Graceland’s 116th Commencement Convocation was held on Sunday, May 19, and began at 10 a.m. in the Eugene E. and Julia Travis Closson Physical Education Center. A total of 649 students from 15 countries graduated, with 376 earning baccalaureate degrees and 295 earning master’s degrees.
Honorary doctorates were conferred upon guest speakers Ramon LeRoy Chase, an accomplished aeronautical engineer, and Arliss Howard, an internationally known actor, writer, director and producer.
Before Ramon LeRoy Chase embarked upon his brilliant aeronautical engineering career, he spent two formative years at Graceland, making rocket fuel in the basement of Zimmerman and mopping floors in the dining hall. Chase’s message to the graduates was simple: A little determination goes a long way toward achieving your goals. The recently retired Chase told the graduates: “My journey has ended, I’m in the twilight of my life, and I’m turning this over to you. Don’t say it can’t be done. It’s amazing what people can do when they set their goals high and don’t take no for an answer.”
Following Chase’s hooding, Arliss Howard received his honorary doctorate from President Sellars. Howard was born and raised in Independence, Mo. He later attended Columbia College in Columbia, Mo., and trained at the prestigious Actors’ Studio in New York. Howard is the son of Richard “Dick” Howard ’52 and Barbara (Peavy) ’49 Howard, who were both in attendance that morning. Richard and Barbara Howard have long histories of distinguished service to the Community of Christ and to the University. Debra Winger, an accomplished actress and Howard’s wife of 17 years, was also in attendance.
This past fall Howard served as a Guest Artist at Graceland, directing and performing in Thornton Wilder’s American classic Our Town. This play was produced at Homecoming as the inaugural production in the JR Theatre in the newly expanded Shaw Center. During his six-week residency in Lamoni, Howard shared his prodigious talents with Graceland theatre students and members of the community.
“Arliss’s passion for acting, directing, and writing has inspired and motivated those fortunate enough to work with him,” said President Sellars. “He brought professional-level acting and directing to our university. His presence on our campus has given Graceland students and local community members the extremely rare opportunity to work with a multi-talented artist in the intimate setting of our new theatre.”
Howard’s message to the class of 2013 avoided the usual graduation day-speech platitudes and urged each individual to blaze his or her own path. “I’m not in the advice or recommending game,” said Howard, illustrating his point with a cautionary tale about letting others make decisions for you. Howard’s story was about a man who comes to a fork in the road, encounters a talking horse, and takes the horse’s advice on which way to go. The story illustrated Howard’s message to the graduates: “This Commencement is no different from any other day of your life, and what you decide to do with that is either a curse or a blessing,” said Howard. “Just do what you can with what presents itself, don’t sweat it, and don’t feel like you have to go out and beat the world.”
Following Howard’s speech, the Alumni Award for Excellence in Teaching was presented by Alumni Board President Samuel G. Smalldon to Michele Dickey-Kotz, Associate Professor of Education.
Dr. Parris R. Watts, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty, conferred Professor Emeritus status upon Jerome D. DeNuccio, Ph.D., Professor of English. DeNuccio was nominated for the Alumni Award in Teaching Excellence three times before winning the award in 2005.
President Sellars conferred a posthumous degree upon Kori L. Clark, who transferred to Graceland University during the fall of 2010.
Before master’s and baccalaureate degrees were conferred upon the 2013 graduates, the winners of the Gold Seal for Scholarship were announced. The Gold Seal for Scholarship is given to students who have earned a straight 4.0 grade point average. It is the highest academic award given at the University. Dr. Gary Heisserer, Dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences, presented the award to Patrick Treece (Physical Education) of Lee’s Summit, Mo.; Alison Thomas (Art: Studio) of San Jose, Calif.; and Jami Ruckman (Biology, Chemistry and Math) of Independence, Mo.
Benjamin Vinck, Student Government President, closed the ceremony with a benediction. At the 2013 Baccalaureate Ceremony held the day before, Vinck accepted the 2013 Student Life Award for his extraordinary campus leadership.
Following Vinck’s benediction, students streamed out of the Closson Center onto the grassy hillside to celebrate in the clear, balmy weather. Congratulations to the Class of 2013!
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