Ohio Wesleyan University celebrated its 175th commencement ceremony May 11, with keynote speaker and 1966 OWU graduate Diane Y. Petersen, M.D., encouraging the Class of 2019 to “seek and discover your purpose, know what makes your heart sing, and move in that direction.”
A retired head-and-neck surgeon, Petersen made history in 1965, when she became the first African American woman in the nation to be initiated into the Delta Delta Delta sorority. In her remarks, titled “Creating a Meaningful Life,” Petersen shared her story of “rejection and recalibration” and offered some sage advice to her fellow Bishops.
“Those Delta Delta Delta sisters were ready to go to the mat for what they wanted and believed,” Petersen said, noting that probations and other hurdles set up by the national office almost kept her from joining the sorority. “OWU, the administration, faculty, Board of Trustees, and a group of courageous Tri-Delta collegiates paved the way and helped me open the door against discrimination in college sororities across the nation. I hope you feel as proud as I do that it happened at our beloved OWU. …
“Of course, a lot has changed since the 1960s, though unfortunately not enough,” Petersen told the graduates. “But I’m optimistic that basic human rights like equality, justice, and truth will win over the ignorance, hatred, and bias that people of every age experience around the world. I say this with absolute trust and conviction because you out there in the caps and gowns are moving humanity forward. …
“I am encouraged and heartened as I anticipate what you might contribute to the world in the years to come,” she said. “Keep your hearts and minds open. Embrace your self-worth; it will enable you to become selfless. … Keep moving your story forward, and make it a big and important story that you can devote your life to – one that gives it meaning.”
Also sharing words of wisdom with the Ohio Wesleyan graduates was Class President Caroline Hamlin, of Arlington Heights, Illinois, a double major in environmental studies and geography.
“I am honored to know you, and I am humbled to have been a part of our shared journey,” Hamlin told her classmates. “Time has passed so fast. Going forward, leverage what you have learned at Ohio Wesleyan. Be bold in all you do, be kind to all you meet, do your best, and be great!
“Our opportunity to influence the world and create positive change for the well-being of others is in our hands,” said Hamlin, who plans to pursue a master’s degree in social work. “Don’t merely be the revolution, but the reason for the revolution.”
President Rock Jones, Ph.D., urged the Class of 2019 to use their OWU educations to improve the world.
“When you arrived four years ago, we introduced you to our notion of an education that prepares moral leaders for a global society,” Jones said. “We have talked often about what it means to be an educated citizen, to devote your life to making a difference in this gloriously diverse world in which we live.
“But the four years you’ve spent on this campus have been years where others in our society have walked away from commitments to diversity, pursuing tribal agendas of isolation rather than global agendas of shared prosperity,” he continued.
“I am grateful for your commitment to the value of building bridges, opening doors, and seeking to listen to and understand those whose life experiences and perspectives are quite different from your own,” Jones concluded. “Today, I encourage you to hold fast to what you have learned here. It will serve you well. And you will serve our world well.”
The graduating students included 303 spring, summer, and fall graduates, with two members who achieved perfect 4.0 grade point averages, Alyssa DiPadova of Chesterland, Ohio, and Serena George of Palos Park, Illinois.
During the Saturday afternoon ceremony, the university honored three outstanding faculty members with special awards:
• Lynette Carpenter, Ph.D., professor of English, received The Bishop Herbert Welch Meritorious Teaching Award as well as the Adam Poe Medal in recognition of her retirement after 30 years of dedicated service to her students and her profession.
•Larry Griffin, D.M.A., professor of music, received The Bishop Herbert Welch Award for Scholarly or Artistic Achievement.
• Melanie M. Henderson, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology, received The Sherwood Dodge Shankland Award for Encouragement of Teachers.
In addition to Carpenter, Ohio Wesleyan recognized seven additional retiring professors with the Poe Medal, named after the university’s founder:
• Theodore F. Cohen, Ph.D., a 35-year professor of sociology and anthropology
• John Gatz, Ph.D., a 44-year professor of zoology
• Gerald Goldstein, Ph.D., a 36-year professor of botany and microbiology
• Mary T. Howard, Ph.D., a 34-year professor of sociology and anthropology
• Paul E. Kostyu, Ph.D., a 20-year associate professor of journalism
• Amy A. McClure, Ph.D., a 40-year professor of education
• Alan K. Zaring, Ph.D., a 29-year professor of computer science
President Jones concluded the 175th commencement ceremony with Ohio Wesleyan’s traditional benediction, encouraging OWU’s newest alumni to share their knowledge and compassion with a world in need.
“If, here at Ohio Wesleyan, you have found freedom, take it with you into the world,” Jones said. “If, here at Ohio Wesleyan, you have found peace, go and share it with others. If, here at Ohio Wesleyan, you have found some portion of truth, go and seek it all the more. If, here at Ohio Wesleyan, you have learned to dream dreams, help one another, and those dreams may come true. If, here at Ohio Wesleyan, you have known love, give some back to a hurting and bruised world.”
Ohio Wesleyan’s complete commencement ceremony will be archived online at www.owu.edu/stream. Learn more about the event at www.owu.edu/commencement.