LVIV – The Ukrainian Catholic University recently graduated 125 master’s degree students in six fields: history, theology, human rights, non-profit management, Christian pedagogy and organization of leisure.
The ceremonies on February 9 began with a divine liturgy, after which all the newly-minted masters, their parents, teachers, program directors and vice-rectors gathered in the Dining Hall, where Father Ihor Boyko greeted the community: “Tomorrow will be a new era: you will wake up not as students but as graduates. And what you will do to make the country and the world better will depend only on you.”
He continued: “I hope that this day when you receive your UCU diploma will be the day when you realize that you, and not someone else, are the intellectual elite of our country. And may this realization accompany you all the time in adult life.” With these words, Father Boyko officially began the commencement ceremony.
Polish civic activist and friend of UCU Krzysztof Stanowski was the honored guest of the winter commencement. According to UCU’s dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences, Volodymyr Turchynovskyy, Mr. Stanowski not only knows Ukraine’s potential and sees the Ukrainian context in the international arena, but, by his activities, which go far beyond the Polish border, he honors, loves and supports Ukrainians. A former dissident, a co-founder of Polish Solidarity, and twice assistant minister of education and foreign affairs of Poland, Mr. Stanowski was one of the organizers of the Polish Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine and co-founder of the Committee of Civil Solidarity with Ukraine. Since 2016, he has been a member of the Advisory Council of UCU’s Institute of Leadership and Management.
Mr. Stanowski gave a brief account of his past as a student at the Catholic University of Lublin, which as the time was the first and only non-government university between Tokyo and Berlin. That is, it was the only chance for a higher education if a student had a problem with the government.
He recalled that his academic director managed to read his diploma paper only a year and a half after the defense: “When we confirmed the theme, he ended up in prison. This did not prevent me from defending it, but later I also ended up behind bars.” He added, “But look how easy it is today to graduate from a university.”
Mr. Stanowski addressed the general national Polish experience, which helped the country go from protests to unity: “I remember how, 30 years ago, Poles were world champions in protests and underground publications. No one was better than us in the world! But at some moment we realized that our strikes and meetings against the government would be useless if we didn’t know how to manage ourselves and take care of our neighbors. We realized that if we united, there would no longer be people who do protests. Then two groups of people sat down at the table for discussions: those who had just left prison and those who had put them behind bars. They understood that they had fought with one another for the last 10 years. But at that time they decided, nevertheless, to think about a common future, about what they could do together.”
The honored guest also spoke of social innovations: “When I came to you, I was thinking about social innovators, because this university forms a corresponding worldview. But there are always few true innovators, literally one in a million. And the particular quality of these people is solving problems without the help of policy, thanks only to their efforts and work. I often hear that social entrepreneurs are not interested in teaching people. It is said that they only feed them with fish, instead of teaching them how to fish. But these people truly change the whole fishing industry, and not only the views of one fisherman. As a result of the activities of a real social innovator, there will be changes in the whole society, not only in the consciousness of a few people.”
Finally, Mr. Stanowski called upon the masters graduates not to fear difficulties, and he accompanied this advice with an interesting story from the past: “When I was sitting in prison, the most authoritative bandit once came up to me and said: ‘Mr. Stanowski, the first 10 years are always the hardest.’ And today I know this is true, because if you want to change something, you need to be ready for the fact that sudden changes don’t happen.”
The rector of UCU, Father Bohdan Prach, who studied at Lublin Catholic University in the same years as Mr. Stanowski, responded by noting that it really will not be easy. “But it should not be easy. If something is easy for you, this often can mean that sooner or later your work will turn out to be of use to no one. But the most difficult first 10 years can possibly be totally reduced to two, if you know how to join with the like-minded and work together,” he added.
This year’s valedictorian was Oleksandr Kozhukhar, a graduate of the first class of UCU’s Master’s in Human Rights Program. “Unlike my 15 classmates, who are sitting in the hall, I still feel like a student. I am worried, and worry is the most characteristic emotion of a student. Still, in fact, in addition to worry, I also feel countless positive emotions, because our whole class successfully completed studies. We all made it to the end and received degrees. And this is a real accomplishment at UCU,” he said, smiling.
“We are here [at UCU], first of all, to help others. As lawyers, we go out to help when norms and rules have been violated, such as ‘do not steal’ or ‘do not kill,’ ” Mr. Kozhukhar emphasized. He called on all the graduates to never stop or throw up their hands, and expressed hope that this first graduation of the Master’s Program in Human Rights is only the beginning for lawyers at UCU.
Sophia Opatska, the vice-rector for academic affairs, was asked to comment where the UCU community finds the strength and courage to be in the avant-garde of Ukrainian higher education and to launch and carry out programs that have no analogue at other Ukrainian universities. “With the example of the masters graduating today, it is easy to understand why we are launching new programs,” she explained. “Do we need to have the rule of law in Ukraine? It’s very necessary. And data science? Everyone talks about this, but not everyone understands why it’s necessary. We are certain that, for government structures, for business and for the whole country in general, this is extremely important because the development of computer sciences, in particular, could position Ukraine on the global map of the world. And, when one looks at our program in non-profit management, it is possible with one’s own eyes to see how civil society is changing and developing in Ukraine. And this rapid development clearly requires quality management.”