Twins Megan and Sarah Zaubi of Itasca were the last two graduates to cross the stage during Monmouth College's commencement exercises on May 12.
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Being passionate about a profession and sharing gratitude were two of the recurring messages from speakers as 270 graduates received their Monmouth College diplomas during a chilly, breezy Mother’s Day commencement ceremony.
Constant bright sunshine helped make the college’s 156th annual commencement exercises more pleasant, and so did a cheerful graduating class, which MC president Mauri Ditzler called “the happiest class to come across this stage in years.”
It was also one of the larger classes, topping by about two dozen the number of graduates from a year ago.
The keynote speaker, former Florida governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham, passed on some of the same advice that this year’s recipient of MC’s Pre-College Teacher of the Year Award, Buffalo Grove High School science teacher Kevin Trow, had offered moments earlier.
“Let passion be your guide,” Graham told the graduates of Monmouth, which he called “one of the most historic and prestigious liberal arts colleges” in the U.S. “Don’t let dollars get in the way of what you believe is your true calling.”
Graham also told the graduates that life is like a pyramid. In the beginning, people start at the bottom of the pyramid and have a wide base, representing a wide range of possibilities. As they continue to grow older, their options taper, much like a pyramid.
“A goal in life is to keep your pyramid as wide as possible for as long as possible,” said Graham, who opened his remarks by reminding the graduates to show their appreciation for “the mothers, fathers, siblings, grandparents and friends” who helped them reach this milestone.
He closed his remarks by saying “Graduates of Monmouth College, you are special. You are exceptional. Continue to grow your specialness, and share it with the world.”
Trow preceded Graham at the podium as the first-ever Monmouth College graduate to receive the pre-college teacher honor.
In his nomination of Trow, a member of MC’s Class of 2002, graduating senior Roy Sye of Arlington Heights wrote, “He incorporates ‘real world’ scenarios within each problem, allowing students not only to reflect on the material but also apply it to their lives. Mr. Trow is clearly a person dedicated to exemplary and balanced education.”
Trow shared things he has learned with the class, including the fact that today’s graduates are much more fortunate than he was when it came to the geography of Monmouth’s campus.
“When I was a student, there were no steps on the Wallace Hall hill. I learned the laws of physics on that single, steep slope. It was man vs. gravity, and gravity usually won.”
Trow said his biggest lesson was to “be passionate,” and he asked students to consider the fact that they would be working for the next 40 years, so they should aspire for it to be in an area about which they’re truly passionate.
Sye said that Trow was the reason he chose Monmouth, and six other Monmouth graduates were also able to express gratitude on stage during the ceremony, as they recognized professors who had received promotions and/or tenure.
One of them, Kim Kleczewski of West Chicago, said of psychology professor Joan Wertz, “(She) has been unafraid to dish out tough love to keep me on track, and she always provides me just enough of a push in the right direction to help me achieve my goals.”
Also promoted to full professor were Judi Kessler (sociology and anthropology), Anne Mamary (philosophy and religious studies) and Craig Vivian (educational studies). Awarded tenure and promotions to associate professor were Wendine Bolon (political economy and commerce) and Logan Mayfield (mathematics and computer science).
Other graduates who spoke during the two-hour ceremony were Daniel Reid of Carlinville, who delivered the invocation; Kathryn Shipp of Ladd, who made welcoming remarks; Michelle Hutchison of Galesburg, who delivered the student address; and Kayla Corzine of Danville, president of the Class of 2013.
Monmouth College’s summa cum laude graduates were Alex Brooks of Bloomington, Margaret Grzenia of Lake in the Hills and Kayte LaFollett of Elmwood.
As he closed the ceremony, Ditzler told the graduates, “It is time to burst with joy into the bright future you’re creating for us.”
On Saturday, the college held its traditional baccalaureate service, with a theme of water. Included in the program was a soulful rendition of the Negro spiritual “Wade in the Water” by the Monmouth College Chorale. The speaker was Dr. Rodger Nishioka, who holds the Benton Family chair in Christian education as an associate professor at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Ga.
Known as one of the most sought-after and inspiring preachers in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Nishioka did not disappoint. He told the story of two 2007 graduates from Emory University, which is located 15 minutes from his home in Atlanta. Although they were both just 22 years old at the time, they made a tremendous difference in the world. One of the graduates, Elizabeth Scholtys, formed a foundation to help the street children she met during a semester abroad in Pune, India. The other, Robbie Brown, received a $20,000 McMullen Prize check at the 2007 graduation ceremony, but turned it over minutes later to assist Scholtys’ foundation.
Nishioka put that story beside Moses striking a rock and providing water for his people, as chronicled in the Book of Exodus.
“We’re looking for people who have the courage to strike a rock because we need the water,” Nishioka told the graduates. “To change the world, all you have to do is start with one life.”
The students who followed Nishioka to the podium prayed to “be water for a thirsty world.”
Later on Saturday, the senior class gift presented a gift of more than $10,000 to go toward new carillon and stadium seat in memory of Tommy Hoerr, a member of the Class of 2013 who passed away last summer in an accident.
The annual commencement concert was also a success and included note a rendition of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”