Springfield, Ohio – Blankets were part of the attire worn by those attending Wittenberg University’s 166th Commencement exercises. But the wind and the occasional spitting rain did little to detract from the celebration of Wittenberg’s Class of 2016 on Saturday, May 14, in front of a cold, but enthusiastic, standing-room-only crowd in picturesque Commencement Hollow.
Interim University President Dick Helton led the Commencement celebration, congratulating the 357 members of the Class of 2016 in his welcome remarks. He also recognized distinguished guests, including the 2016 Commencement speaker, chief executive officer for the League of Women Voters of the United States (LWVUS) in Washington, D.C, Wylecia Wiggs Harris ’82; noted author and editor Kenneth Cukier ’91, Mr. Thomas B. Hagen and Ms. Sarah Hagen McWilliams, husband and daughter of the late Susan Hirt Hagen, a 1957 graduate and former board member. Susan Hirt Hagen received the Wittenberg Medal of Honor posthumously during the ceremony.
Helton welcomed the graduates and their invited guests to the ceremony, while making special mention of the parents in attendance. They were invited to stand and were recognized by the assembled crowd with a thunderous ovation. He then praised the Wittenberg faculty before saluting members of the Class of 2016.
“This is my first Commencement at Wittenberg, and I can already see how special this place is and how it will shape your memories forever,” he said to the crowd. “As a teacher, administrator, coach, and longtime college president, I have had the distinct privilege of seeing lives changed at every age and through every experience. I’ve also seen a few themes emerge over the years that I want to briefly share with you on your day - your Commencement.”
Helton ended his speech by sharing with the students some important advice.
“Keep learning every day,” he said. “Keep setting your goals high, but also keep serving others - passing your light on in amazing ways. Yes, you will leave the physical place today of Wittenberg, but I hope you will always see your education as a gift that lasts a lifetime. You certainly have been a gift to us.”
A total of 115 graduates earned Latin honors in recognition of their exceptional academic pursuits. Of those graduates, 52 of them were designated cum laude (3.5-3.69 grade point average), 24 graduated magna cum laude (3.7-3.79) and 39 graduated summa cum laude (3.8-4.0).
Helton welcomed Senior Class President Kayla Villegas to the podium. She explained why this one piece of paper – a degree - means so much in life.
“It signifies our past and future glories,” she said to her fellow classmates. “We wear these tassels and decorate our caps for the trials that we faced to get here – some struggles more grueling than others but nonetheless a struggle. It’s why we walk across this stage - for the people we proved wrong and for our own doubts that bring us down. We walk for our advisor, our mentor, our coach, our twin…we walk for the people who are here and those that are not. We walk for ourselves and we walk for each other in the knowledge that we never walk alone.
“As you step onto this stage today I hope you walk with hope - to know that the light that’s been passed to each of us shall not be extinguished upon graduation today, it will multiply in the lives of many in which we pass on the spirit that is Wittenberg,” Villegas added.
Wittenberg’s Commencement address was delivered by Harris, who issued a rallying cry to students for engagement and the importance of finding their true voice and values in life and using them to steer them down their chosen path.
“Whatever path you travel, be prepared for planned and unplanned transitions,” she said in her address. “Recognize, as in your earlier transitions, there will be both mountaintops and valleys…and while most of us prefer the mountaintop, it is often that we experience our greatest growth in the loneliness of the valley of struggle. In times of struggle, it is resiliency that gets us through. And the source of resiliency is the ability to find—and to hear - your authentic voice. Finding and keeping your authentic voice isn’t easy. It requires time spent alone with your thoughts, which can be uncomfortable.
“When you choose to live your life holding true to these values, you have found your true self,” she added. “And when you show the world your true self, you have found your authentic voice. Your challenge as you leave here today, is to continue evolving and growing while maintaining your authentic voice.”
Those scheduled for recognition during the Commencement ceremony included 24 “non-traditional” students from the School of Community Education and international students from Canada, China, Japan and Vietnam. Graduates came from 24 states including California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
The most popular majors for the Class of 2016 were biology, communication, education and psychology.
For more Commencement information, visit www.wittenberg.edu/administration/commencement