 52 percent women and 48 percent men. During the ceremony, Jack Allen Herstam ’18 was awarded the Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J. Award; Brandon Carlos Sanchez ’18 was awarded the Nobili Medal; and Lindsay Liu Taylor ’18 was awarded the Saint Clare Medal.

Honorary degrees

In addition to Hanson, honorary degrees also were conferred on the co-founder and current chancellor of Cristo Rey San Jose Jesuit High School, Peter Pabst, S.J., and a longtime supporter of Santa Clara University and numerous Bay Area nonprofits, Lorna C. Panelli.

Graduate degrees conferred June 15

On Friday evening, June 15, the more than 600 students who earned advanced degrees in business, engineering, education and counseling psychology, and pastoral ministries celebrated their commencement during a ceremony at Buck Shaw Field. Throughout the evening, advanced degrees were conferred on students from the Leavey School of Business; the School of Engineering; the School of Education and Counseling Psychology; and the College of Arts and Sciences’ Pastoral Ministries program.

Prior to the graduate ceremony, alumni Travis Chen M.S. ‘17; Jesse Hans Stokes Harder M.S. ’17; and Nathanial Surman Tucker M.S. ’17 were presented with the School of Engineering’s Graduate Academic Excellence in Engineering Awards.

About Santa Clara University
Santa Clara University, a comprehensive Jesuit, Catholic university located 40 miles south of San Francisco in California’s Silicon Valley, offers its more than 9,000 students rigorous undergraduate curricula in arts and sciences, business, and engineering; master’s degrees in business, education, counseling psychology, pastoral ministry, and theology; and law degrees and engineering doctoral degrees. Distinguished nationally by one of the highest graduation rates among all U.S. master’s universities, California’s oldest operating higher-education institution demonstrates faith-inspired values of ethics and social justice. For more information, see

Media Contact
Deborah Lohse | SCU Media Communications | | 408-554-5121


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