An overflow crowd packed Commencement Hollow on an unseasonably warm afternoon to recognize Wittenberg's graduating class, which included 23 individuals who studied in the School of Community Education, two adult students who received a Master of Arts in Education and 10 international students. The graduates hailed from 27 states and eight countries outside of the United States, with undergraduate degrees of Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Music, Bachelor of Fine Arts and Bachelor of Music Education awarded during the two-hour-long ceremony.
On the brick stage in the valley below the newly terraced seating areas on the hill, Wittenberg's 13th president, Mark Erickson, welcomed all those in attendance and announced that, "there is no doubt that this is a special occasion, and this is a special graduating class." He concluded his opening remarks a few minutes later with a charge to the class of 2007 to do more than just enter the world as Wittenberg graduates, but to tackle all challenges and truly make a mark on society.
"Seniors, as you go from this place, remember that it is not enough simply to find your light," Erickson said, referring to Wittenberg's motto "Having Light We Pass It On To Others."
"You must also be the light by sharing your talents and your passion in the world in which you live. This is what it means to be a Wittenberg graduate, and this is what it means to pass it on."
Erickson, who took the reins at Wittenberg in July 2005, dedicated Commencement Hollow by recognizing the contributions of Lewis Shaw, class of 1966. A member of the university's Board of Directors and chairman of the national real estate development firm Jackson Shaw Co. of Dallas, Texas, Shaw served as Honorary Commencement Marshal after he agreed to underwrite the cost of the transformation of Commencement Hollow into a beautifully landscaped, multifunctional outdoor venue.
"Lewis, your love for Wittenberg and your commitment to the future of this place are both exemplary," Erickson said. "I cannot thank you enough for all you have done and will continue to do to support this special place.
"We gratefully dedicate this ampitheatre in the memory of your mother, Evelyn Shaw, and in honor of all the parents who make commencement possible."
Award-winning author and journalist Juan Williams, the recipient of several awards for writing and investigative reporting during his career at The Washington Post before branching out to National Public Radio to host the afternoon talk show, Talk of The Nation, was the keynote speaker for the event. He also encouraged the graduates to apply the lessons learned at Wittenberg to the real world awaiting them.
"Here at Wittenberg, you have learned to love reading, to love learning – there is no greater gift," Williams said. "So congratulations to the faculty and to the students as well. This is your day."
Williams noted that a great potential has been harnessed in the graduates in the class of 2007. But there is more to life than potential – these students are now challenged to become leaders.
"Part of the trust placed in all of you this day as you get your degrees from Wittenberg is that you would honor the divine, that you would become the kind of people who get involved in American politics, who have political consciousness, who have racial consciousness, who are aware and involved in your communities and strive to put your hands in the muck and mire of American life and sculpt and shape what is to come," he said.
"Leadership is not simply reacting to the tremendous change taking place all around you. I would argue it's not even managing the tremendous change. Instead, as proud graduates of Wittenberg, you understand the notion of creating change – of taking that idea of being a change agent to a new level and leading America to a place where we continue to enjoy the glories of a Democratic, diverse and loving society."
Williams was one of three distinguished guests who were awarded honorary degrees during the ceremony. Internationally acclaimed architect Shoei Yoh was presented with a Doctor of Fine Arts by H. Orth Hirt Professor of History James Huffman, Pulitzer Prize-nominated author Robert Chadwell Williams was presented with a Doctor of Fine Arts by George Hudson, professor of political science, chair of the department and director of Russian area studies, and Juan Williams was presented a Doctor of Humane Letters by Staci Rhine, professor of political science.
One of the world's leading architects, Yoh has inspired thousands with his signature style that blends glass and steel, form and function into contemporary structures known for uniting indoor and outdoor environments. Winner of multiple awards for his creations, Yoh is currently owner/representative of Shoei Yoh + Architects in Fukuoka, Japan, and Chairship Professor of Architecture and Urban Design at Keio University Graduate School of Media and Governance. Author of numerous publications, Yoh pursued additional studies in the United States at Wittenberg, where he was influenced by the work of the late professor of art, Ralston Thompson, after he graduated from Keio University of Tokyo.
Nominated for a Pultizer Prize by Harvard University Press for his book Russian Art and American Money, Robert Chadwell Williams is a leading authority on Russian history. The Vail Professor of History and Dean of the Faculty Emeritus at Davidson College, Williams currently serves as a lecturer in history at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine. Recipient of numerous awards, including the Distinguished Achievement Award from the Washington Educational Press Association, Williams also earned a senior fellowship at the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.
Juan Williams currently serves as senior correspondent for NPR's Morning Edition, as host of America's Black Forum, a nationally syndicated weekly news program and as a political contributor to Fox News. In addition, Williams has authored six books, including the 2006 release Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America – and What We Can Do About It. His work has also been featured in such publications as The Atlantic Monthly, Ebony, GQ and The New Republic, and he has appeared on ABC's Nightline, PBS' Washington Week in Review and The Oprah Winfrey Show, among other television programs.
Written By: Ryan Maurer
Photos By: Robbie Gantt
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