Denison’s Class of 2011 wasn’t on the good side of the weather gods on May 15, 2011, but that didn’t stop the graduates from having a memorable Commencement in the Mitchell Recreation and Athletics Center.
President Knobel made the tough decision to move the ceremony indoors just after dawn on the “meteorologically uncertain” Sunday. By 11:30 that morning, the road in front of Livingston Gym looked like an entrance to a Greyhound Station, with lines of buses and vans dropping off families and friends who had traveled from near and far to witness their student’s completion of their college years. Bright red signage pointed the visitors’ way to their destination in the Mitchell Center.
The gray skies didn’t dampen anyone’s enthusiasm and, as the parents passed through the white tent entrance and red carpet walkway into Mitchell, many commented that it was like entering Hollywood’s Kodak Theater for the Academy Awards. The mood was joyous, as groups of friends posed together for photos.
Inside Mitchell, 5200 chairs were set up for the 481 graduates, faculty and staff, families and friends. The faculty, dressed in full academic regalia, entered first, to the strains of the commencement orchestra led by Associate Professor of Music Andy Carlson. They formed a passageway for the students, dressed in their robes and tasseled mortar boards, many wearing colorful academic stoles and shoulder cords in recognition of academic honors.
The platform party was headed by Faculty Chair Garrett Jacobsen, who carried the academic mace, made of walnut and silver, and commissioned in 2005 as a visible reminder of the long history of learning at Denison. The group included Board of Trustees member Walter F. Burke ’71, Associate Provost Kim Coplin ’85, Associate Provost Toni King, Registrar Yadi Collins, William G. Bowen ’55, President Knobel, Provost Brad Bateman, Faculty Marshal John Jackson, Senior Class Speaker Ellie Swensson and honorary degree recipient David H. Bayley ’55.
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President Knobel rang the nickel and silver Denison Bell, forged in 1855, to signal the beginning of the ceremony. Trustee Burke welcomed the graduates to the Society of the Alumni and encouraged them to continue their openness to new and challenging experiences, just as they did when they arrived at Denison four years ago. President Knobel reminded them of the changes that have taken place since the day of their induction on August 23 that year, another meteorologically uncertain day with the ceremony likewise held in Mitchell. He mentioned the addition of 42 new faculty, the opening of the Bryant Arts Center, the bringing of wi-fi to campus and the forthcoming renovation of Chamberlin into an apartment-style residence hall.
The president spoke proudly of the 20 percent of the students who were graduating with Latin honors, 24 of which were Phi Beta Kappas and 74 of which completed senior research projects. He noted that Lorrin Ostojic and John Snee were co-valedictorians and Kate Morley was salutatorian.
Swensson described her class as a community that has been characterized by change, conflict and peace and encouraged them always to look for love, justice and kindness. Class co-presidents Brett Ayers and Sibylle Freiermuth announced an Annual Fund senior class gift of nearly $7000, given by 62 percent of the graduates.
Faculty chair Garrett Jacobsen recognized retiring faculty members Pan Fanaritis, Associate Professor of Physical Education, and Marlee Meriwether, Professor of History, who have taught at Denison 18 and 30 years, respectively, and both of whom were granted emeritus status.
Life Trustee William G. Bowen ’55 introduced his college roommate David H. Bayley ’55, and President Knobel in turn conferred upon him an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters. Dr. Bayley spoke to the audience about life after Denison, getting to know their place, being patient and, most importantly, noting: “Adulthood is wonderful – you are going to love it!”
Provost Bateman announced the names of the graduates as each crossed the platform to receive a diploma: five Bachelor of Fine Arts, 80 Bachelor of Science and 393 Bachelor of Arts.
President Knobel’s charge to the class encouraged them to ignore the seven words that college is “the best four years of your life,” but rather to go forward “to carve out many best four years, knowing that your future is built upon your past. Continue to learn, dare to be wise and acquire wisdom.”
Led by senior members of Hilltoppers, Ladies Night Out, Tehilla and DU-Wop, Denison’s a cappella groups, the audience sang To Denison, and the jubilant new members of the Alumni Society lofted their mortar boards up toward the rafters of the Mitchell Center. They had officially begun adulthood.