MILWAUKEE – When Israeli Gal Dahan came to America to play basketball for Cardinal Stritch University in Glendale, she came, at least in part, for the superior American basketball facilities.
“They call America the land of opportunity, not for nothing,” Dahan told the Chronicle, when she was a 24-year-old junior, back in 2021.
Maybe it’s a mark of the land of opportunity, that a Jewish Israeli was the final undergraduate student speaker for a private, Franciscan, Roman Catholic school. Cardinal Stritch University announced earlier this year that it would close, resulting in a bittersweet graduation at the Wisconsin Center, on May 21, 2023. Inside the large ballroom, students adorned with heavily decorated graduation caps cheered, administrators standing along the sides of the room wept quietly, and an Israeli who had been here for four years urged her fellow graduates to “embrace the Franciscan values.”
She explained: “They’re human values. You do not have to follow a certain religion to bring such beautiful and fundamental values.”
“It’s showing compassion, making peace, creating a caring community …”
In a subsequent interview, Donney Moroney, vice president of student affairs and the dean of students, indicated that Dohan being an Israeli and an international student wasn’t the reason she was selected for the role. Moroney added, though, that administrators do appreciate an opportunity to bring forward a non-traditional student, since the school has served many such students. Dohan was non-traditional, an older, more life-experienced student from overseas, living in the dorms and involved in things on campus, Moroney said.
The school has had many Muslim and Jewish students, and students from other faiths and walks of life, she said. “What we strive for, is to make sure that when students leave here, they understand the connectivity, regardless of the differences,” Moroney said.
Dahan and other students auditioned for the graduation speaking role. Dahan had an appropriate level of enthusiasm, said Moroney, who was chair of the selection committee. Administrators learned that the school was to close just before the auditions, and they allowed students to work that in as they thought best.
“Cardinal Stritch University is going to close its gates forever,” Dahan said from the podium at graduation. “We should remember that even if Stritch will no longer physically exist, it will always exist in our hearts, minds and souls.”
The scene was not staid, not depressed. Seated before Dahan were hundreds of gowned students, with some with graduation caps sporting messages:
- Real roses with the words, “This one’s for you.”
- A manga-style cartoon saying, “Freedom!”
- A basketball silhouette with: “I did not throw away my shot.”
- One read in Spanish, “Para mi familia, por su apoyo,” which means, “For my family, thank you for your support.”
There was intermittent happy hollering and cheering during the graduation ceremony. The room turned still, though, when Dahan’s talk turned to cancer.
“My father had bladder cancer for seven years. When he finally healed, he told me, ‘Gal, this cancer was the best and worst … thing that’s ever happened to me …. cancer forced me to stop, to go back home, to be with my kids, with my wife, and most important of all with myself.’”
“Gal, don’t wait until you get cancer. We should not need sicknesses … in order to appreciate life. Choose to live life … now.”
Dahan noted that her whole graduating class faced adversity, coming through Covid-19, then coming back to a changed world.
“My heart goes out to all the students, faculty members and staff,” she said, referring once more to the shuttering of the school. “However, do not forget the life lessons you learned. And people you met along the way.”