SPRINGFIELD, Ohio - Despite the frequent rain showers that forced Wittenberg University's 158th Commencement exercises indoors, the Class of 2003 still shared laughs, hugs and a few tears, May 17, in the Health, Physical Education and Recreation Center.
Family and friends packed the standing-room-only HPERC to celebrate with the 460 graduates, 79 of whom were from Clark County and the surrounding counties.
Judith Viorst, author of more than 30 books for both adults and children, including "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day" and "Necessary Losses," which spent nearly two years on the New York Times bestseller list, presented the keynote address.
In her speech, Viorst, who received an honorary doctorate of humane letters at the ceremony, welcomed the graduates into the "grown-up" world and urged them to take responsibility for their decisions.
"Actions have consequences," said Viorst, adding that growing up "is always a work in progress."
Jennifer Grossman, president of the Class of 2003 and a history major from Baltimore, Md., also addressed the graduates, reminding them of the close relationships with professors that made such a difference in their Wittenberg careers.
"They have been there for our proudest moments of accomplishment and also in our times of great doubt about whether we were going to make it through college at all," she said. "Our faculty have supported us through our development as individuals and have seen us through our most treasured experiences at Witt."
This year's Commencement exercises also included a number of firsts. Lisa Dooley Cunningham, a member of the Class of 1994 who earned her teacher licensure in biology in 2000, became the first person to graduate with a master's degree since the 1980s thanks to Wittenberg's new master of arts in education program. The day also marked the first class of graduating seniors to receive a B.A. in communication, Wittenberg's newest and fastest growing major.
In addition, a father and a son who have chosen different paths to improve life in war-torn Liberia were recognized with degrees. Samuel Harris, the son, received his B.S. in biology at the ceremony. Harris plans to become a doctor and return to Liberia, where years of civil war have forced most medical professionals to leave the country.
His father, Sumoward Harris, received an honorary doctorate of divinity. The award recognized Harris' fight for peace and justice in Liberia where he currently serves as president of the Liberian Council of Churches.
Also receiving honorary degrees were The Rev. David Steele, a 1961 graduate of Wittenberg, a 1964 graduate of the Hamma School of Theology and a member of the Wittenberg University Board of Directors, and Richard E. Sullivan, a leading scholar in early medieval history, in absentia. Steele currently serves as chief executive officer and president of Lutheran Social Services of Michigan, while Sullivan previously served as professor of history and department chair, dean of the College of Arts and Letters, and as acting associate provost at Michigan State University. Sullivan was presented with the degree at the International Congress on Medieval Studies, May 7.
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