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 Nurture a Grateful, Prayerful Heart, Yale University's First Female Chaplain Urged Santa Clara University Advanced-Degree Graduates

Friday, Jun. 10, 2011

SANTA CLARA, Calif., June 10, 2011 – Keeping a grateful, prayerful heart will fortify you for life’s inevitable surprises, conflicts and tragedies, Yale University’s first female Roman Catholic chaplain told the graduates of Santa Clara University’s four advanced-degree programs.

The University's 160th graduation for about 1,000 students from the School of Engineering, the Leavey School of Business and Administration, the School of Education and Counseling Psychology, and the College of Arts and Sciences took place Friday evening at the University’s Leavey Center.

“This world is swirling with challenges to our humanity,” said Sharon M.K. Kugler, ’81, the commencement speaker and since 2007 Yale University’s chaplain. “May you nurture a gracious spirit, find reasons to say thank you every day; may you embody a kind of prayer in all that you do, and always remain awake to the wondrous possibility that is all around you.”

Standing on a stage festooned with greenery and colorful banners, she advised the graduates to infuse gratitude and prayer into their lives, as source of enrichment and strength. “It will not always be easy, and there will surely be times of bitterness, anguish, puzzlement and alienation,” she said. But, she added, there will also be times of promise, and “the mere act of gratitude puts you closer to God.” 

“As members of one human family, whether we like it or not, we live our sorrows together, but the power and mystery of human resilience is a constant in our lives.”

A Santa Clara University alumna who was previously chaplain at Johns Hopkins University for 14 years, Kugler also quoted poet Alla Renee Bozarth in urging the graduates to “be your prayer,” and to “be awake to the life that is loving you.” 

She spoke of having taken an uneven path to her current success, and having suffered through cancer, the loss of two parents and a sibling, and campus tragedies.  But said the valleys as well as the peaks made her better able to help students deal with setbacks, poor grades or find their own reserves during tragic times.

Kugler received an honorary Doctor of Pastoral Ministry Honoris Causa  at the event. She has a B.S. in mathematics from SCU, in addition to a master’s degree in liberal studies from Georgetown University.

In her role at Yale, Kugler is considered a dynamic and eloquent pastoral leader, acutely attuned to the needs of a multi-faith religious community.  In addressing the multi-ethnic, multi-generational crowd Friday evening, she cited the “spectacular mosaic of family, rich in cultural, spiritual, social and ethnic diversity” of the graduates and their families, calling it an opportunity for “a divine encounter” to bridge divides and enrich one another.

“You are breathtaking to behold,” she added. 

She is a lecturer on interfaith dialogue in the Yale Divinity School, and has been a voice of peace and respect for the Yale student body through controversies and tragedies. Her master’s thesis on building a religiously plural community was used as a training tool for military chaplains.

Kugler is the past president of both the National Association of College and University Chaplains (NACUC) and the Association of College and University Religious Affairs (ACURA). She is a member of the Theta Alpha Kappa National Honor Society for Religious Studies and Theology.

University President Michael Engh, S.J., who awarded Kugler’s  honorary degree, also urged the graduates to “pursue your passion in life for the good of the world.” He quoted Albert Einstein in saying “only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.” 

Other information about the graduate programs at SCU:

Class size: 359
Top Ethnicities: Asian (56%); White (21%); Other/Unknown (13%); Hispanic (6%0
Gender: 73% Male; 27% Female

Business School
Class Size: 469
Top Ethnicities: Asian (45%); White (30%); Other/Unknown (30%); Hispanic (4%)
Gender: 68% Male; 32% Female

Education and Counseling Psychology:
Class Size: 246
Top Ethnicities: White (51%); Asian (17%); Hispanic (11%)
Gender: 83% Female; 17% Male

Arts and Sciences (specifically Pastoral Ministries):
Class Size: 9
Top Ethnicities: White (50%); Hispanic (20%)
Gender: 78% Female; 22% Male

Graduates represent 39 states and more than 64 countries, provinces, and territories.

Nearly 500 graduating advanced-degree students are international, with India having the most number of graduates (about half), followed by China (59), Taiwan (30), and Vietnam (22).

Watch a slideshow of the ceremony.

Watch entire ceremony.

Read the commencement address.

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 8,800 students rigorous undergraduate curricula in arts and sciences, business, theology, and engineering, plus master’s and law degrees and engineering Ph.D.s. 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 Relations | (408) 554-5121 |


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