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LEWISTON – With Mother’s Day in mind, some of the 1,100 students who graduated from Niagara University on Thursday and Saturday used their mortarboards to give Mom a message of thanks,

Two students got a chance to extend an extra-special thanks, as their mother joined them Saturday on the stage of NU’s Gallagher Center for joint commencement exercises of the colleges of Business Administration and Hospitality and Tourism Management.

Bernadette Brennen of Youngstown, NU’s director of International Relations, accompanied her son, Weston W. Hilts, as he received his bachelor’s of science degree in business administration – and then again, with stepson Eamon E. Weber, who received his bachelor of science degree in hospitality and tourism management. Both are 22.

“It’s the best present a mother could ever have,” Brennen said. “I am so proud of both of them. I hope they have the best future ever.”

Brennen, who has been at NU for more than 20 years, said she always wanted to be one of the mothers who got to be part of ceremony, “praying for the day” she could walk the stage.

Brennen, the wife of Shawn Weber, owner of Wine on Third in Niagara Falls, said the boys had the option to go to other schools but chose NU.

“They learned to love Niagara because of how much I love Niagara,” she said. “There’s a heart here and the students are amazing.”

Brennen plans to be back onstage next year with stepson Emory Weber, also a business major, who just returned from an internship in Paris.

Thursday, George F. Will, Pulitzer Prize winner and syndicated columnist for the Washington Post, spoke to graduate students. Saturday afternoon, Pulitzer Prize winner Andrea Elliott, a New York Times investigative reporter, addressed the commencement for the colleges of Arts and Sciences and Education. Both Will and Elliott received honorary doctorates.

Paul M. McManus, a 1965 NU graduate who achieved success in the hospitality industry with the luxury-hotel marketing organization, Leading Hotels of the World, received the President’s Medal. He was the commencement speaker Saturday morning for the colleges of Business Administration and Hospitality and Tourism Management.

McManus told students that today’s world is vastly different than nearly 50 years ago, when he graduate from NU, and pointed to the demand for luxury accommodations and the Internet – factors that have “revolutionized the hospitality industry.”

“Customers are more demanding, more conscious of brand promises. Guests want every trip to be an experience,” McManus said. “Not like my early travel aspirations, which was to find a beach in the Caribbean and plop on it with a ready supply of Red Stripe beer.”

McManus said retiring baby boomers – estimated at 10,000 a day over the next 19 years – will fuel the hospitality industry.

NU’s commencement also was the first graduation hosted by new president, the Rev. James J. Maher, who assumed the office as the 26th president in August 2013 and was inaugurated on April 4.

Three other colleges also held commencement ceremonies Saturday:

Hilbert College

More than 280 graduates received bachelor’s and associate degrees in arts and sciences and master’s degrees in science and public administration during Hilbert’s 53rd annual commencement exercises held in the Wesleyan Church of Hamburg.

Sister Ann Marie Hudzina of the Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph was the commencement speaker and was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters. Hudzina has been involved in education for more than over 30 years, serving as an elementary, junior and senior high teacher and an elementary principal. Currently, she serves on the boards of trustees of Hilbert and Immaculata Academy.

During her address, she reflected on the faith and courage of Mother Colette Hilbert, who founded the Franciscan Sisters, and Sister Edwina Bogel, who founded Hilbert College.

Houghton College

Dr. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, served as Houghton College commencement speaker for the ceremony in the Wesley Chapel. A total of 234 undergraduates and seven graduate students received diplomas.

Beckmann, considered one of the foremost U.S. advocates for the hungry and poor, told graduates that they have the opportunity to make a difference.

“Don’t just focus on getting yourself established, because you might get caught in that trap. We need your help to fix up the world,” Beckmann said.

Beckmann has testified before Congress, appeared on television and radio and written articles and books on the issue of poverty.

Niagara County Community College

NCCC’s 50th commencement, held in the main gym of the Sanborn campus, featured 1978 alumni Jim Toellner, president and general manager of WGRZ-TV, as commencement speaker. During his address to 361 graduates in 70 associate and certificate programs, he emphasized “optimism and opportunity.”

Toellner, a native of North Tonawanda, graduated from NCCC with a degree in liberal arts and sciences and also graduated from the University at Buffalo in 1981 with a bachelor of science degree in management with a marketing concentration. In 2013, Toellner was selected at Broadcasting and Cable Magazine’s GM of the Year for midsize markets in the United States.

Dr. James P. Klyczek, NCCC president, said Toellner’s “outstanding career serves as an inspiration for our students as they begin the next chapter of their lives.”

email: nfischer@buffnews.com