It was a busy weekend at Graceland when we graduated 709 students and alumnus JR Shaw and Carol Shaw were on hand to break ground for the $16 million renovation and expansion of our performing arts showplace, the Shaw Center.
We really had two commencements this year. Our great graduates joined the ranks of honored Graceland alumni at a memorable Commencement Convocation keynoted with humor and sage advice by Iowa’s U.S. Senator Tom Harkin. And, JR Shaw delivered a stirring speech to a large Shaw Center audience during festivities marking the ‘commencement’ of construction on one of the most ambitious and dramatic infrastructure projects in Graceland history.
The Shaw Center Groundbreaking
JR Shaw, Graceland Class of 1956, his wife Carol, and the Shaw family, have presented Graceland with a tremendous gift that will fund the transformational work on the Shaw Center during the next 14 months. Graceland President John Sellars, along with Board of Trustees Chair Ken McClain, and many members of the Board, shared in the historic ceremonies that included testimony by grateful students and a dazzling musical number by Maestro Jack Ergo and sophomore singing sensation Angela Jensen. Later that evening Ergo presented a one-man piano concert – Rhapsody in Blue. It will be the last in the Shaw Center for more than a year.
Visual Art Professor Rob Stephens and English Professor Brian White had created a film documenting history of the Shaw Center, and more importantly, what our regional performing arts hub has meant to the community, and generations of students, and all Gracelanders. The excellent film was both a tribute to the Shaw family and a celebration of how the world-class facility has transformed students’ lives for 30 years.
When President Sellars announced the gift, the Shaws received a thunderous, standing ovation. Both JR and Carol spoke to the audience, Carol recounting the family’s great fortune in life and speaking eloquently of the responsibility that comes with such a fortune. JR spoke forcefully of the years he worked with Graceland administration and architects to fine-tune his vision, and his family’s vision, of how a transformed Shaw Center would look and function. His was a speech full of emotion that resonated with many Gracelanders in attendance, including former presidents Bill and Barbara Higdon.
Professor Emeritus Oliver ‘Ollie’ Houston played a rousing piece on our famous Casavant organ, a fitting final performance for the mighty Casavant until the construction is complete. Houston retired in 2005 after 48 years teaching at Graceland. Ollie and the Casavant were like a single instrument, booming a powerful, joyful celebration of history throughout the Shaw Center auditorium. The Casavant organ was a gift from the Shaw family in 1995.
Community of Christ President Steve Veazey, among other dignitaries, was on hand to celebrate the occasion with a speech commemorating the Shaw Center’s importance over the years.
A Rainy-Day Commencement Convocation
It rained, rained, rained before, during and after the Sunday morning Commencement Convocation in the Eugene E. and Julia Travis Closson Athletic Center. Iowa Congressman Leonard Boswell, a 1955 Graceland alumnus, introduced keynote speaker Senator Harkin, noting the senator’s decades-long commitment to Iowans and the nation, and his tremendous military record.
Harkin mimicked Late Night TV host David Letterman by coining his own Top 10 list for graduates to remember. He had the crowd of more than 3,000 in the Closson Center, especially the graduates, laughing one minute and considering their futures and commitments to society and family the next. The students’ favorite on the Top 10 list was, “Have fun!”
Duane Sandage, entrepreneur, successful businessman, and true friend to Graceland, was awarded an honorary doctorate during Commencement. The nephew of Charles Sandage ’23, namesake of our C.H. Sandage School of Business, it has been Duane Sandage who has championed our nationally-recognized SIFE team, and our Sandage School of Business. Duane gave a heartfelt address to those gathered, including his wife Alpha, and his family. It was a highlight of the morning. Duane facilitated a significant gift to Graceland two years ago to found our Sandage School of Business.
Senator Harkin and Congressman Boswell made a formidable duo, but the real emotion came when hundreds of beaming students walked across the wide stage, accepting a diploma and congratulatory handshake from President Sellars, moments they will never forget. Camera flashes made the bleachers look like Rock Stars were performing down front. In a way, that’s what it was. Hundreds of Graceland’s stars of the future, one at a time, brought cheers, shrieks and applause from their friends and family in the crowd. It is a scene that repeats itself each year at this time, but it always seems like the first time.
