by Dale Thomas Knobel, B.A, Ph.D.
Do you remember August 28th, 1998? I do. We, members of the Class of 2002 (and colleagues of the faculty and many parents, too), were sweating out the "Opening Convocation" in the Mitchell Center. I remember it because I recall sharing the feeling with you of being "new" — for you, new to college and to Denison, for me new to Denison, anyway. In fact, at that time I observed that we shared some other things (and I quote from my remarks of that day): "a little anxiety ... a lot of wondering about who our friends will be; considerable curiosity about whether what we're doing here will be harder than what we've tackled before; harboring hope that people will give us a chance — probably more than one — knowing that we'll make some mistakes; full of questions about how our experience, our past experience, will serve us in this present situation."
"We also, I hope, (I said on that first day), together feel the excitement of these times because we expect in days to come to test ourselves against new demands and acquire new skills and new disciplines by doing so. We're excited because we have — we expect, at least, that we'll have — the opportunity to remake ourselves, just a little, anyway, from who we were before we got here. And we hope that that remaking will be for the better. We're excited because we expect that there are other adventures in our lives beyond this experience, for which this part of our lives is a further preparation."
I hope those words ring true for you today as I hope they rang true four academic years ago. Only you can judge how successfully you soldiered up to new challenges. And you are the best judges of the kind of persons — now about-to-be college graduates — that you've made yourselves into. By voting to award you your degrees, the Denison faculty has at least certified that you have demonstrated a grasp of new knowledge and new skills. But we can certainly all agree that today as much as in August 1998 other adventures in your lives await, other adventures for which we — families, professors and officers of the college — hope that Denison has in important ways prepared you.
There are, of course, many outward marks of your preparation. Consider your individual and collective accomplishments over the last four years! You number 489 graduates in all — and you will earn 491 degrees today (Nicole Dunn and Erin Roberts have ensured that by earning, respectively, a B.S. in Chemistry combined with a B.A. in German; and a B.S. in an Individually Designed Major with a B.A. in Studio Art!). Conversely, do we have to subtract half of the degrees for the three sets of twins who are graduating today — the Oby and Salak sisters and the Rhoads brothers? The Class of 2002 will leave campus today with 10 Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees, 70 Bachelor of Science Degrees and 411 Bachelor of Arts Degrees. Unlike last year, when there were a record four graduates sharing Valedictorian honors with identical 3.98 cumulative grade point averages, there is just one Valedictorian this year, Robyn Bowers, double major in English and Latin, but then her 4.0 was hard to match! There are, however, two Salutatorians, Nathan Cook, earning a degree in Economics, and Matthew Alsip, earning a degree in Political Science, whose 3.99 GPAs passed last year's Valedictorians by. One-hundred and thirty-one of you, in fact, have prospered so well in your studies that you are graduating with Latin honors — the various notations of cum laude listed in your programs. And yesterday morning, I observed the induction of no fewer than 35 members of the Class of 2002 into Phi Beta Kappa, the historic national academic honor society.
It gives me special pleasure that Denison is awarding a Bachelor of Arts degree in Geology today to a colleague, Christy Cox Trager, departmental secretary of the Political Science Department, who took her first college courses in the 1970s at the University of Cincinnati. And I'm also delighted that Keith Loughlin of Pataskala, who was a first-year student at Denison in 1982, though now almost 20 years into a career, thought it was important enough to finish his degree that he is back today, accompanied by his family, to receive his newly completed B.A. in Political Science.
On Friday, I had the pleasure of joining Dr. Tony Lisska in recognizing 67 graduates who went an extra mile by fulfilling the graduation requirements of Denison's interdisciplinary Honors Program. Dr. Lisska, I think, beamed with special pride not only for this class of Honors Program graduates but also, as he passes on the Directorship of the Honors Program to Dr. Kent Maynard after 15 years of leadership, for the opportunities that he helped create for so many men and women to add layers of intellectual richness to their educational experience at Denison. And just a few weeks ago, 83 of you — with great sighs that I could hear in my office across the hall and through a couple of doors from the place where you submitted them — completed senior honors projects, which are the result of sustained independent scholarship and close collaboration with faculty mentors.
