Credibility is important in a commencement speaker.
And Sister Barbara knew what she was talking about.
Her keynote address Saturday to the 679 graduates of St. Ambrose University's Class of 2013 was built largely around an experience from 48 years ago. As one of the "Sisters of Selma," Moore joined the volatile march for civil rights in Selma, Ala., in 1965. It forever changed her, and she encouraged the newest collection of Ambrosians to be inspired, too.
"I had no idea what I was getting myself into," she said of joining a contingent from Kansas City, Mo., on the road to Selma. "It was scary, facing state troopers in full riot gear. When our eyes met, they seemed to be as nervous as we were.
"The experience was profound and a major turning point in my life."
Inspired to continue carrying the torch for racial justice, Moore threw her life into the cause. Born in Mississippi and raised in Alabama, she told the Class of 2013 she rode in the "colored" part of the bus, sat in the back of the movie theater and drank from the "colored" drinking fountain. In those days, theaters, restaurants and hotels were still segregated.
Raised by uneducated parents who placed great value in education, Moore's family converted to Catholicism when she was in the eighth grade. Thanks to the courage of a religious leader, she attended an integrated Catholic high school. Some people didn't like it, integration. But the priest in charge at the school stood firm, setting an early example for Moore of standing up for what is right.
"Fast forward to 1965," she said.
When a call went out for support for the peaceful protestors who were being attacked by police, Moore answered it. The 22 people in her group were hosted by sisters from another order (she is a 50-year member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Carondelet), who also helped treat the protestors' injuries.
She ultimately earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing, a master of science in nursing, a master of science in sociology and a doctorate in higher education administration. At Saturday's graduation ceremony at the i wireless Center in Moline, an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters degree was added to her academic resume.
Family and friends filled the lower bowl and some of the upper bowl of the arena, as graduates took their seats on the main floor. Applause greeted some grads crossing the stage for their diplomas from those who ignored the admonishment to hold the celebrations until afterward.
With gusts soaring outdoors, the arena was a windless setting that kept caps and gowns in place. Ambrose moved its commencement ceremonies from under the oaks on campus to the i wireless Center in recent years to avoid weather challenges.
Having devoted most of her life to civil rights, healthcare for the poor and reducing infant mortality, Moore urged the graduates to take the advice she was given long ago: "Graduates, for pity sake, don't be stupid (which inspired laughter, too). Choose what is life-giving. Be wise. Be loving.
"This is my prayer for you. Congratulations."