On Sunday, May 21, 2017, at 1:30 p.m., Valparaiso University will celebrate undergraduate commencement, one of three commencement ceremonies held throughout the weekend, conferring degrees upon 772 undergraduate students.

The keynote speaker is Ken Hackett, who served as the 10th U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See for three and one-half years. He was nominated to the post by President Barack Obama on June 14, 2013, confirmed by the Senate on Aug. 1, 2013, and presented his Letters of Credence to Pope Francis on Oct. 21, 2013. He completed his service on Jan. 16, 2017.

“We are honored to welcome Mr. Hackett to Valparaiso University to deliver our commencement address,” said Mark A. Heckler, Ph.D., president. “Driven by faith and motivated to make a difference, he has tirelessly served the church and our country. He is an exemplary figure —a man of character and wisdom determined to elevate the marginalized —who will undoubtedly inspire our graduates.”

Prior to his appointment as Ambassador to the Holy See, Hackett was president of Catholic Relief Services (CRS), an international humanitarian agency supported by the U.S. Catholic community, from 1993 until he retired in December 2011. As president, he led 5,000 CRS employees in more than 100 countries. Hackett joined CRS in 1972, commencing his career in Sierra Leone, where he managed a nationwide leprosy program and a maternal and child health program. He also held CRS assignments overseas in the Philippines and Kenya.

As regional director for Africa, he led CRS’ response to the Ethiopian famine, from 1984–1985, and supervised CRS’ operations during the crisis in Somalia in the early 1990s. It was under his leadership that CRS responded to recovery efforts such as those following the Rwanda genocide, the Bosnian and Kosovo emergencies, the Asian tsunami and the Haiti earthquake. Equally notable was CRS’ work during his tenure as president on behalf of people living with HIV/AIDS. After a 30-year career with CRS, Hackett joined the University of Notre Dame’s Institution for Global Development in 2012 as an advisor. Prior to his work with CRS, Hackett was a Peace Corps volunteer in Ghana.

Hackett has served numerous humanitarian organizations including the Millennium Challenge Corporation, a U.S. foreign aid agency dedicated to fighting global poverty; Caritas Internationalis, the confederation of Catholic humanitarian aid organizations; and Pontifical Council Cor Unum, the Vatican body that coordinates the Church’s charitable work.

Hackett holds many distinguished honors. In 2004, he was named a Knight Commander of the Equestrian Order of St. Gregory the Great, one of the highest papal honors. He holds 16 honorary doctorate degrees from various U.S. universities and was the 2012 recipient of the Laetare Award from the University of Notre Dame, the oldest and most prestigious award for American Catholics. Hackett has received recognition for his humanitarian work from foreign governments, including the National Order from the Republic of Benin (2008) and the National Medal of Honor from Sierra Leone (1998).

The undergraduate commencement ceremony will take place in the Athletics-Recreation Center. The Law School and Graduate School commencement ceremonies are on Saturday, May 20, 2017 in the Chapel of the Resurrection. Visit valpo.edu/commencement for additional information.