The two individuals who received honorary degrees from Monmouth College during its 153rd commencement exercises both stressed the need for graduates to find careers they enjoy.
Roger Beachy, director of the newly created National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), and Heather Brown, an English teacher at Woodstock High School, used different terminology to communicate their message.
“If you enjoy what you’re doing, you won’t work a day in your life,” said Beachy, who told the seniors that he was also the graduate of a small liberal arts college in the Midwest.
Brown was this year’s recipient of Monmouth’s pre-college teacher award, which she received after being nominated by graduating senior Katelyn Griffith. She used a lyric from the Jimmy Buffett song “It’s My Job” to convey her point.
“A street sweeper came whistlin’ by, he was bouncing every step/It seemed strange how good he felt, so I asked him while he swept/He said, ‘It’s my job to be cleaning up this mess/And that’s enough reason to go for me/It’s my job to be better than the rest/And that makes a day for me.’”
Brown added, “Do what you are passionate about and then find a way to get paid for it.”
While many graduates were no doubt inspired by Beachy and Brown, who have both reached high levels in their professions, Beachy said he looked out from the podium “with a bit of envy for those who are just starting out. Unlike our generation, you have the opportunity to make changes as you go.”
Beachy was introduced as an individual who deals with “three of the world’s greatest problems” – hunger, poverty and agricultural sustainability. During his address, he complimented the college for its strong focus on the Midwest, saying “Global security starts with a full belly, and a full belly starts with agriculture. What you do here in the Midwest is part of the solution to global security.”
Beachy also referenced “STEM” education, which stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. His preferred model is “STEAM.”
“Put an ‘A’ in there – not for ‘agriculture,’ but for ‘arts,’” he said. “Science should help us make important decisions, but it can’t do it alone. Look at ways of performing service – service is a becoming art, and science is a team sport.”
Griffith introduced Brown as the teacher who “made me realize the incredible thrill that could come from learning,” and said Brown was “a lot of the reason I will be teaching high school English this fall.”
“Good is the enemy to great,” Brown reminded the graduates. “I wasn’t great at anything when I sat in your seats, and sometimes I want to find the first students I taught, apologize and tell them, ‘I got a lot better!’”
Senior John Kaiser of Hanover Park, the college’s 2009 student laureate to the Lincoln Academy of Illinois, spoke on behalf of the graduating class. He mentioned several campus developments that occurred in the past four years, including the construction of Gracie Peterson Hall and April Zorn Memorial Stadium, in addition to the introduction of a new mascot, “Big Red,” which was unveiled at the President’s Senior Gala the night before. The mascot was made possible, in part, by the senior class, who gave a gift roughly five times the size of the normal gift from the graduating class.
“We’re leaving Monmouth College better than when we found it,” he said. “The college instilled in us a love of lifelong learning, and we are eternally grateful.”
He also encouraged his classmates to continue to make their surroundings better than they found them, sharing the famous aphorism, “Plant trees under whose shade you do not plan to sit.”
Although the sun popped out from behind the clouds just as the college’s carillon bells announced noon, several in the audience were glad to be sitting under trees, as umbrellas popped out several minutes later in response to a light rain. It didn’t last long, however, and college officials were pleased with their decision to hold the event outdoors.
A total of 263 seniors walked across the stage to receive diplomas, and the official count for May graduates was 274. The difference included students such as Noellen Brown of Macomb, who attended Monmouth’s baccalaureate ceremony on Saturday but then traveled to the University of Illinois on Sunday to watch her twin brother, Nico, graduate.
Four graduates were joined on the stage by faculty or current or former members of the college’s board of trustees. They included Sally Hayes of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, and her mother, assistant professor Monie Hayes; Mary Scotillo of Barrington and her father, the Hon. John Scotillo, a current trustee; Dan Weber of Westchester and his father, the Hon. Daniel Weber, a former trustee; and Sara Wenzel of Monmouth and her parents, professors Frank Gersich and Judy Peterson.
Commencement weekend is also a time for the board of trustees to meet, and one of their functions at their annual May gathering is to approve faculty promotions.
Promoted to full professor were a trio of faculty members: Petra Kuppinger (sociology and anthropology), Stacy Lotz (art) and Trudi Peterson (communication studies). Lotz has been a member of Monmouth’s faculty since 1995, Peterson joined the faculty in 1998 and Kuppinger started two years later.
Ian Moschenross (music) was promoted to associate professor. Moschenross joined the faculty in 2004.
It was the final commencement for the Rev. Dr. Kathleen Fannin, who is retiring after 12 years as the college’s chaplain. Fannin was the featured speaker at the previous day’s baccalaureate service.