New Graduates Urged to ‘Vote to Believe’ in Themselves
Ohio Wesleyan celebrated its 171st Commencement on May 10 with historic Merrick Hall as the backdrop. More than 350 OWU students became OWU alumni during the ceremony, which featured keynote speaker Wil Haygood, author of The Butler: A Witness to History.
Raindrops didn’t dampen the spirits of those attending Ohio Wesleyan’s 171st Commencement ceremony May 10, as more than 350 graduates, their families, and friends celebrated this special day. The backdrop for this year’s festivities was the beautifully renovated Merrick Hall, which will reopen later this year after a 30-year hiatus.
Award-winning journalist and author Wil Haygood delivered the keynote address and was awarded an OWU Doctor of Humane Letters honorary degree. As associate producer of the blockbuster movie “The Butler,” Haygood shared in the adaptation of his original Washington Post story and book about Eugene Allen, a butler in the White House who served eight presidents from Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan, for 34 years.
Haygood’s message to the new graduates began by transporting them back to 1965, when Black Americans still were fighting for the right to vote, and when the Voting Rights Act finally was passed. Haygood noted that this precious right comes in other manifestations beyond the ballot box.
“When each of you left high school, you made your first major vote in life,” Haycock said. “You voted to extend your education.” It was, he said, a vote of the mind. Haygood also shared some of his experiences as a journalist with the Boston Globe and Washington Post covering stories around the world. He was in South Africa as Nelson Mandela was freed from prison after 27 years.
“He was a freedom fighter and fought the laws of segregation in the borders of his own country,” said Haygood, emphasizing Mandela refused to denounce his political party, which would have enabled him to leave prison. By refusing that offer, explained Haygood, the great leader was voting to believe in himself.
“What life throws at you after you leave here today—and there will be some unexpected pitches thrown your way—I want you to vote to believe,” advised Haygood. “Fifty years ago, those who didn’t have the vote had to believe that they would someday get it.”
OWU President Rock Jones spoke to the new graduates about the remarkable achievements of their undergraduate careers at Ohio Wesleyan.
“You have learned on campus, and you have learned in the far corners of the earth,” he said, highlighting opportunities such as the Summer Science Research Program, Travel-Learning Courses, mission teams, Theory-to-Practice Grant projects, internships, and service-learning experiences. Jones spoke about complex problems inherited by this new generation of college graduates.
“These [problems] will be solved, not in silos of individual and narrow-minded thinking, but in dynamic collaborations of individuals with richly varied perspectives,” Jones said.
“As OWU alumni, you have the benefits of an education offered to a very small proportion of the global population. You are in elite company. I congratulate you on the milestone achievements of this day.”
Ohio Wesleyan’s Class of 2015 included 60 cum laude graduates, 20 magna cum laude, and 19 summa cum laude graduates. Two students were recognized for a 4.0 grade point average: Cody Kent and Alexandra Webb.
During the Commencement program, Professor of Psychology David Robbins received the Daniel E. Anderson Award; Professor of Music Larry Griffin was awarded the Libuse R. Reed Endowed Professorship; Professor of Fine Arts Carol Neuman deVegvar received the Welch Award for Scholarly or Artistic Achievement; Associate Professor of Fine Arts Kristina Bogdanov was awarded the Sherwood Dodge Shankland Award for the Encouragement of Teachers; and Professor of Botany-Microbiology David Johnson received the Bishop Herbert Welch Meritorious Teaching Award. The Adam Poe Medal was awarded to retiring faculty member and Professor of Politics and Government Joan McLean.
Closing the Commencement program, class President Elizabeth Tierney Fisher ’15 reminded her classmates of how far they had come during their years at OWU.
“The education that we take from this institution is one that will stand the test of being on our own. We have learned, not only the things that matter for our career paths, but also, how to be a member of our global community.”
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