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Traditional matriculation ceremony officially opens year

Barry McNamara
MONMOUTH, Ill. – As the minutes ticked down to the official start of their Monmouth College education, members of the Class of 2022 collected in groups of five or six, eagerly and anxiously awaiting the College’s traditional matriculation ceremony in front of Wallace Hall.

Programs containing the long list of those students’ names were being used as fans in the mid-August heat, as many of the new students stepped off the sidewalk and into the shade of one of the trees along the outer edge of the College’s front lawn.

Look to your left, look to your right. It’s quite possible that one of these people you’re just now meeting will become a lifelong friend.

Finally, promptly at 4 p.m., bagpipes began to blare, and the line of students began to move. It was happening. Proud parents – many battling the competing emotions of joy and sadness – waved from the crowd, hoping to catch the attention of their sons and daughters, children who, unlike the first day of pre-school years ago, would not be sleeping in their parents’ homes come nightfall.

“You’ve arrived, you are here, and we are absolutely thrilled,” said Monmouth Vice President for Enrollment Management and Communication Trent Gilbert as he presented the Class of 2022 to the College community. “Today marks the first day of an experience that will take you beyond the walls of Monmouth College and take you into the world.”

“Today, you’re officially joining the Monmouth College family,” said Monmouth President Clarence R. Wyatt. “It’s an experience that will truly be life-changing for you.”

A history of higher learning

Mark Willhardt, interim dean of the faculty, told the students they would soon meet a talented faculty – professors dedicated to bringing out the best in their students.

“Faculty expectations are high,” said Willhardt, who referred to the College’s educational traditions and rich history of higher learning. “Monmouth College is special because of its teachers who are dedicated to your improvement. They made a choice to be at a place where they get to teach. Why? Because you’re worth it. They’ve chosen to invest in your talents. ... Your achievements will connect you to those who’ve come before you.”

All the new students had to do to see a symbol of the history and traditions Willhardt referenced was look up. There, above the stately ionic columns of Wallace Hall, was its signature cupola, which has watched over Monmouth’s campus for more than 100 of the College’s 165 years.

“You are why Monmouth College exists,” Gilbert told the students. “You are why we are here.”

Advice for the experience

Gilbert shared five “nuggets” of advice with the students, telling them to: be responsible, take initiative, get involved and learn time management. His fifth point was not to settle for a “bologna sandwich.” The Monmouth College experience should be like dining at an extensive buffet. “Create that plate,” he said. ”Create that meal.”

Advice also came from Maggie Bruckner ’20 of Aurora, Ill., president of the Associated Students of Monmouth College. She told the new Monmouth Scots – some of whom might be experiencing their own doubts or anxiety – of adversities she’d overcome to be where she was today. She advised them to “have courage and be kind. ... Courage is going against the grain and making a difference.”

President Wyatt told the students “You will be challenged as never before, but those challenges will make you stronger.”

And, he added, the Class of 2022 would not be facing those challenges alone.

“We’re ready to help you carry the load and to keep your eyes on the prize.”

Wyatt closed with Mary Oliver’s poem, “The Summer Day,” leaving the students to consider the many answers to the poet’s very open-ended question:

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

As the matriculation ceremony came to a close, the students recessed through a line of applauding faculty. One mother found her son in the line, gave him a big hug and snapped a quick selfie. He introduced her to a classmate he’d just met from Colorado.