Barry McNamara  |  Published May 19, 2024

The Power of the Monmouth Machine

Advice from Monmouth’s A-list Commencement speakers Sigourney Weaver and Jim Simpson impresses members of the College’s Class of 2024.

MONMOUTH, Ill. – From all accounts, the 167th Commencement Exercises at Monmouth College on Sunday, May 19, were a huge success.

From the warm and sunny spring day that allowed for an outdoor ceremony on the College’s Wallace Hall Plaza, to the traditional pageantry of bagpipes, trumpets and choir singers that have characterized the event for decades, to the A-list featured speakers, actress Sigourney Weaver and her writer/director husband, Jim Simpson, it was a glorious afternoon.

“Oh my gosh, it was so great to have them here, because the arts and humanities don’t always get the love they deserve,” said Jan Abel of Galesburg, Illinois, who graduated summa cum laude with degrees in English and public relations.

Commencement 2024 home page.

By virtue of her last name, Abel was the first of 165 Monmouth students to be handed her diploma by Clarence Wyatt in his 10th and final Commencement as the College’s 14th president.

“To have big creatives like them here was so awesome,” said Abel.

‘Stick with your machine’

Lillian Hucke of Aledo, Illinois, delivers the student address. Hucke was the College's Student Laureat... Lillian Hucke of Aledo, Illinois, delivers the student address. Hucke was the College's Student Laureate of the Lincoln Academy of Illinois. Although a day of celebration, the word “failure” came up in both of the main Commencement addresses, including the one given by another summa cum laude graduate, Lillian Hucke of Aledo, Illinois.

“We have learned to adapt from online learning to our cafeteria catching on fire,” said Hucke, the College’s Student Laureate of the Lincoln Academy of Illinois. “Even when times are hard, it is crucial to remember your inner power to overcome adversity. Also, remember that it is okay to fail. … Without failure, we would never know the extent of our inner strength and resilience.”

The award-winning Weaver, who has starred in such films as Alien, Ghostbusters, Gorillas in the Mist and Avatar, also focused on failure by paraphrasing advice from legendary playwright and director George Wolfe.

While delivering a speech to graduates of New York University’s Tish School of the Arts, Weaver recalled that Wolfe firmly gripped the podium and told the assembled students: “‘I want to talk to you about the most creative tool you have – failure.’ He said that life is like an enormous casino, with everybody at a slot machine, throwing in coins. You look around and hear bells going off and you see other people winning jackpots. It makes you want to get up from yours and try theirs.

Actress Sigourney Weaver and her writer/director husband, Jim Simpson deliver the 2024 Commencement address. Actress Sigourney Weaver and her writer/director husband, Jim Simpson deliver the 2024 Commencement address. “But Wolfe’s advice was, ‘Stick with your machine.’ It may take a little while longer to develop and you’re going to have to make some adjustments. But this machine that each of you built at Monmouth … stick with that and believe in yourself, because if you do that, you will never go wrong.”

“It was super awesome to see them here – to have people of that level give the address,” said graduate Cade Sharp of Aledo, Hucke’s boyfriend. Sharp and Hucke are two of several members from the Class of 2024 who graduated as a couple. “Something they said that stuck with me is something that Lillian talked about, too – that failure can be a big part of life.”

One of the takeaways of the main Commencement address for another summa cum laude graduate, Madison Walker of Vernon Hills, Illinois, was what Simpson said regarding trying to impress “gatekeepers” versus relying on advice and encouragement from loved ones.

Simpson said: “Don’t forget the friends you came up with. In my experience, they’ll be more influential than the higher-ups. That’s the turbocharger for creativity. My friends have had the greatest impact on that for me.”

“I liked the idea of knowing that the people you work with and are close to you will be a big part of your life,” said Walker. “It was super amazing they were here, and I thought their speech was amazing.”

Check out pictures from Commencement Weekend 2024.

There were light-hearted moments from the main Commencement address as well, such as when Simpson addressed the elephant in the plaza.

“I know many of you are wondering, ‘Really, who is this guy standing next to Sigourney Weaver?’ I’d like to introduce myself by way of my sister,” he said, referring to Gail Simpson Owen, who graduated from Monmouth 50 years ago in the Class of 1974, and who attended the ceremony as a member of the College’s Board of Trustees.

“Gail is one of the finest people I know, and she’s an alum of Monmouth College,” he said. “Because of that, I have great respect for the school that helped make Gail the person she is. Monmouth has been an important touchstone for her for her whole life.”

Monmouth President Clarence Wyatt speaks during the 2024 commencement ceremony. Wyatt, who has been the College&a... Monmouth President Clarence Wyatt speaks during the 2024 commencement ceremony. Wyatt, who has been the College's 14th president since 2014, is retiring at the end of this school year. With each point they made from their nearly 40 years of marriage, Weaver and Simpson shared relevant advice for the graduates that went far beyond Weaver’s quips of “who to call when you’re dealing with ghosts and extraterrestrials” and how the stress of co-writing the Commencement address nearly led to their divorce. They were both presented with a doctor of humane letters by the College.

“We’re so thrilled to be here on this incredibly beautiful campus,” Weaver said when she began the address.

The day before Commencement in Dahl Chapel and Auditorium, the Rev. Charles Burton, a 1992 Monmouth graduate, gave the Baccalaureate sermon, titled “Where Do We Go From Here?”

Honors and retirements

Other summa cum laude graduates in the Class of 2024 included two students from Iowa, Abigail Furness of Indianola and Elizabeth Schmidt of Waverly. A dozen more are from Illinois: Bethany Allen and Courtney Bizzari, both of Monmouth; Charlie Conkle of Morton Grove; Grace Cornelius of Warrenville; Samantha Hartman of Chadwick; Tyler Houck of Park Ridge; Madyson Goodwin of Normal; Alyssa Mileham of South Elgin; Corey Pevitz of Glenview; Larissa Pothoven of Rock Island; Hannah Rossmiller of East Moline; and Makaylea Sepich of Galesburg.

Wyatt announced the promotions of four faculty members: Eric Engstrom in biology, Bob Simmons in classics and David Wright in English, all to full professor, and Mike Solontoi in physics to associate professor.

Retiring faculty who were recognized included Trudi Peterson, 26 years in communication studies; Craig Vivian, 24 years in educational studies; Brian Baugh, 19 years in art; and Brad Sturgeon, 17 years in chemistry.

Members of the Monmouth College Class of 2024 celebrate their graduation on Sunday, May 19, on the College&#8... Members of the Monmouth College Class of 2024 celebrate their graduation on Sunday, May 19, on the College's Wallace Hall Plaza. The commencement address was given by actress Sigourney Weaver and her writer/director husband, Jim Simpson.

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