Larree Renda, University of Portland 2015 commencement speaker, tells graduates that attitude can help overcome adversity


April 30, 2015

Addressing graduating students at the University of Portland 2015 spring commencement Sunday, Larree Renda, former executive vice president of Safeway, Inc., stressed the importance of attitude in responding to positive and negative moments in the future.

“It all starts and ends with something each and every one of you have -- complete control of . . . your attitude,” said Renda, who, because of economic reasons, was forced to forgo a college career and started working as a bagger and checker in a grocery store. “You see, we can’t always control what happens to us, but we absolutely can control our reaction to it.”

Renda, who serves as a member of the University’s Board of Regents, rose quickly in her 40-year career at Safeway, Inc., becoming the youngest ever store manager at age 21, later the first woman in the company to be a senior vice president and first woman executive vice president. And throughout her life, she has had to respond to difficult situations and tragedy, including the loss of both her father and husband to cancer. Her father passed away at age 36 – he was laid to rest on Renda’s 16th birthday -- and her husband of 25 years passed away at age 56.

“One of the things I learned from this experience is that there is only one thing more difficult to endure than losing a father and husband to cancer,” Renda told graduates. “And that is watching your three children grieve for the loss of their dad.”

Renda told 2015 graduates to have plans, “but things will not go the way you planned . . . count on it. There will be setbacks, sadness, loss, grief, but don’t let that discourage you. That’s all part of living. It’s what makes us appreciate the good things in life and reminds us that our heart is capable of love and joy and happiness.” 

University of Portland President Rev. Mark L. Poorman, C.S.C., in his first commencement as president, conferred a total of 857 undergraduate degrees on Sunday and delivered his Charge to the Class of 2015. On Saturday, Anne Fadiman, Yale University professor, delivered the commencement address at the graduate ceremony.

Fr. Mark told graduates how blessed he is to team-teach a theology class, where he continues to learn about students’ spiritual and moral perspectives. Drawing, in part, from what he has learned from his students over the years, Fr. Mark highlighted three main points he hoped the new graduates would take with them as UP alumni.

“First, remember where you came from. It’s amazing how many of the things we were taught growing up still serve as our guideposts for leading a good life.

“Second, make every decision count. One of the challenging insights that has emerged from our class discussions is that when it comes to the moral life, there is no such thing as a trivial decision.

“Finally, live in a story larger than your own. One of the great heresies of our time is that we are masters of our own destinies, that life is about exercising strong wills and seizing personal golden opportunities and realizing individual audacious goals. But for believers, it’s difficult to offer the narrative of your life without perceiving that the underlying meaning is not personal strength, it’s Grace; it’s not chance, it’s Providence; it’s not self-fulfillment, it’s the gift of self to others.” 

Katelin Stanley, the University’s 2015 valedictorian, used trees as metaphors in challenging her fellow graduates to “reach for the sunlight which is all that is good.” Stanley noted that “like the branches of a tree, we may diverge from one another, spread into the far corners of the canopy of creation, but still we are connected to that which is our core.”

Receiving the University’s highest honor, The Christus Magister Medal, was Fr. William Hayes, S.J. Formerly of Jesuit High School in Portland, Fr. Hayes spent his entire professional life, more than 65 years, in Catholic education, including service as president of Jesuit High School.

Also on Sunday, five honorary doctorate recipients were recognized, including:

Ann Fadiman, Yale University professor and renowned essayist; David Haas, director of the Emmaus Center for Music, Prayer, and Ministry, in St. Paul, Minnesota; Scott Malpass, vice president and chief investment officer at the University of Notre Dame; Larree Renda, former executive vice president of Safeway, Inc., and president of Safeway Health, Inc.; and Dr. Walter Urba, medical director and director of cancer research at the Robert W. Franz Cancer Research Center, Earle A. Chiles Research Institute, at Providence Portland Medical Center.


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