Press Release

May 11, 2024 | By Cole Hatcher

'Our Democracy Needs You'

League of Women Voters Leader Encourages Ohio Wesleyan's Class of 2024 to 'Opt In and Engage'

Ohio Wesleyan University celebrated its 180th commencement ceremony May 11, featuring keynote speaker Kelly McFarland Stratman of the League of Women Voters of the United States. The OWU Class of 2024 includes 300 spring, summer, and fall graduates. (Video by Mark Schmitter '12)

Kelly McFarland Stratman, League of Women Voters of the United States

DELAWARE, Ohio – Ohio Wesleyan University celebrated its 180th commencement ceremony May 11, with keynote speaker Kelly McFarland Stratman of the League of Women Voters of the United States encouraging the Class of 2024 to "make the conscious choice to opt in and to engage – and to take up the challenge" to keep the nation's democracy strong and secure.

"Democracy belongs to all of us," said McFarland Stratman, chief of staff and interim co-CEO for the Washington, D.C.-based League. "Many of you were born into the democratic experiment. But we cannot take its health or its persistence for granted. Democracy is resilient, but only to a point. It needs vigilant care and frequent course correction.

"It is your choice on how you participate in our democracy," she said, noting the League's nonpartisan mission. "It's a community that doesn't compel you to opt in. But democracy is maintained and protected by the voices and actions of individuals just like you. Individuals who make the conscious choice to opt in and to engage – and to take up the challenge. Our democracy needs you – I'm talking to the graduates, in particular – and your generation to help keep us on track, and to call us out, and keep us honest when we stray. …

"You're ready to Think Big. Do Good. Go Global. And Get Real," McFarland Stratman said, echoing the tenants of the university's OWU Connection signature experience. "The world needs you, your passion, your energy, and your ideas."

Ben Warden '24

Ben Warden of Marysville, Ohio, also addressed the Class of 2024, after being elected by his peers to speak on behalf of the graduates.

"Life will go on at Ohio Wesleyan after we leave today," said Warden, a first-generation college student and Psychology major. "Someone is going to decorate and make your room their new home next year. That one hangout spot you and your friends claimed as your own will be shared by countless friend groups for years to come. And to all of my athletes here today, I can guarantee you will not be the last person to wear the number you had when you represented this university.

"But regardless of how much time passes or how many new faces come through this campus, no person will ever have the unique memories of laughter, tears, and lessons you gained during your time here in Delaware," said Warden, who plans to attend graduate school at Miami University to pursue a master's degree in sports psychology.

"To the graduates of 2024, congratulations and enjoy today, for you have earned this day of celebration," said Warden, a four-year Battling Bishop football player. "Thank you, everybody, for your time, and roll 'shops."

President Matt vandenBerg

Ohio Wesleyan President Matt vandenBerg, Ed.D., also spoke to the graduates and their families, encouraging members of the Class of 2024 to never stop listening, learning, and searching for the light of knowledge.

"The ultimate goal of the education you've received is not knowing all of the right answers," said vandenBerg, as he presided over his first OWU commencement ceremony. "It's knowing how to ask the right questions.

"Our university's motto should help cement that lesson in your mind," he said "Our motto is: 'In your light, we shall see the light.' Of course, one reasonable interpretation of our motto is that you come to college to find the light. You then receive illumination when you're here. And as you graduate, you can go be the light for the world. That sounds cool, but it's not that simple. …

"[T]he act of finding light is not a destination," vandenBerg said. "It's a journey. And when it's done right, it never stops. Graduating from OWU doesn't mean you've found the light. It means you now know how to look for the light.

"Our world doesn't need more spite. Our world doesn't need more fight. But our world – most certainly – needs more light," vandenBerg said. "So, as we gather today for this glorious ceremony, and as we brace ourselves for all that lies ahead, let us seek peace within ourselves and extend it to others. Let us strike the right balance between hunger for change and the humility to listen. And let us never, ever stop pursuing the light."

The graduating students included 300 spring, summer, and fall graduates, with seven members achieving perfect 4.0 grade point averages:

  • Kyleigh Beck of Womelsdorf, Pennsylvania
  • Katherine DiJulius of Strongsville, Ohio
  • Brooke Hoffman of Oregon, Ohio
  • Blake Johnson of Centerburg, Ohio
  • Annie Marazita of Columbus, Ohio
  • Carly Sanders of Painesville, Ohio
  • Jennifer Seely of Delaware, Ohio

During the Saturday afternoon ceremony, Ohio Wesleyan also honored three outstanding faculty members with special awards:

  • Ashley Kennard, Ph.D., assistant professor of Journalism and Communication, received The Sherwood Dodge Shankland Award for Encouragement of Teachers. Nomination comments described Kennard as a "bold leader," "amazing teacher and mentor," and "very skilled at keeping students positively engaged." Kennard joined the Ohio Wesleyan faculty in 2019.
  • Goran Skosples, Ph.D., associate professor of Economics and Business, received The Bishop Herbert Welch Meritorious Teaching Award. His students say Skosples "goes out of his way to inspire learning" and describe him as "dedicated," "hardworking," and "inspiring." Skosples joined the OWU faculty in 2006.
  • Jeremy Baskes, Ph.D., professor of History, was unable to attend the ceremony but received The Bishop Herbert Welch Award for Scholarly or Artistic Achievement and the Adam Poe Medal, bestowed in recognition of his retirement. During his 31-year OWU career, Baskes achieved national and international recognition in the field of Latin American History. He joined the OWU faculty in 1993.

President vandenBerg concluded the 180th commencement ceremony with Ohio Wesleyan's traditional benediction, encouraging OWU's newest alumni to share their knowledge and compassion with a world in need.

"If, here at Ohio Wesleyan, you have found freedom, take it with you into the world," vandenBerg said. "If, here at Ohio Wesleyan, you have found peace, go and share it with others. If, here at Ohio Wesleyan, you have found some portion of truth, go and seek it all the more. If, here at Ohio Wesleyan, you have dreamed dreams, help one another, and those dreams may come true. If, here at Ohio Wesleyan, you have known love, give some back to a bruised and hurting world."

Ohio Wesleyan's complete commencement ceremony will be archived online for on-demand viewing at, view photos from the event in our Flickr album, and learn more about the event at

Founded in 1842, Ohio Wesleyan University is one of the nation's premier liberal arts universities. Located in Delaware, Ohio, the private university offers more than 70 undergraduate majors and competes in 24 NCAA Division III varsity sports. Through its signature experience, the OWU Connection, Ohio Wesleyan teaches students to understand issues from multiple academic perspectives, volunteer in service to others, build a diverse and global perspective, and translate classroom knowledge into real-world experience through internships, research, and other hands-on learning. Ohio Wesleyan is featured in the book "Colleges That Change Lives" and included on the U.S. News & World Report and Princeton Review "Best Colleges" lists. Connect with OWU expert interview sources at or learn more at