The New England forecast threatened rain (again), but the sun came through for the 371 members of the Class of 2015 during Wheaton’s 180th Commencement on Saturday, May 16.
“Boy, do you deserve this day,” President Dennis M. Hanno told them, officiating his first Wheaton Commencement as president. “Four years of the weather from hell you have endured and a weather forecast that said it was going to rain on your parade, and this is what we get. You deserve it.”
“You have achieved a great deal,” he continued. “You are scholars in every field—from English and German to chemistry and economics. Your abilities have been recognized in numerous ways, from invitations to present your work at academic conferences across the country and some of the nation’s most prestigious scholarships, to outstanding job opportunities and admission to the top graduate schools in the U.S. and abroad. You have learned about other cultures through study and travel around the globe. You have contributed to education and arts programs in communities across the U.S. and around the world, running youth programs, tutoring beginning readers, teaching English and helping high school students prepare for college. And it is with gratitude that I note how your leadership and energy have enhanced our campus. …Bravo.”
As the graduates prepared to head out into the real world, Lisa Szarkowski ’90, vice president of humanitarian emergencies and executive communications for the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, offered them words of wisdom. Hold onto your empathy for the plight of others and never believe anyone who says you can’t change the world, the keynote speaker urged.
“The world will present you with plenty of occasions to be offended, wounded, outraged, defeated and exhausted. When we lose empathy, we become less human. We detach from other people. We start to think selfishly and often shortsightedly,” said Szarkowski.
“This applies to your personal relationships, your community and the world. We must keep our hearts and minds open. And I’m the first to admit this is scary and painful at times. But the upside is that you will have a fully human experience. You will understand that you are part of a larger human family that is far more alike than it is different.”
Szarkowski knows this firsthand. For more than a decade, she has led the U.S. Fund for UNICEF’s coordinated emergency team responses for major disasters, including the 2004 tsunami in South Asia, the 2006 earthquake in Pakistan and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, and the 2012 famine in the Horn of Africa.
During the Commencement ceremony, she received an honorary degree, as did three other individuals: Steven Hawley, a former NASA astronaut who flew on five U.S. Space Shuttle flights; David Wagner, an investment and business expert with deep experience in managing the finances of institutions of higher education; and Virginia Weil ’65 P’98, who retired as senior managing director of the Business Council for International Understanding, a nonprofit association that briefs U.S. and foreign ambassadors and diplomats, and supports American business in their international operations.
More than 400 alums were on campus to participate in Commencement Reunion Weekend, from 30 states and a number of countries, including Brazil, Canada, France and Germany. Special shoutouts from Hanno went to Elizabeth “Bettye” Noyes ’40, who was celebrating her 75th Reunion; and to Eleanor “Binky” Sullivan Finigan (who passed way on July 24), Suzanne “Sue” Weese Frank, Helen “Mittie” Mittlacher Erickson and Nancy “Woody” Woodruff Wheeler, members of the Class of 1945 celebrating their 70th Reunion.
Photos by Keith Nordstrom and Nicki Pardo