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Class of 2019 told they have the courage to meet life’s adversities

Barry McNamara
Inspirational speaker Ron Gold addresses Monmouth College's Class of 2019. Because of rains and cool temperatures, the College's 162nd commencement ceremony was held inside of the Huff Athletic Center rather than on its traditional location of Wallace Hall Plaza.
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MONMOUTH, Ill. – Every year, Monmouth College plans to hold its commencement exercises on majestic Wallace Hall Plaza, its campus’s beautiful front lawn.

Plans changed this year, as saturated grounds, a temperature that struggled to reach 50 degrees and even more rain moved the Sunday noon ceremony into the Huff Athletic Center.

So it was quite appropriate that two of the addresses during the weekend’s festivities advised members of Monmouth’s Class of 2019 on what to do when plans go awry.

Citing former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson, commencement speaker Ron Gold told the graduates: “Everyone has a plan until they get smacked in the face.”

Gold asked the graduates: “How are you going to handle it when it’s your face? I don’t know if it’s a jab or a roundhouse, but you’ll need to dig deep when it happens.”

For Gold, that moment came in 2011, when an SUV crashed into him while he was on a bicycle ride in northern New Jersey. The accident, which nearly claimed his life, left his spine permanently crushed.

Slowly but surely, Gold regained determination and learned to conquer fears. He left a 25-year career on Wall Street and started his own business.

“I was ready for a change from Wall Street, and I’d always dreamed of becoming an entrepreneur,” said Gold, who received an honorary doctorate from the College at its 162nd commencement. “This was my chance.”

Gold and his wife, Betsy, created LeanOnWe, a company that connects families looking for home care with a highly vetted caregiver network. “Sort of an eHarmony for home care,” he said.

Along the way, Gold learned life lessons that he passed on to Monmouth’s Class of 2019.

“Plan to be passionate about your career,” he said. “Plan to show grit and fortitude. The best things in life are at the other end of fear. ... You will regret things you may have done, but didn’t, out of fear and uncertainty.”

Gold told the graduates they have been prepared for new challenges because of their Monmouth education.

“Plan to be open to those new experiences,” he said. “It may be newer, harder, different and bigger than what you are planning for. ... Life is fleeting. You’ll never be as young as you are today. With that in mind, don’t wait – plan to get in the game.”

In his baccalaureate sermon on Saturday afternoon, the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson also advised the graduates how to deal with unexpected changes.

As stated clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Nelson holds the church’s highest elected office. He shared with the graduates several challenges from his rise to that position, including losing his father shortly after Nelson graduated from college.

“The world you’re moving into is full of swift transitions,” he told his audience in the Dahl Chapel and Auditorium. “Life’s not a straight line, it’s a crooked stick. Hold to God’s unwavering hand. Don’t let your circumstances defeat you. Learn from your past experiences. How you got through the last experience will help you get through the next one. ... Don’t waste the time that God is spending on you in those experiences.”

Nelson also advised the graduates to believe in themselves and their abilities.

“You have an opportunity to change and shape the world,” he said. “Don’t ever sell yourself short of God’s plans for you.”

Two of the graduates addressed their classmates during Sunday afternoon’s commencement. Senior class president Kaitlyn Rule said courage would be an important factor for her classmates moving forward.

“Change takes courage,” she said.

By graduating from Monmouth, she said her classmates have shown they have “the intelligence, courage and skill” to bring about change “in whatever you strongly believe in. ... We have the power. It’s on us, it’s on all of us to shape a world that is right, that is just and that is fair for all. ... We must find the courage.”

Sobhi Kazmouz, the College’s Student Laureate of the Lincoln Academy of Illinois, came to Monmouth from Saudi Arabia. He spoke of how the campus community helped him cope with being 7,000 miles from home and said he found “individuals who genuinely care about you ... and I got to meet people who empowered me.”

Kazmouz was one of 10 members of the 192-member Class of 2019 who graduated summa cum laude. The others were: Brandon Allen, Jenna Cisna, Taylor Ewald, Amanda Grissom, Brittani Kratz, Kate Saulcy, Nate Smolczyk, Beatrix Thornton and Hunter Wollwert.

At the start of the ceremony, Monmouth President Clarence R. Wyatt made several announcements relating to faculty, including three who received promotions after a recent meeting of the College’s Board of Trustees. Promoted to full professor were Wendine Bolon (political economy and commerce) and Logan Mayfield (mathematics and computer science). Promoted to associate professor was Lori Walters-Kramer (communication studies).

Each year, the College recognizes three recipients of the Hatch Award for Distinguished Teaching. Two of those recipients were announced at commencement: Tom Prince (political economy and commerce), distinguished service; and Robert Hinck (communication studies), distinguished scholarship.

Wyatt also recognized three retiring faculty members: Ken McMillan (political economy and commerce), Kristin Larson (psychology) and Vicki Wine (classics). Staff members retiring before the next commencement are Kathy Haas (athletics), Peter Pitts (admission) and Mohsin Masood (student affairs).