Ohio Wesleyan University held a combined 176th and 177th commencement ceremony May 29, celebrating its classes of 2020 and 2021 and the students who persevered during a pandemic with “creativity, ingenuity, and profound commitment.”
The ticketed event was held outdoors in Ohio Wesleyan’s historic Selby Stadium, with President Rock Jones, Ph.D., addressing the graduates and their families and friends.
“You are the classes that were abruptly sent home,” Jones told the graduates. “You found yourself studying in spaces not designed for academic work. You attended classrooms defined by small squares on your laptop screen, or even smaller squares on your phone. You engaged in research and completed internships in virtual environments. You wore masks, practiced social distance, monitored your health, (and) took COVID tests.
“And yet, from my view, that is not the real story,” Jones said. “The real story is the creativity, ingenuity, and profound commitment you brought to the work before you. You never stopped. You persisted. And today, we can say not only that you are as well prepared as those who went before you; we can say that with the lessons learned in this pandemic, you are well prepared for what lies ahead.”
Also sharing reflections with the commencement crowd were Nevin Horne, president of the class of 2020, and Shay Manuela, student representative of the class of 2021.
“I remember getting that email in March of 2020. We all know it,” recalled Horne, a Business Administration major now working and living in Olney, Maryland. “Rock telling us our year was over. Well, not really over, but effectively so. …
“What do you say to people when something so life-changing has occurred?” Horne asked his classmates. “We have gone a year with little to no outside lives, and now we are back to actually celebrate the very thing we set out to achieve in the fall of 2016. Commencement is a milestone accomplishment, and we deserve to celebrate today with family and friends.”
Manuela, a Communication major from the Netherlands, also congratulated all of the graduates on their persistence and resilience.
“In the middle of a global pandemic, we continued pushing for our dreams,” said Manuela, whose OWU experience included working as an intern for “Saturday Night Live.”
“And now we sit here in Selby Stadium celebrating an in-person commencement. Who would have thought this would be possible today!” she said.
“Globally, only 7 percent of adults have a college degree, making those with a degree a minority. This degree is a privilege. Don’t let it blind you, but rather let it open your eyes to those who do not have a voice,” Manuela said. “As we embark on our journey today, we face an important responsibility. Your words and knowledge hold power; how will you use yours?”
The graduating students included two members who achieved perfect 4.0 grade point averages: Claudia Kelly of Ukiah, California, from the Class of 2020 and Darcy Picker of Mount Gilead, Ohio, from the Class of 2021.
During the Saturday morning ceremony, the university also honored six outstanding faculty members with special awards:
• The Sherwood Dodge Shankland Award for Encouragement of Teachers was awarded to Mary Anne Lewis Cusato, Ph.D., associate professor of Modern Foreign Languages, for 2020 and to Kira Bailey, Ph.D., assistant professor of Neuroscience and Psychology for 2021.
• The Bishop Herbert Welch Meritorious Teaching Award was awarded to Barbara Andereck, Ph.D., professor of Physics and Astronomy, for 2020 and to Amy Downing, Ph.D., professor of Zoology, for 2021.
• The Bishop Herbert Welch Award for Scholarly or Artistic Achievement was awarded posthumously to Sean Kay, Ph.D., professor of Politics and Government, for 2020 and to Anne Sokolsky, Ph.D., professor of Comparative Literature, for 2021.
Ohio Wesleyan also recognized 28 professors who retired in 2020 and 2021 with the Adam Poe Medal, named after the University’s founder, for their accomplished careers and the life-changing impact they have had on students.
2020 faculty retirees:
• Cynthia Cetlin, MFA, a 33-year professor of Fine Arts
• Elane Denny-Todd, MFA, a 28-year professor Theatre & Dance
• Martin Hipsky, Ph.D., a 25-year professor of English
• David Johnson, Ph.D., a 31-year professor of Botany and Microbiology
• Edward Kahn, Ph.D., a 16-year professor of Theatre & Dance
• James Krehbiel, MFA, a 34-year professor of Fine Arts
• Keith Mann, Ph.D., a 22-year professor of Geology and Geography
• Carol Neuman de Vegvar, Ph.D., a 32-year professor of Fine Arts
• Jeff Nunemacher, Ph.D., a 35-year professor of Mathematics and Computer Science
• Karen Poremski, Ph.D., an 18-year professor of English
• Judylyn Ryan, Ph.D., a 22-year associate professor of English
• Mark Schwartz, Ph.D., a 34-year professor of Mathematics and Computer Science
• Dale Swartzentruber, Ph.D., a 28-year professor of Psychology
• D. Glen Vanderbilt Jr., MFA, a 37-year professor of Theatre & Dance
2021 faculty retirees:
• Barbara Andereck, Ph.D., a 36-year professor of Physics and Astronomy
• Nancy Gamso, DMA, a 30-year professor of Music
• Larry Griffin, DMA, a 35-year professor of Music
• Lynda Hall, Ph.D., a 36-year professor of Psychology
• David Lever, Ph.D., a 27-year associate professor of Chemistry
• Bart Martin, Ph.D., a 30-year professor of Geology and Geography
• Robert Olmstead, M.A., a 19-year professor of English
• Alice Simon, Ph.D., a 36-year professor of Economics
• Anne Sokolsky, Ph.D., a 15-year professor of Comparative Literature
• Richard Spall, Ph.D., a 37-year professor of History
• Emmanuel Twesigye, Ph.D., a 32-year professor of Religion
• Dan Vogt, Ph.D., a 42-year professor of Chemistry
• Paula White, Ph.D., a 21-year professor of Education
• Thomas Wolber, Ph.D., a 31-year professor of Modern Foreign Languages
President Jones concluded the combined 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.”
Video of Ohio Wesleyan’s commencement ceremony will be posted online – along with programs, photographs, and more – at www.owu.edu/commencement.
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