So what if the graduates, in caps and gowns, got soaked when they emerged from the Closson Center. Students took off their shoes and danced in the puddles to celebrate what will surely be one of the great occasions of their lives. It was a good, wet, fun, time for all! Caps flew into the rain-filled sky as if to say, “You can’t stop us now. We are off to change the world!”
Visual Arts Professor Julia Franklin received this year’s Excellence in Teaching Award from the Alumni Board of Directors, presented by that group’s new president, 1989 alumna Karla Fennick. Julia celebrates her 10-year anniversary teaching at Graceland this year. She was integral to the planning and opening of the Helene Center for the Visual Arts, she is an outstanding teacher, and perhaps one of the finest artists to ever teach at Graceland. Her one-person exhibitions, Landscapes, and A Vision in White, have been among the most outstanding shows ever in the Constance Gallery. Congratulations to Julia, from her students, faculty, administration and alumni, and friends of the university. You are a shining jewel in our crown.
A total of 709 graduates this year represented 38 majors. There were 324 Master’s degrees and 400 Bachelor’s degrees conferred. The graduates hailed from 43 states and 15 countries. Fifteen students earned both BSN and MSN degrees.
Seniors Kirk Tabor and Rachael Zimmerman received the 2011 Student Life Awards at the Baccalaureate service Saturday night. Dean of Students Marian Killpack waxed poetic about these two standout graduates who have made such a difference during their years at Graceland. About Rachael, a faculty member shared, “Rachael has left a legacy at Graceland University. Her legacy is about stepping up and doing without being asked, about leading without considering the recognition, and, above all things, for Rachael, it is about excellence.” About Kirk, it was said, “It is ‘connections’ for which Kirk will be most remembered. He connected us to each other across campus, across town, and across continents.” Congratulations to you both, Rachael and Kirk, and good luck with your bright futures.
A Little Shaw Center History
It was the Shaw family who funded the original Shaw Center construction in 1982. Their legacy of generosity and passion for Graceland continues today with the largest single gift in university history. The project will transform the entire front section of the Shaw Center, creating a new black-box theatre, a new 150-seat recital hall, an exterior seating area, a stunning new atrium/lobby and gathering area, a long, north-facing corridor/art gallery, and much more. The parking lot between the Shaw Center and the Higdon Administration Building will disappear. The center of campus will be entirely pedestrian. A new parking lot will be built just east of Graybill Hall.
The Shaw Center is named for JR Shaw’s parents, Francis and Lottie Shaw. It is to honor his parents that JR and Carol, along with his late brother Les Shaw ‘50, and his wife Lois Phelps Shaw ’50, funded construction of the original Shaw Center. Hundreds of music, theatre and world-class entertainment events have taken place at the Shaw Center during the last 30 years, drawing crowds of arts enthusiasts from across the region. Upon completion, the transformed building will be one the finest performance arts centers in the Midwest, offering tremendous facilities for Graceland students to discover and share their talents.
Read much more about the Shaw family, the Shaw Center, and see construction progress, in the September issue of Graceland’s alumni magazine, Horizons, when we will celebrate the family and their lasting legacy to Graceland.
Graceland University was established in 1895 as a non-sectarian liberal arts institution of higher learning. It operates campuses in Lamoni, Iowa and Independence, Missouri. Graceland offers degree completion programs at three other sites: the Kirkwood Community College campus in Cedar Rapids, Iowa; the Indian Hills Community College campus in Centerville, Iowa; and the North Central Missouri College campus in Trenton, Missouri.
Students from nearly every state and 40 nations choose from more than 50 academic majors and programs at Graceland. For information about attending Graceland, please view our Admissions website: www.graceland.edu/admissions/, call 866-GRACELAND, or write to Graceland University, Admissions Office, 1 University Place, Lamoni, IA 50140.
(Photography by Parker Johnson, Graceland staff photographer)
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