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MC graduates experience bittersweet emotions

Barry McNamara
05/21/2012
Joe Bonucci of Princeton is congratulated by his family after receiving his Monmouth College diploma.
Rather than raindrops from the sky, it was emotions that poured out Sunday during Monmouth College’s 155th commencement exercises.

Storms predicted for some point in the afternoon never did materialize over campus, but those forecasting a bittersweet mix of joy and sadness were right on target, as approximately 250 graduates celebrated their milestone accomplishment while also realizing that their days as college students were now behind them.

Some of those emotions were held in check until the graduates made their way through a line of faculty as they departed the ceremony. Professors wished their former students the best of the luck in the future, while the Class of 2012 expressed their gratitude to the faculty, many of whom had become more than just teachers, but mentors and friends, as well.

A handful of Monmouth graduates were able to express those feelings on stage during the ceremony, as they congratulated five professors who had received promotions and/or tenure.

One of them, summa cum laude graduate Quinton Guerrero of Galesburg, said of Michael Sostarecz, “To know that someone loves you and cares for your success and well-being is to know peace and comfort. … Being here today to announce his promotion to associate professor, I can finally give back just a little of the help and the love I’ve received.”

Also promoted to associate professor was Audra Sostarecz, and her colleague in chemistry, Brad Sturgeon, received tenure. Promoted to full professor were Hannah Schell and Tim Tibbetts.

One professor, Rajkumar Ambrose, closed his 26-year career at Monmouth as one of the ceremony’s featured speakers. He offered the students several nuggets of advice, mined from his 54 years in higher education. Rather than offering the students a traditional graduation blessing of love, luck and laughter, Ambrose cited a Franciscan blessing of anger and foolishness.

“May God bless with you with anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people, so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom and peace among all people,” he quoted. “May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can really make a difference in this world, so that you are able, with God’s grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.”

The other featured speaker was graduate Alex Holt of Evanston. Part of his message to his classmates was that their education at Monmouth had prepared them to go out into the world and help provide solutions to the biggest issues of our time.

Holt’s words were inspiring, and so was his personal story, as he said that he did not attend college after his high school graduation in 2007. During his year of sitting out and working odd jobs, he received a Facebook message from a Monmouth student who had heard Holt was involved in bagpipes and encouraged him to come to campus to audition for a Pipe Band scholarship. Holt did just that, eventually serving as president of the Associated Students of Monmouth College and being named MC’s Student Laureate of the Lincoln Academy of Illinois.

Senior class president Jessica Avila of Chicago also addressed the class, closing with words of wisdom from Mother Teresa: “People are often unreasonable, irrational and self-centered. Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. … In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.”

Graduating senior Jonathan Welty of Dixon provided the official welcome for the ceremony, which also included the honoring of a pre-college teacher who had been nominated by the Class of 2012. Andrew Drea of Taylorville introduced this year’s recipient, Stephen Steele, who was his high school journalism teacher.

“Mr. Steele taught us to look at the world from a variety of perspectives and to refrain from dividing the world into black and white viewpoints,” said Drea. “He expected us to be aware of the world around us and often quizzed us on current events to ensure that we were reading the news and knew the issues we faced.”

Monmouth College’s other summa cum laude graduates included Lauren Bergstresser of Peoria, Ky Claes of Burlington, Iowa, Mary Grzenia of Lake in the Hills, Danica Rogers of Rochelle, Ian Smith of Victoria, Wesley Teal of Burlington, Iowa, and Colleen Zumpf of Frankfort.