Wittenberg’s service-focused mission continued to be on full display during the 168th Commencement exercises on Saturday, May 12, as the Class of 2018 and their families filled Commencement Hollow, along with faculty, staff and friends.
Throughout the week, students reflected on the importance of community, trust in times of change, and service in all its forms, while challenging one another to live out their callings beyond their time on campus. Wittenberg President Michael L. Frandsen led his first Commencement celebration, congratulating the 377 members of the Class of 2018 in his opening remarks.
“Today we celebrate the Class of 2018, their accomplishments during their time at Wittenberg, and the hopes and dreams they take with them as they move on from here,” Frandsen said. “Graduates, you have made a mark on this place. And it has shaped and will continue to shape you. The ways in which you have learned, grown, and changed during your time here have created memories and friendships that will last a lifetime.”
In his welcoming remarks, Frandsen also made special mention of the parents in attendance as well as the class’ Commencement speaker, His Majesty King Letsie III, the Constitutional Monarch of the southern African Kingdom of Lesotho and an education leader in his role as chancellor of the National University of Lesotho, Her Majesty, Queen ‘Masenate Seeiso, the principal chief of Kueneng, the minister of foreign affairs and international relations, the archbishop, and other distinguished guests from Lesotho.
“We are grateful that you have come to share in this day of celebration and appreciative of the long-standing and still-growing partnership between our university, the community of Springfield, and your country and its people,” he said to the University’s guests from Lesotho.
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Since 2003, more than 400 Wittenberg students and community members have participated in a service-learning trip to Lesotho through a program founded by Scott Rosenberg, professor of history, chair of Wittenberg’s Peace Corps Prep Program, and Honorary Consul to the Kingdom of Lesotho. Additionally, three years ago, a small group of Wittenberg students and faculty members, also led by Rosenberg, started the Lesotho Nutrition Initiative, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, which provides hundreds of thousands of meals to 1,500 children in Lesotho suffering from severe malnutrition and stunting.
Frandsen then praised the Wittenberg faculty before saluting members of the Class of 2018.
“All of them have personal stories,” he said. “I cannot tell each of the stories, but I want to share a little bit about the collective Class of 2018. They are scientists who will continue their studies in China, the UK, and at universities across the United States. They are award-winning artists whose pottery, paintings, and photographs will move you. They are performers – actors, dancers, and musicians. They are athletes who have won championships. They are students of medieval history, cybersecurity, snakes, watersheds, communication patterns, and marketing campaigns. They have helped children improve their reading skills, built confidence in young girls through running, and examined recidivism in the county court system. They will go on to work as accountants, teachers, nurses and in many other occupations. Some will certainly be members of faculties at fine institutions such as ours. They will give back, at least one through her work in Lesotho. And they have heart. They care deeply about each other, about others, and about the world around them. It is with great pride that I present to you the Wittenberg University Class of 2018.”
Senior Class President Mecca Abdul-Aziz was welcomed to the podium next. Abdul-Aziz from Cincinnati, Ohio, is a communications major with minors in theater and journalism.
“Congrats to us, we did it! It’s been a long time coming, but we’ve arrived to one of the best days of our lives,” she said. “Over these four years, we’ve learned a lot about ourselves and what we can do for our communities to make it better in the future.
“Going to a liberal arts school makes us unique – we’ve gotten an experience that you will never experience at a public institution,” she continued. “We are well rounded in so many areas and are able to adapt to anything. We bring a new perspective on how we see the world and our environment. This is all because of the rigorous courses we have taken. We also have the advantage of having the one-on-one connection with our professors. Our professors have been some of our biggest supporters and role models. They pushed us to think more critically and helped shape us into the professionals we dream of becoming.”
During the ceremony, His Majesty King Letsie III and former Ambassador Robert Perry, class of 1967, who experienced an illustrious career in foreign relations spanning 34 years, each received an honorary doctorate of humane letters. In addition, Warren Copeland, Wittenberg professor of religion, faculty director of the Susan Hirt Hagen Center for Civic and Urban Engagement, and mayor of Springfield, was awarded the University’s highest recognition, the Wittenberg Medal of Honor. Wendell Lutz ’66, Wittenberg Board member, presented Copeland for the distinction, while Rosenberg presented His Majesty King Letsie III, and Bin Yu, professor of political science, presented Perry.
Wittenberg’s Commencement address was then delivered by His Majesty King Letsie III, who in the words of Rosenberg “is a leader whose dedication to his people, especially those in the greatest need personifies Wittenberg’s commitment to service and helping others. For more than 20 years he has provided a steady hand and wise leadership as Constitutional Monarch of the Kingdom of Lesotho and has been at the forefront of his nation’s battle against the HIV/AIDS pandemic as well as that of childhood malnutrition.”
His Majesty King Letsie III succeeded his father, Moshoeshoe II, as monarch of his country in 1996. In 2000, he declared HIV/AIDS in Lesotho to be a national disaster, prompting worldwide attention and aid to those in need. In 2014, he was appointed as African Nutrition Champion by the African Union, and in 2016, he was named special ambassador for nutrition by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
“I have no doubt that what is taking place today will serve to deepen the bonds of friendship between Wittenberg University, the community of Springfield and the Kingdom of Lesotho,” he said in his address. “This tremendous recognition by Wittenberg University is even more gratifying and significant because it is from an institution that has been applauded year after year for its exemplary efforts in community service and engagement. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Wittenberg University and its students for its unwavering commitment to community service – a commitment that has won you praise from numerous organizations and institutions across the country.”
His Majesty King Letsie III also spoke about global responsibility, the butterfly effect, contributions that the graduates can make, and how crucial it is for them to have both a strong connection to the world and a coherent sense to one’s self. He then shared some advice with the Class of 2018.