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Despite rain, students shine

Barry McNamara
05/20/2011
It’s a little disclaimer that appears each year at the end of the Monmouth College commencement announcement, but 2011 wound up being one of those occasions when “in the event of rain, the exercises will be moved to the fieldhouse of the Huff Athletic Center.”

College officials couldn’t say they weren’t warned. One of the coolest and wettest springs on record had already dampened the mood for several other big spring events, including Scots Day and the Midwest Conference Outdoor Track and Field Championships. The latter event was contested in a steady rain at April Zorn Memorial Stadium the day prior to the college’s 154th commencement exercises.

Of course, MC commencement ceremonies had been held inside before (the last time was 2006), but what was unique about the May 15 ceremony was the role that students played in it. Graduating senior Trevor Newton, president of the Associated Students of Monmouth College, explained the thinking behind that decision during his opening remarks.

“Many of the responsibilities for today’s ceremony will be performed by members of the Class of 2011,” Newton said. “On a day when the successes of Monmouth’s students are being celebrated, college officials decided it was more than appropriate for students to actively participate in that celebration, and I am proud to do my part.”

It’s traditional for MC’s Student Laureate of the Lincoln Academy and for the nominator of Monmouth’s exemplary pre-college teacher of the year to have speaking roles. Respectively, Derek Huff and Lauren Zak handled those duties. Of the 285 graduates, other speakers were class president Hope Grebner, student chaplain Jim Fry and six members of the class who announced faculty promotions.

The promotions included the granting of tenure to Laura Moore (chemistry) and to new associate professors Brian Baugh (art), Marsha Dopheide (psychology) and Joanne Eary (mathematics). Simon Cordery (history) and James Godde (biology) were promoted to full professors.

President Mauri Ditzler also addressed the class, as did retiring professor of humanities David Suda. Calling the 27-year professor a “Renaissance man” during his introduction of Suda, Newton added, “His wide-ranging academic interests have enabled him to teach an impressive variety of courses at Monmouth, including some that he pioneered for our Honors Program, which he helped to create.”

“You and I share something,” Suda told the class. “We have fulfilled all the requirements for graduation. Now what?”

His address considered what a commencement was.

“It is a point at which we bid our farewells,” Suda said. “As you pass through the portal, you have the power and ability to make decisions about your future.”

Suda related graduating from college and entering the world to getting a learner’s permit for a car.

“We think we have a license to go anywhere,” he said, “when really it is only a learner’s permit. Each of us has a learner’s permit of life.”

Suda also related life experiences to the story told in the best-selling book “Tuesdays With Morrie,” by Mitch Album.

“So many people walk around with a meaningless life,” Suda said. “Devote yourself to loving, community and meaningful work. Take time out to re-examine what you are doing and why you doing it.”

Huff, who was joined on the platform by his uncle, emeritus trustee Walter Huff ’56, when he received his diploma, was one of six graduates who took part in that MC tradition. Two others were also joined on stage by their uncles – Cassandra Hart (trustee Tim Keefauver ’80) and Adam Kinigson (board treasurer and executive committee member Jerry Marxman ’56).

In her remarks, Zak praised her high school Spanish teacher at Hinsdale South High School, Fran Mirro, for instilling confidence in her as a student. She added, “I felt empowered each and every day in her class, and this is something I will strive for every day when I have a classroom of my own. There are certain people who I know I will remember for the rest of my life, and Senora Mirro is one of them.”

The main point of Mirro’s address to the students was there is plenty of time to gain momentum in life.

“There’s always going to be someone more intelligent, richer or prettier,” Mirro said. “Don't wish your life away.”

At the baccalaureate ceremony the day before, the Rev. Dr. Teri McDowell Ott participated for the first time as the college’s full-time chaplain. She had also been on staff in 1997 in a one-year appointment.

Ott related the story of Scottish sprinter Eric Liddell, which was made famous by the movie “Chariots of Fire,” and she used Isaiah 40:31 as her scripture.