Commencement 2020

This Commencement isn't typical, but that isn't going to stop us from celebrating our newest graduates. Below you will find all the ways we are honoring them.

May 4, 2020
Dear Bellarmine 2020 graduates,

Like no other class in Bellarmine’s history, you have completed your collegiate careers amidst the upheaval of a pandemic. It’s only fitting that we celebrate your accomplishments with another first. We invite you to tune in to Bellarmine University’s first-ever “Toast to Our Graduates” at 1 p.m. Saturday, May 9, on Bellarmine’s Facebook page.

This online event is not meant to replace the commencement ceremony we have planned Dec. 19 at Freedom Hall for Spring 2020, Fall 2019 and Summer 2019 graduates. Rather, this is Bellarmine’s way of commemorating May 9, the day commencement was initially planned, with some semblance of the celebration you deserve. We recognize the challenges you have faced in completing your coursework and we’re disappointed we couldn’t be with you in person. We thank you for persevering with grit and grace and we heartily commend your momentous accomplishment.

Simply put, we are proud of you, graduates, and we’ll drink to that. Dr. Susan M. Donovan, Bellarmine president, will share a champagne toast and remarks along with several other notable members of our community. We hope you’ll invite your friends and family to participate and raise their glasses as well.

Congratulations and all the best for your future endeavors. I know each of you will do great things.

Go Knights!
Paul Gore, Ph.D.

Orientation 2016, Memories for the Class of 2020

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Class of 2020 at Orientation event

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Multicultural & Lavender Celebration 2020

Screen shot of IG

Hop over to Instagram to check out how the Office of Identity and Inclusion is celebrating our graduates of color and LGBTQ+ students.

Bellarmine students graduating during COVID-19 have mixed emotions


When Bellarmine University transitioned campus life online this spring to prevent the spread of COVID-19, its students became part of a national collegiate upheaval, a defining crisis of their generation.

In the U.S., at least 1,149 colleges and universities closed or moved to virtual learning, affecting more than 14 million students.

Bellarmine students were asked to move from residence halls, all classes were moved online and commencement was delayed from May 9 to Dec. 19, all difficult changes for a university that takes pride in its highly personal, close-knit community.

We asked some of our graduates to describe the experience of graduating now, and unsurprisingly, their emotions ranged from disappointment and loss to relief and gratitude.

Messages to the Class of 2020: Andy Beshear

Messages to the Class of 2020: Greg Fischer

Messages to the Class of 2020: Bill Mudd

Messages to the Class of 2020: Chris Morris

Messages to the Class of 2020: Most Rev. Joseph E. Kurtz, D.D.

Messages to the Class of 2020: Sharon Des Jarlais

Messages to the Class of 2020: Bill Samuels Jr.

Messages to the Class of 2020: Marian A. Swope

Faculty Messages for the Class of 2020

Great Graduates 2020: Nolan Wesley

Nolan Wesley

Swords up to Nolan Wesley of Bellarmine’s Army ROTC! He’s a Distinguished Military Graduate (top 20 percent of cadets nationwide) who earned his MA in communication with a 4.0 GPA. Nolan assessed into the Kentucky Army National Guard as an aviation officer. He’s heading to Fort Rucker, Ala., where he’ll attend Aviation Basic Officer Leadership Course and Flight School. Thank you for your service, Nolan. We are proud of you.


Great Graduates 2020: Kristie Johnson

Kristie Johnson

Kristie Johnson, Ph.D. in Leadership in Higher Education

Kristie Johnson loved her experience in Bellarmine’s Leadership in Higher Education Ph.D. program so much that she only missed one class, and for that, she had a pretty good excuse: She’d just had a baby.

Kristie was in the inaugural class of the program, which focuses on leadership, social justice and research. She progressed through it while becoming a new mother and holding a full-time job as director of grants management at Marian University in Indianapolis.

Kristie said Bellarmine’s doctoral program fulfilled her academic interests while providing the flexibility and support to complete it as a working professional.

“It is really a wonderful program,” she said. “It’s innovative in its approach to leadership, and I really enjoyed just how intentional, accommodating and accessible the professors were.”

