May 17, 2014

Elms College graduates largest class in school history



Story and photos by Carolee McGrath

SPRINGFIELD – Four hundred sixty-six students from the College of Our Lady of the Elms in Chicopee walked across the stage at the MassMutual Center here to receive their diplomas the morning of May 17.

This was the largest class in Elms College history. Congregation of St. Joseph Sister Helen Prejean, a humanitarian and well-known opponent of the death penalty, delivered the keynote address.

“I am from the South,” she said, “I know how to tell stories and I know you are like little eagles poised on little branches ready to fly,” Sister Prejean told the graduates. “This is your day.”

Sister Prejean wrote the book, Dead Man Walking, An Eyewitness Account to the Death Penalty in the United States. The book made it to the big screen in the 1990s and sparked a national conversation on the death penalty.

“The next thing I know, I get a phone call. It’s Susan Sarandon,” Sister Prejean said. “I had heard of her, but I didn’t know what she looked like… Susan and I sat at this table and she said, ‘We need to make this happen.’”

Sister Prejean is currently working on her third book, River of Fire: My Spiritual Journey. “The stories are all examples of something St. Bonaventure said. He said, ‘Ask not for understanding, but ask for the fire.’”

Edward Vincent Innarelli, a member of St. Elizabeth Parish in Ludlow, was the college’s first male valedictorian. The biology major is hoping to become a physician’s assistant.

“It wasn’t easy for me at all. I had to work for it,” Innarelli told iobserve. “Aside from the great faculty at the Elms, they all pull for you, my family was definitely my biggest advocate. My mom worked 90 hours a week to get me through school. My dad worked two jobs at one point,” he said.

Margaret Kuntz, a nursing major from South Hadley, won the Sister of St. Joseph Award.

“They are very supportive, the teachers and the faculty. I’m here today because of the teachers who stayed after with me and took the extra step with me,” said Kuntz. “It’s difficult in a bigger college to have that sense of support and community.”

Our Lady of the Elms College recently became the fourth private college in Massachusetts to establish a doctorate program in nursing.

For more on this story, tune into an upcoming edition of “Real to Reel,” the Diocese of Springfield’s television newsmagazine that airs Saturday evenings at 7 on WWLP-22NEWS.