Nearly 400 members of the Class of 2019 were honored and celebrated before family, friends, faculty and staff in picturesque Commencement Hollow during Wittenberg University’s 169th Commencement exercises on Saturday, May 11.
Throughout the week, students reflected on their college life, friendships, the unique active and engaged environment that Wittenberg provides, the courage to have a voice and to be heard, and service in all its forms, while challenging one another to make change happen, to be themselves, and to own who they are.
Wittenberg President Michael L. Frandsen led the Commencement ceremony, congratulating the class of 2019 in his opening remarks and asking the graduates to rise and thank their families, Wittenberg’s staff and faculty, and each other.
“A lot has happened in your time at Wittenberg as you have learned, grown, and changed,” he said, noting several milestones, including new academic programs that were developed, renovated facilities, the groundbreaking for the new 135,000-square-foot Health, Wellness and Athletics facility, the opening of the new 1929 Fieldhouse, more than 1.2 million meals being packed and delivered through the Lesotho Nutrition Initiative to help Lesotho orphans in need, and more than 7,500 engagements with Wittenberg’s COMPASS: Sweet Success Center, which was built three years ago.
“The list I’ve just shared only scratches the surface of the changes that have occurred during your time at Wittenberg,” he continued. “The world beyond our relatively quiet little place has changed as well. But more than anything, you have changed. And through those changes, through the power of an education in the liberal arts and sciences at a place and community like ours, you have prepared yourselves for a lifetime of changes. There are few straight lines in life, but it is the changes that make life interesting and help us grow.”
Frandsen also left the graduates with a few final thoughts to take with them.
“So, as you leave this place with your Wittenberg diploma, embrace change; it may be the only constant in your life,” he said. “Embrace people, relationships are the true riches in our lives. Find ways, large and small, globally and locally, to pass on your light to others. And remember that you are always and forever a Wittenberg Tiger.”
Senior Class President Chloe A. Bradburn also addressed her classmates. Bradburn, from Columbus, Ohio, is a sociology and international studies major.
“It is in the moments that we let go of thinking that we experience the stillness of now,” she said. “So, since we are and can only be in the now, let’s be together, reflect on the friendships created, and the faculty and staff relationships that helped curate our passions, and experience the now as it is,” she said. “The more time we spend in the now, the more we understand its limitless nature – and the more we realize that our feeling of contentment is reliant on our ability to be in this moment…right now.
“Own yourself, be present in the moment you have in front of you and take care of yourself. Wittenberg, in all that it is, promotes a beautiful culture of passing on your light to others…So, I encourage all of you to join me in this arena of life, get yourselves dirty because it’s inevitable, and lean into the discomfort of having the courage to show up and let yourself be seen.”
The Rev. Jonathan Eilert, Wittenberg class of 1993 and chair of the Wittenberg Board of Directors, congratulated the students and offered brief remarks.
“Wittenberg is an exceptional institution firmly rooted in a mission that speaks to helping you discover your respective callings, being responsible global citizens, and going on from here to lead personal, professional, and civic lives of creativity, service, compassion, and integrity,” said Eilert, who serves as lead pastor at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Loveland, Ohio. “My own Wittenberg experience shaped the way I understand my vocation and continues to inform the ways that I engage the world. Wittenberg changed my life, and I believe it has forever changed yours, so today we celebrate with you – the distinguished class of 2019. Your accomplishments already inspire us, and we are confident that you will leave here fully prepared to make your own unique mark in every passion you pursue.”
Eilert also noted the significance of receiving an honorary degree from Wittenberg and how it is “only bestowed on a select few who have passed their light on in extraordinary ways.” He then congratulated P. Kay Carl, a 1959 graduate of Wittenberg and an innovative educational leader, on being this year’s recipient.
Carl, who received an honorary doctorate of humane letters during the ceremony, was then introduced by Brian Yontz, associate professor of education and department chair.