Great Graduates 2020: Jasmine Jacobs

Jasmine Jacobs

Jasmine Jacobs, Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing

Bellarmine graduate Jasmine Jacobs finished her degree this spring as she was called to state active duty in the fight against COVID-19.

Jasmine completed the Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree, a rigorous one-year program, while serving in the Kentucky Air National Guard as an aerospace medical technician.

In April, she joined 230 Kentucky National Guard airmen and soldiers in building a 288-bed site in the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center for patients recovering from COVID-19. The team includes 82 doctors, nurses and medics who stand ready to provide around-the-clock medical care at the facility, should area hospitals reach capacity.

Great Graduates 2020: Q&A with OJ Oleka ’16 MBA, AIKCU President

OJ Oleka ’16 MBA, AIKCU President

OJ Oleka ’16 MBA, who completed a Ph.D. in Leadership in Higher Education at Bellarmine this spring, became the new president of the Association of Independent Kentucky Colleges and Universities (AIKCU) on Dec. 1, 2019, succeeding longtime president Gary Cox. Bellarmine is one of the 18 members of AIKCU, the statewide voice for Kentucky’s private, nonprofit, four-year colleges and universities. Until his AIKCU appointment, Oleka was chief of staff for Kentucky State Treasurer Allison Ball. He is also an appointed member of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education. A Frankfort, Ky. native, Oleka earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Louisville, where he was student body president and chair of the Kentucky Board of Student Body Presidents, before coming to Bellarmine for his MBA.

Great Graduates 2020: Mary Wurtz


Mary Wurtz, Foreign Languages and International Studies and Theology

Mary Wurtz wrapped up her last class at Bellarmine online last week, which felt a little anticlimactic for a student who has been so heavily involved on campus the last four years.

Natasha Begin, assistant dean of students, who knows Mary as they’ve traveled abroad together, texted Mary a quick selfie video in which Begin said, "I’m sorry how your last day turned out, and I’m proud of you."

“It’s little things like that make a difference at Bellarmine,” Mary said.

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Great Graduates 2020: Anderson Reeves

Anderson Reeves, Bellarmine Great Graduate 2020

Anderson Reeves, Arts Administration (Music Emphasis)

Those who’ve attended Mass in Bellarmine’s Our Lady of the Woods Chapel in the last few years have enjoyed the fruits of Anderson Reeves’ labor.

There, he sang, played clarinet and served as student director of the Chapel Musicians, selecting music for Masses and special occasions and even composing original music to share.

It was one of numerous activities and work experiences he’s undertaken at Bellarmine that allowed him to flourish as a musician while developing skills needed for a career in arts administration.

“At Bellarmine, we have such a tight-knit community, it’s so inviting for people to express themselves in whatever way they feel comfortable,” Anderson said. “It allows students to show off just how talented they are. It’s been a great way for me to learn and discover the talents of others and how I can be a better artistic companion.”

Great Graduates 2020: Daria Ochenkowski

Daria Ochenkowski

Daria Ochenkowski, Education Major

Dr. Winn Wheeler will never forget the first time she met Daria Ochenkowski. As a junior, Daria was taking Wheeler’s Reading Foundations class for her education major.

“Within the first five minutes of our interaction, I learned about Daria’s deep passion for helping children learn,” said Wheeler, a literacy professor. “She wanted to learn everything she could about teaching students.”

That passion was indicative of Daria’s career at Bellarmine, where she was a student-athlete involved in numerous activities, all while excelling at classwork and maintaining a spot on the Dean’s List.

“She has made decisions that will help grow her into the kind of leader and teacher who will make a profound difference in the school community,” Wheeler said.

Great Graduates 2020: Paya Yazdanpanah

Paya Yazdanpanah

Paya Yazdanpanah, Biology Major

Paya Yazdanpanah sees his darkest hour as his brightest.

In his time at Bellarmine, Paya and his mother were both diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a rare cancer affecting the immune system. Following 6 months of chemotherapy his junior year, both his lungs collapsed as well.

Paya said these experiences taught him life-defining lessons about the value of relationships and of giving back and strengthened his resolve to become a physician.

“That’s what pushing me now,” he said. “I’m blessed and privileged to be alive. I have real motivation now to be a doctor. I want to join the next generation of great doctors and give back to the profession that has given me so much.”