It was a busy day on campus on Friday, April 19, with lots of special guests in prospective students and members of the Board of Trustees, but for one hour during the afternoon, it was all about the achievement of our current students and august faculty, as we gathered in Swasey Chapel for one of our favorite celebrations of the year — the Academic Awards Convocation. The bells rang out across campus as professors and their students strolled Chapel Walk. A strong breeze carried the spring blossoms of crabapple and magnolia trees, lending Swasey an added atmosphere of cozy shelter.
The Academic Awards Convocation, a Denison tradition started many years ago, is a celebration of all that we are — teaching, learning, accomplishment, passion, dedication, service, diversity, collaboration, hard work, and a good dose of good cheer. Before a packed house of students, faculty, staff, and trustees, the ceremony began with organist Kevin Wines playing the Academic Processional with the faculty marching in full regalia. They were led into the chapel by faculty marshals Gregg Parini, John Jackson, Doug Spieles, and Dan Gibson.
This convocation is always a touching ceremony, and all the more so today, as Dale Knobel, who will retire on June 30, looked back on his 15 years as university president with some inspiration from a lyric in Billy Joel’s “Piano Man”: “Son, can you play me a memory; I’m not really sure how it goes/But it’s sad and it’s sweet and I knew it complete/When I wore a younger man’s clothes.” (Yes. He actually sang it.)
President Knobel said, “Maybe, on the eve of retirement from a career in higher education, a sentiment about youth and age would jump out at me. But what I really got to thinking about is the broader meaning of ‘clothing’ oneself.” Writers and philosophers have used “clothed” to describe something more important than apparel, President Knobel told the audience. How do we clothe our minds and our characters? What are the habits of mind, or “mental clothes,” that we assume during our lives?
“This Academic Awards Convocation is, in the end, about how Denison men and women have clothed themselves during their time here — not with Big Red T-shirts, but with learning, with experience, and even with character,” he said. “Those we recognize and celebrate today remind us that the acquisition of an education or the development of character is not accidental or passive. Far from it. We clothe [our character and minds] with considerable intentionality.”
President Knobel then announced the endowed chairs and professorships that are being presented to 11 exemplary faculty members:
- Ashwin Lall, assistant professor of mathematics and computer science: the Bayley-Bowen Faculty Fellowship;
- Sue Davis, associate professor of political science: the William G. Bowen Distinguished Professorship;
- Margot Singer, associate professor of English: the Dominick Consolo Professorship;
- Kimberly Specht, associate professor of chemistry: the James M. and Carolyn O. Gillingham Endowed Professorship;
- Ching-chu Hu, associate professor of music: the Richard Lucier Professorship;
- Peter Pauzé, associate professor of theatre: the Jonathan R. Reynolds Distinguished Professorship in Theatre;
- Gabriele Dillmann, associate professor of modern languages: the newly established Julian H. Robertson Jr. Endowed Professorship;
- Adam Davis, associate professor of history: the William T. Utter-Clyde E. Williams Jr. Professorship;
- Joanna Grabski, associate professor of art history: the John and Christine Warner Professorship;
- Jack Shuler, assistant professor of English: the John and Christine Warner Professorship;
- Jordan Fantini, associate professor of chemistry: the Wickenden Chair of Chemistry.
President Knobel also had the pleasure of presenting, as a surprise, the Charles and Nancy Brickman Distinguished Service Chair to Frank Hassebrock, associate professor of psychology.
Another surprise followed, as Provost Bradley Bateman presented the 2013 Charles A. Brickman Teaching Excellence Award, given each year to a faculty member who is masterful in the profession, one who is a model of dedication to students and to student learning. But this much-anticipated moment was doubly fun this year, as the honor was bestowed upon both Mary Tuominen, professor of sociology/anthropology, and Jessen T. Havill, professor of mathematics and computer science.
In further recognition of academic excellence, Associate Professor of Biology Jeff Thompson, who is president of Denison’s chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, cited the profound academic achievement of the Class of 2013 Phi Beta Kappa inductees.
President Knobel and Professor Joan Krone, director of the Gilpatrick Center, then congratulated students in recognition of their performance in competitive national scholarship and special awards programs, including Abdulkadir “Abdi” Ali ’13 (East Boston, Mass.) and Shiyu “Amy” Huang ’13 (Chongqing, China), Davis Project for Peace; Taylor Frame ’14 (Granville, Ohio), Benjamin Gilman Scholarship; Nathaniel Kell ’13 (Upper Arlington, Ohio), National Science Foundation Grant Honorable Mention; Rachel Loper ’13 (Dublin, Ohio), Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship to both Germany and Austria; Hannah Minifie ’13 (Dalton, Mass.), Finalist for Jack Kent Cooke Graduate Arts Award; Jennifer Reyes ’15 (East Boston, Mass.), Humanity in Action Fellowship; Stetson Thacker ’14 (Valley View, Ohio), Honorable Mention for a Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship; Annelise Thompson ’13 (Flintridge, Calif.), Fulbright Research Grant to Germany; Courtney Vinopal ’13 (Park Ridge, Ill.), French Government English Teaching Assistantship through Fulbright; and Evan Woodnorth ’16 (Whitefish Bay, Wis.), Critical Language Scholarship to Turkey.
And finally, in one of the most anticipated moments of the Convocation, the Class of 2013 President’s Medalists were announced by Andy Katz, associate professor of political science and chair of the faculty.
The purpose of the medals is to celebrate the many dimensions of excellence that students achieve. They are awarded for intellectual achievement with some combination of service to the community, contribution to the arts, enlargement of our global perspective, athletic accomplishment, leadership and contributions to community discourse. The President’s Medal is Denison’s most prestigious student honor.
Seven students, all seniors, were honored this year for stellar achievement: Katherine Elizabeth Kloster of Ballwin, Mo.; Hannah Michelle Frank of Mason, Ohio; Sara McKenna Livingston of Erie, Pa.; Abdulkadir “Abdi” Mohamed Ali of East Boston, Mass.; Shiyu “Amy” Huang of Chongqing, China; Cullen Spencer Marshall ofLouisville, Ky.; and Nathaniel Brian Kell of Upper Arlington, Ohio.
During the ceremony, Jolyn Tsai ’13 from Dublin, Ohio, performed Claude Debussy’s “La puerta del Vino” and Shelley Li ’15 from Rego Park, N.Y., played the chapel bells. The event concluded with the singing of “To Denison,” the college’s alma mater.
Note: For more coverage of the week’s many events, including the dedication of the Mitchell Center, the unveiling of Dale Knobel’s presidential portrait, and Sen. Olympia Snowe’s campus visit for the Lugar Symposium, check TheDEN next week.