Commencement 2016

Graceland University’s 119th Commencement ceremonies began with the baccalaureate service in the Shaw Family Auditorium Saturday evening. Dr. Stassi Cramm, Community of Christ presiding bishop, gave the sermon on the Manifest Greatness, the theme of the evening. The auditorium stage was set with towering trees and stars. Cramm challenged all to reach for the stars and echoed Marianne Williamson’s quote, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”

Later that evening the president of the Alumni Board of Directors, Sam Smalldon, led the candlelighting ceremony, where concentric circles of parents and alumni passed candles to the newest alumni. Three students – Hailey Larson, Sarah Mongrain and Dylan Foster – shared what they will miss most from their “Graceland Experience.”

On Sunday morning, the Commencement Convocation began with the flag processional and a welcome from President John Sellars. Honorary degrees were conferred upon president of the Salgo-Noren Foundation, Dr. Miklos P. Salgo, and guest speaker, Dr. Calvin French. Dr. French gave an encouraging address to the candidates, acknowledging that they are now among only 6.7 percent of the world’s population who have earned baccalaureate degrees. He told stories of his life’s journey and challenged the candidates to “go the extra mile and persevere toward their goals.”

The Alumni Award for Excellence in Teaching was given to Professor Sarah Blessing, the Excellence in Scholarly Achievement was given to Professor Dave Devonis, and the Exceptional Service Award was given to Professor Gary Heisserer. Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dr. Tammy Everett, conferred Professor Emeritus Status on both Barbara and Bob Mesle, and then the waiting graduation candidates crossed the stage to be given their recognition. Associate Professor of Music Jack Ergo played the Star Wars theme as the graduates were ushered out into their waiting families’ embrace.


Miklos P. Salgo
Honorary Doctorate

Miklos (Mickey) Salgo serves as president of the Salgo-Noren Foundation, a nonprofit foundation that promotes education, established by his father, Nicolas. His family’s commitment to supporting educational opportunities has been a personal endeavor in Salgo’s own life. He earned a Bachelor of Science at Cornell University, a Doctor of Philosophy at City University of New York, and a Doctor of Medicine at New York University.

His research was instrumental in getting three new AIDS drugs approved which has changed AIDS from a uniformly fatal disease to a manageable chronic disease for many patients.

Now retired, Salgo and his wife, Roxann, live in northern California and are active in local organizations and conservation projects.

Dr. Calvin V. French
Doctorate of Humane Letters

Dr. Calvin V. French has made a positive difference to people in all walks of life. For three decades, he was the official liaison for the Community of Christ to Congress, government agencies and foreign embassies of nations where the church has missions. In 2014, he was appointed by the church as its first World Ambassador.

An alumnus of Graceland, French also holds academic degrees from the University of Iowa, Temple University (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) and Drake University (Des Moines, Iowa). For 12 years, he served on Graceland’s Board of Trustees and as a charter board member of its Seminary.

David Devonis
Excellence in Scholarly Achievement

Dr. David Devonis holds a PhD from the University of New Hampshire. During the 2015-16 academic year, he wrote five academic papers, two of which were published in revered journals, the other three have been submitted for publication and are currently under review. Devonis has been invited to appear at the International Society for the History of Behavioral and Social Sciences and present his works at this year’s conference. In January of this year, the American Library Association awarded Devonis’ book titled, History of Psychology 101, the Outstanding Academic Title of 2014. Devonis said of his recognition: “I see history like a road map to the past, which is always there for us to explore, and from which we can always return to the present with whatever we find useful on our travels. My goal in writing this book was to provide a road map to make the past 80 years of psychology accessible for today’s psychologists – clinical, applied and experimental alike – and I am thrilled that Choice has recognized this effort.”

Congratulations, Dr. David Devonis, and many thanks for contributions to the field of psychology and representing Graceland University so well.

Gary Heisserer
Outstanding Service

Gary Heisserer chaired the General Education Committee this year, served on the Curriculum Task Force, the Program Review Committee, the Student Learning Improvement Committee, and took the lead role in planning and coordinating the five new courses that were delivered in England this summer as a study abroad opportunity for Graceland students, one of which Heisserer taught. While his service on all of these committees is commendable, chairing the General Education Committee during a year in which the entire program was being recreated is appreciated most by his colleagues. One colleague wrote, “Not only has Gary impacted the Graceland community through facilitating the development of a new core curriculum, but the leadership qualities he’s modeled for others will have a lasting impact as well.” Congratulations, Gary, and we send you our sincerest gratitude for your outstanding service to Graceland University and the community it houses.

Sara Blessing
Excellence in Teaching

Sara Blessing received a bachelor’s degree from Luther College, a master’s from Oklahoma State University and is a candidate for a PhD from the University of Iowa. Blessing receives this distinctive honor for her work within the Graceland University Chamber and Concert choirs, as well as choral conducting and choral methods, diction, vocal pedagogy, aural training and applied lessons. Though she prides herself on being a conductor, vocalist, pianist and clarinetist, her reputation as an educator and instructor precedes her with students saying things like “she accepts nothing but excellence,” and “she consistently goes above and beyond for her students in whatever way she can.”

Blessing’s influence and compassion for students, both in and outside the classroom, are what qualifies her for this award. Graceland University is grateful for her contributions to the community and proud to award her the Excellence in Teaching Award.