After earning her B.S. in education and religion, Carl spent most of her 35-year career in education working as a counselor, principal, and eventually assistant superintendent for the Clark County School District (CCSD) in Nevada during a period of phenomenal growth for the school district. As assistant superintendent for the elementary education division, she presided over 159 elementary schools and their principals and oversaw the opening of 68 new elementary schools.
First arriving in Las Vegas in 1970, Carl was a counselor for Sunset High School, the first night high school in the United States. She was later named director of the school, making history as the first female high school principal in the CCSD. Carl was instrumental in the formation of the Clark County Counselor’s Association and the Clark County Association of School Administrators. She also co-authored Education in the Neon Shadow: The First 50 Years of the Clark County School District (Stephens Press, 2009).
In recognition of Carl’s influence as an educator, the Kay Carl Elementary School in Las Vegas was dedicated in her honor in 2002. She received the Wittenberg Alumni Citation in 2001 for her exceptional accomplishments in education and was inducted into the CCSD Excellence in Education Hall of Fame in 1990.
“It is truly humbling and exciting to be here today; 60 years ago, I sat where [you] are,” said Carl, who also shared several stories of accomplished Wittenberg alumni, as well as how Wittenberg’s motto, “Having light we pass it on to others,” is an action statement that requires graduates to do something.
Carl then concluded her remarks with four pieces of advice: “Stay close to family near and far. Keep in contact with the special friends you made at Wittenberg. If you don’t have a passport, get it now because we live in a global society, and you’ll need to move quickly. Give to Wittenberg, and give others an opportunity to celebrate their graduation.”
The conferring of degrees then followed. A total of 105 graduates earned Latin honors in recognition of their exceptional academic pursuits, including 38 graduating summa cum laude, 21 graduating magna cum laude and 46 cum laude.
Of note during the ceremony were also a couple of special moments, including the graduation of Irene Bilal-Engle, who at age 78 and by all records searched, looks to be the oldest graduate ever to earn her diploma at Wittenberg. Bilal-Engle is a non-traditional student enrolled in Wittenberg’s Graduate and Professional Studies program who received her degree in history with a minor in archaeology. The crowd greeted her with a standing ovation, not once, but twice.
Twins Emma and Ashley Byrd from Cincinnati, Ohio, were set to graduate on the same day and same time, but from different schools. Ashley, who is graduating from Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky, with a degree in exercise science, opted to skip her commencement ceremony to attend Wittenberg’s where Emma is graduating with a degree in marketing. However, Ashley ended up not having to miss any of the normal graduation traditions after all. Instead she was able to share the day with her sister, processing and sitting with Emma during Wittenberg’s ceremony. The sisters also received their respective degrees together on stage as Bellarmine delivered Ashley’s diploma to Wittenberg the day before.
Three students graduated with a 4.0 grade point average including Kierstin G. Conaway of Logan, Ohio, Karen A. Wildemann of Columbus, Indiana, and Shane M. Harris of Liberty Township, Ohio.
Lastly, the graduates were welcomed into Wittenberg’s vibrant alumni community by Allison Scaia, class of 2009 and president of the Wittenberg University Alumni Association.
More than “26,000 individuals are proud to have a Wittenberg story, and you’re joining an alumni base that not only pursues its passion but also lives our motto of “Having light we pass it on to others,” Scaia said to the graduates. “As you venture all over the world, as Wittenberg graduates do, stay connected to Wittenberg – on campus, in your local area, through Wittenberg friendships, and more. The bond of the Wittenberg experience truly transcends class years. You’ll be surprised how all over the world wearing a flying “W” or representing Wittenberg can spur a conversation with a stranger, who becomes a new connection and even a friend.”
The class included students from Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Washington, as well as international students from Pakistan, Ecuador, and Japan.
The most popular majors for the class of 2019 were biology, exercise science, education, and marketing. Degrees awarded included a bachelor of arts, bachelor of fine arts, bachelor of music education, bachelor of science, bachelor of science in nursing, master of arts in education, master of science in analytics, masters of arts in athletic coaching.
The event was streamed live, a recording of which will be available online shortly. For that link and additional Commencement information, click here. Special coverage can also be found on Twitter at #StompTheSeal.