Mary Schwalm/Staff photo The Rev. James Wenzel, 80, receives an honorary degree from Merrimack College president Ronald Champagne during yesterday’s graduation ceremonies.

NORTH ANDOVER — For every graduate, there is a story.

Brooke Marsden, 21, of Pelham, N.H., held down two jobs and a full course-load on her way to graduating magna cum laude with a bachelor of arts degree in psychology. Next stop? Graduate school with a long-term goal of helping people with eating disorders.

Margaret Ellen Callahan, 26, of North Andover, who has battled juvenile rheumatoid arthritis for most of her life, worked full-time in her father's business, Callahan A/C and Heating, while earning a business degree. Next stop? Graduate school. Long-term goal? To take over the family business.

Rhonda Slack, 52, of Haverhill, spent nights, weekends and every other available moment between life and her job at Raytheon in quality assurance engineering, to pick up a business degree with a concentration in management.

For these three local students, and 468 other people who graduated yesterday with the Merrimack College Class of 2010, it was a day of sweltering temperatures inside a packed Volpe Athletic Center, a handful of short-but-sweet speeches, and, of course, lots of pomp and circumstance.

"It should be your goal to be truth-tellers," said commencement address speaker Ron Hansen, a celebrated author who received an honorary Doctor of Letters yesterday. "In whatever your occupation to really see and candidly present the world honestly, unblinkingly, celebrating the beauty of creation, but not shying from its chaos, distortion, and sin."

In a speech filled with literary and religious references, Hansen delved into the nexus of religion and nature, quoting from a 19th-Century British Jesuit poet, a French philosopher, historians and naturalists, among others.

In the end, he said, "Against all logic and sense of proportion, we each seem to matter," Hansen told the graduates and their assembled friends, family and well-wishers.

Echoing those words was Merrimack College President Dr. Ronald Champagne who quoted from St. Augustine in his opening remarks: "Just take a look at yourself! Never be satisfied with what you are now, if you want to be what you are not yet. Where you have become pleased with yourself, there you will remain. When you say, 'That is enough,' you are finished. ... Always do more, always keep moving, always go forward."

The biggest cheers of the day were reserved for student speaker Elyse Lorenz and the Rev. James Wenzel.

Lorenz spoke passionately about the friendships she and her fellow graduates made at the school.

"From the very beginning, we were made to feel as if we belonged. We made friends in our roommates; we bonded with our teammates; we studied with our classmates; we Facebook creeped with our floormates; and some of us have even found our soulmates."

Father Wenzel, who earned an honorary Doctor of Augustinian Education yesterday, got an immediate and heart-felt standing ovation as soon as he took the podium.

"The love of each other is the way to experience the love of God," he said, noting to laughter and applause that it took him 63 years to achieve the degree conferred upon him yesterday. "I am proud to join you as a member of the Class of 2010."

Peggy and Jim Kent of Melrose, whose son Michael, 23, graduated yesterday, recalled how Father Jim, who recently celebrated his 80th birthday, had taken their son, a member of the Merrimack College football team, under his wing.

"He was a role-model and offered guidance," Peggy Kent said, noting that their first son, Terrence, had been similarly treated when he was an undergraduate at Merrimack.

"He is a friend to all of the kids," she said. "He'll be a friend of theirs forever."

Others gathered outside after the ceremony recalled other fond memories of their days at Merrimack College.

Maggie Callahan said she would return for her master's degree, and began tearing up when recalling how helpful everyone at the school had been to her.

"There are great people here," she said. "Everyone's friendly. They are very accepting and helpful and give you support."

Suzanne Marie Tassinari, of Salem, Mass., who earned the Bishop Markham Medal for the first-ranking student in humanities, said she was looking for a job in elementary school education.

"I loved it here," she said. "Small classes, great people, good extracurriculars and fun activities."

Jackie Russo, 21, of Middleton, graduated with a degree in political science, and has already landed a job, in clinical admissions at Mass. General Hospital.

"It was an awesome four years," she said. "I had great relationships with everyone."

Brooke Marsden, of Pelham, said it was tough to graduate magna cum laude, having worked nights and many weekends to keep her grade point average up. But psychology, and in particular eating disorders, are a subject she knew she wanted to study since high school.

But it was the friends she'll miss as she moves on to graduate school at either UConn or Simmons.

"I cried all the way here (yesterday morning)," she said. "I made lifelong friends. I'll keep in touch with them forever."

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