|Assistant professor of communication and chair of the department Matt Smith confers an honorary degree upon 2006 Commencement speaker Mark Mathabane.|
A standing-room-only crowd packed the Health, Physical Education and Recreation (HPER) Center to recognize Wittenberg’s graduating class, which included 18 individuals who studied in the School of Community Education, one adult student who received a Master of Arts in Education and 10 international students. Undergraduate degrees of Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Fine Arts, Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Music and Bachelor of Music Education were awarded during the ceremony.
Hundreds of guests unable to crowd into the HPER Center were able to view a video broadcast of the ceremony in nearby Hollenbeck Hall. The broadcast was available in more than a dozen classrooms in Hollenbeck.
In his first Commencement ceremony as Wittenberg’s 13th president, Mark Erickson welcomed all those in attendance and announced that, “even though we find ourselves inside, rather than in Commencement Hollow, we will not let that dampen our spirits. We will create our own sunshine and our own energy right here in the HPER Center.”
Erickson, who took the reins at Wittenberg in July 2005, spoke of his attachment to the class of 2006, which includes several student leaders with whom he has worked closely to ensure a smooth leadership transition. The feeling is obviously mutual as Erickson was one of eight faculty and staff members named honorary class members.
“You are an impressive group, and it is an honor to be counted among you,” he said. “It will be tough, very tough, to see this class graduate and leave campus. But the good news is that I know you will be back because that’s what Wittenberg graduates do.
“This is not a four-year experience for you. Once you’ve come to Wittenberg, you are part of Wittenberg and Wittenberg is a part of you.”
|The 2006 honorary degree recipients pose with President Mark Erickson (far left) and Bill Steinbrink (far right), chair of the university's board of directors|
“A Wittenberg education has prepared you to find your true purpose in life at a time when it is hard for many to distinguish which things in life are big and which are Lilliputian, which are ephemeral and which are eternal and therefore worth your labor and sacrifice,” Mathabane said. “To earn you that elusive happiness and peace of mind which no amount of money, power or fame can buy, our purpose must be to serve humanity because ultimately what we do for ourselves dies with us, but what we do to make the world a better place for all is immortal.”
Mathabane noted the contributions of great thinkers – difference-makers in world history, including Mother Theresa, Martin Luther, Rosa Parks and Nelson Mandela, who he credited with saving his native land from civil war through “his embrace of reconciliation rather than revenge.”
“You may be few in number, but all it takes to change the world is one heroic soul,” he added. “Don’t underestimate the impact of one person armed with convictions, courage and compassion. Those qualities were your soul’s daily food during the exhilirating years of your sojourn here at Wittenberg.
“Those years have broadened your minds, deepened your sensibilities, strengthened your characters, instilled in you an abiding love of truth and, most important, challenged you to engage in open and honest dialogue.”
Mathabane, who was presented an honorary doctorate of humane letters by Matt Smith, associate professor of communication and chair of the department, was one of five honorary degree recipients during the ceremony. In addition, Springfield businessman and philanthropist Fred Leventhal received an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Assistant Professor of Education and Director of Graduate Studies in Education Stefan Broidy, East Asian scholar Anthony Yu received an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Associate Professor of Religion and Director of East Asian Studies Jennifer Oldstone-Moore and reproductive health specialist Kathryn Schmeding, Wittenberg class of 1955, and international human resources development expert Robert Schmeding, Wittenberg class of 1953, received honorary doctorates of humane letters from Marcia Frost, assistant professor of economics.
Offering a students’ perspective, Elise Renz of Columbus, N.J., president of the class of 2006, spoke of a sense of nostalgia on this special occasion. Just moments before she received her degree magna cum laude with departmental honors in both English and political science, Renz spoke of the Wittenberg Seal, inscribed with the motto “Having Light We Pass It On To Others,” and how its impact upon her evolved through four eventful years on campus.
|Ryan Deutschendorf, president of the class of 2007, receives the new Torch from Elise Renz, president of the class of 2006.|
“'Having Light We Pass It On To Others’ is no longer just a motto for me, it’s a way of life.”
As graduates of Wittenberg often do when reflecting upon their college experience, Renz spoke about the personal relationships she will miss most in the future.
“In preparing for this speech, I asked many different people what they would miss most about Wittenberg, and they all said the people,” Renz said. “We have passed each other knowledge, advice and support through our friendships. I am certain I am a better person having met all of you.”
Renz had perhaps the most enviable task of the day – introducing a new tradition to the Wittenberg community. To celebrate the university’s motto, a Torch, depicted on the university’s official Seal, was designed and handcrafted by Kenny Lake, carpenter foreman in Wittenberg’s Physical Plant, at the request of the class of 2006.
The Torch is made entirely of walnut with 28 coats of tung oil applied and the flame atop it consists of an intricate arrangement of brass, bronze and copper petals that Associate Professor of Art and Department Chair Ed Charney helped to create. The Torch was passed from Renz to Ryan Deutschendorf, president of the class of 2007, symbolizing the longstanding Wittenberg tradition of passing light from one generation to the next.
Fittingly, the theme continued through the end of the ceremony.
“It is my hope that each of you will take the light that you have discovered here and pass it on,” Erickson said before authorizing the graduates to move their tassles and sing the alma mater.
- Ryan Maurer
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