The Next Chapter

A Message of Hope for Our Graduates

Over the course of the pandemic, Graceland has learned to get creative in the ways that it celebrates its graduates.

Horizons Spring 2022 Home
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Features - Spring 22

April 15, 2022 | Shane Adams

From hosting its first virtual commencement exercise in the fall of 2020 to celebrating outside with the Spring 2021 graduates, the past few ceremonies have been anything but standard.

One constant, however, is the incredible quality of graduates that Graceland continues to yield. In a study done by, our graduates – more than any other university in Iowa – consider their careers “high-meaning,” which shows that they are extremely interested in and believe they are making the world a better place.

“One of my favorite things about serving as president is the opportunity I have to shake each graduate’s hand as they walk across the stage at commencement,” said Patricia H. Draves, PhD, Graceland University President. “While our virtual ceremony was completely necessary for safety purposes during the pandemic, I welcomed the return to our in- person experience.”

Graceland’s graduates for both the spring and fall ceremonies of 2020 were celebrated virtually, so all were invited to attend an in-person ceremony in 2021. Several took up that offer, both in the Spring 2021 Lamoni ceremony as well as the Fall 2021 ceremony held in the Community of Christ Auditorium in Independence, Missouri. The challenges that each student has overcome in achieving their goals were acknowledged and applauded by the guest speakers at each commencement.

FALL 2020 (Virtual)

In December 2020, Graceland held a virtual commencement for its graduate-level and School of Nursing students. Broadcast via Facebook and YouTube, the conferring of degrees, while untraditional, was no less meaningful as three members of Graceland’s faculty shared brief thoughts on the University’s core values of learning, wholeness, and community. Gleazer School of Education faculty member Montel Evans, MEd, encouraged students to allow their minds to grow in the silence that occurs before thought. Dr. Kathy Lenz from the Graceland School of Nursing called the students to action in a world that needs their gifts. Dr. Tony Chvala-Smith walked the graduates through Graceland’s foundational roots of community, challenging them to think of community as a verb rather than as merely a noun.

SPRING 2021 (Huntsman Field — Lamoni, Ia.)

The Spring 2021 ceremony was held outside to give people the ability to social distance amidst the pandemic. During the ceremony, Dr. Vince Lewis was awarded an honorary doctorate and shared these words with the graduates: “The world is waiting for you, the world is looking for you, the world needs you.” The ceremony also featured brief remarks from three key members of the Graceland community – Zack Mullins, Men’s Wrestling Head Coach, Tonya Coffelt, Associate Professor of Education, and Daryn Nowlin, Class of 2021 graduate. Coach Mullins led a celebratory group chant, “Can-I-Get-A-Ric-Flair- One-Time “WHOOO!” Coffelt reminded students just how strongthey are, especially in facing the challenges that they over

came while students. Nowlin talked about the endurance required for students to endure the COVID experience on campus and closed with a moving and personalized performance of The Beatles’ “Let it Be.”

FALL 2021 (Community of Christ Auditorium – Independence, Mo.)

Graceland alum Jill Jensen ’88 Chadwick is Director of Media Relations and the Medical News Network at the University of Kansas Health System. She shared her experience of over four decades in broadcasting. Her four points for graduates were: 1-Hold on to your passion for your profession; 2-It’s okay not to know everything; 3-Never stop learning; and 4-Wherever you’re going next, it’s going to make a difference and you’re going to impact people’s lives.

The Numbers

650 The total number of degrees awarded for the full 2020-21 academic year and part of the 2021-22 academic year (summer 2021 to present).




Faculty Awards

Alumni Award for Excellence in Teaching

In chronological order, from left:

Fall 2020 Elise Hector, Phd, RN, CPN Assistant Dean, School of Nursing and Assistant Professor of Nursing

Spring 2021 Steve Glazer, PhD Professor of History

Fall 2021 Jane Garrow, MSN, RN, ’13 Assistant Professor of Nursing

Honorary Doctorate Spring ’21

Vincent Lewis, PhD

Exceptional Service Award Spring ’21

In order, from left:

Catherine “Cat” Clifford, PhD Associate Professor of English

Shawnna Cooper ’99 Jackson, MSN, RN, PHNA-BC Assistant Professor of Nursing

Sharon Little-Stoetzel, RN, PhD, CCRP, CNE Professor of Nursing

Faculty Emeriti Spring ’21

In order from left:

Dennis McElroy, EdD, ’81, Brian Smith, PhD, Teri Nixon ’78 Foster, PhD, David Devonis, PhD

Left: After the Spring 2021 ceremony on Huntsman Field, graduates gathered with their loved ones and posted for celebratory photos.

Right: Graduate Kellen Noa ’21 embellished his cap and gown with a meaningful phrase to represent the personal growth he experienced at Graceland. Inspired by the anime series “Naruto,” the Japanese characters translate to “the fourth lit soul.” As an independent student, he was able to discover his passions and create his own connections of family during his time in Lamoni.

Left: Speaker Jill Jensen ’88 Chadwick used her reporting skills to share several “pearls of wisdom” with the Fall 2021 graduates.

Right: Graduate Daryn Nowlin ’21 performed The Beatles’ song “Let It Be.”



 Left: Master of Science in Nursing graduates were all smiles after the Fall 2021 ceremony!

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