SPRINGFIELD, Ohio — More than 400 men and women will cross a major threshold on Saturday, May 14, as Wittenberg University hosts the 160th Commencement exercises of its illustrious history.
Most will turn to the audience as they cross the stage in Commencement Hollow and wave triumphantly at groups of well-wishers that primarily include parents, grandparents and siblings. For others, the groups of well-wishers will include spouses, children, and in some cases, there will even be grandchildren waving back.
For the 31 individuals who make up the second-largest adult/non-traditional graduating group in the history of Wittenberg’s School of Community Education (SCE), it is not the journey but the destination — a Wittenberg degree — that matters most now. Many have taken extraordinary journeys to reach this point in their lives, and Saturday’s Commencement is the culmination of a lot of hard work and sacrifice for both them and their families.
“What our adult students consider as ordinary — mastering an intense curriculum, holding a demanding job, managing a household, surviving personal emergencies — most people would consider heroic,” said Paul Parlato, dean of the SCE.
Consider the story of Debbie Adams, a communication major hailing from Beavercreek, Ohio, and the first SCE student to attain a degree in Wittenberg’s relatively new communication progam. After first entering college in 1972 and even studying in Switzerland in a literature course taught, ironically, by Parlato, Adams returned to college 30 years later with a husband and four grown children. A registered nurse but now devoted to writing pursuits, Adams is a member of SCE’s chapter of Alpha Sigma Lambda, the national adult honorary, with an outstanding grade point average.
In some ways, Adams’ story is typical among the SCE grads of 2005, who have an average age of 37 and an average cumulative GPA of 3.15. Typical isn’t an operative word for the SCE grads of 2005, however.
“Each of our graduates has his or her personal story of dreams deferred and then realized,” Parlato said. “Even the majority whose transit through the program has been relatively efficient — typically two or three years — are models of commitment and extraordinary multi-tasking.”
Twelve of the students have attained Latin honors cum laude, magna cum laude and summa cum laude, and two have completed Wittenberg’s prestigious University Honors Program; several others have won departmental honors and awards, and 10 have gained Alpha Sigma Lambda membership. In addition to the graduates, four other adult students are completing extensive post-baccalaureate teacher licensure programs.
Nine of the graduates are completing the Evening Organizational Leadership program, while the others are obtaining degrees in a wide range of academic disciplines, including biology, economics, English, history, philosophy, music, management, education and art, the chosen field for 70-year-old Jennie Spring-Starr.
Forty-three years after starting her Wittenberg degree, Spring-Starr has finally finished what she started, thanks to Wittenberg’s Lifelong Learner program, which offers enrollment in various classes on a space-available basis in exchange for a nominal charge. The mother of eight children and owner of more than 200 undergraduate credits between Wittenberg and Columbus State Community College, Spring-Starr has taken up creative writing and says her next stop is graduate school.
That is indicative of the kind of ambition and perseverance displayed by the SCE grads of 2005. At least four of the graduates were born in other countries, some have come back from rocky college experiences in more youthful days, and others have had to overcome serious personal setbacks. For example, Sondra Iiames, a registered nurse and mother of two college-age sons from Casstown, Ohio, will graduate cum laude after overcoming a variety of obstacles in her lifetime to reach her college graduation.
Approximately two-thirds of the 2005 adult student graduates are the first in their families to obtain a bachelor’s degree, most have transferred credits from other institutions, and some have worn out several sets of tires making long commutes to attend Wittenberg. Students in this year’s graduating class are primarily from Springfield, but others have addresses in the Dayton area, Troy, London, West Liberty and even Darke County. And in the case of Valentina (Dimitrova) Qureshi, her home is now San Francisco.
A native of Bulgaria, Valentina married a Wittenberg alumnus after beginning studies at the university in 1999 and followed him to California after he accepted a job there. She returned to Wittenberg to complete her final 20 credits through the SCE program in 2004 after compiling transfer credits at the University of California-Berkeley, and she now completes her circuitous route to graduation with a cum laude designation this weekend.
“Our adult students are a select group and a valuable component of the Wittenberg community,” Parlato said. “Not only do they tend to be outstanding students in their own right, but they provide a diverse perspective that enriches the experience of our younger students and our faculty.”
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