Several of you have represented your classmates well by attracting national attention for your academic achievements. Matthew Ridout earned a Fulbright assistantship for Austria and Laura Moon the same for Germany. Amanda Heintz is currently on hold as a Fulbright alternate for Macao, hoping that funding will come through for that program. Earlier, Ilana Schonfeld-Hicks was named Denison's first Udall Foundation Scholar in Environmental Studies, and Nicole Dunn was the college's second Goldwater Foundation Scholar in the Sciences. Christopher Anderson received Honorable Mention recognition from the National Science Foundation in its incredibly competitive Fellowship program. Kate Flikkema, a member of a women's varsity swimming squad that won Denison's first NCAA national championship last year, was awarded a prestigious NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship and her teammate, Mollie Parrish, was nationally recognized as an alternate for this rare award (parenthetically, Denison is one of only two Division III colleges among the top-10 producers of NCAA Postgraduate scholarships, sitting alongside such larger schools as Stanford, Princeton, Notre Dame, UCLA, Michigan and the Air Force Academy). Robyn Bowers, valued assistant coach of the women's basketball team and sports information assistant, earned Denison's first-ever Sears Directors' Cup Postgraduate Scholarship, awarded for academic and leadership excellence by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics.
As these last awards indicate, members of the Class of 2002 have seized opportunities to challenge themselves outside the classroom as well as within. A number of today's graduates played instrumental roles in initiating Big Red's Big Day two year ago, which this spring put more than 300 Denisonians out at 28 Central Ohio sites for a service blitz, dramatizing the more than 13,000 hours of off-campus service put in this last year by over 500 students through the two dozen committees of the Denison Community Association. Graduate Mike Haudenschild has had such an impact upon the Granville Schools by investing his time and knowledge in the electronic information services facilities of the school system that he was recognized by the local business community with the Kussmaul Award for community service. Representative of the commitment of Denison students to add to the quality of life worldwide is the initiative of a student group — H.O.P.E. "Help Our Planet Earth" — which has given graduating seniors and other participants in these commencement ceremonies the opportunity to voluntarily affirm their intention to consider the social and environmental implications of the lives they lead by the wearing of green ribbons.
On the strength of conference championships this spring in men's lacrosse, women's tennis and softball, and second or third place finishes across the year in thirteen other sports, Denison will win its fifth consecutive North Coast Athletic Conference All-Sports Trophy. We dominate our conference of 10 colleges because we observe the founding principles of the conference which call for equitable support of men's and women's teams and equal support of all sports rather than emphasis upon a couple of marquee squads. Both the men's and women's tennis teams and our softball squad participated in NCAA national tournaments this weekend, and members of the women's outdoor track and field team will compete in the national championship meet later this month. Earlier in the year, men's and women's cross-country, men's and women's swimming, and the women's soccer team participated in NCAA tournament competition. At the NCAA Women's Swimming Championships, seniors Alyssa Heidinger, Kate Flikkema and Mollie Parrish were members of the national champion 400-yard medley relay, and Mollie defended her national title in the 100-yard butterfly. In addition to the NCAA Postgraduate Scholarships I previously mentioned, Academic All-American honors were earned by basketball captain Charlie DeLacey, women's soccer standout Meredith Rieder, and swimmers Trent Johnson and Kate Flikkema. Matt Lebovits of the football squad, Lacy Ford of women's basketball and Megan Trau of women's soccer all received other national, regional and state academic honors.
Many Denison students thrive upon the combination of academic challenge, performance in the arts, athletic activity, off-campus service, and campus leadership in different proportions appropriate to the individual. Some pursue such combinations with such remarkable results that they earn the acclaim of faculty and staff and fellow students alike. The exemplars of this are recognized as President's Medalists. The Class of 2002 sports six honorees, who were formally recognized at the Academic Honors Awards Convocation in April. Representing the highest levels of leadership and achievement at the college are graduates-in-waiting Sarah Borron, Robyn Bowers, Nathan Cook, Jesse Eaves, Yaida Ford and Tom Hankinson. In a few minutes, they will lead the procession of classmates to receive their degrees.
As a class, 2002, you have accomplished much at Denison — much that builds in the rest of us an expectancy for your impact upon the century ahead, even though we cannot divine the future. Those of us on the faculty and staff of the college, and certainly you, yourselves, recognize that you do not come to this day of commencement entirely on our own. Consequently, before we move on with this ceremony, I'd like us to recognize a large and very special group of people who have made this day possible. We honor them for their commitment and sacrifices and thank them for their sustained love and support. We also dedicate this day to the memory of those parents, family members and supportive friends whose loss makes it inevitably less complete for some of you.
Members of the Class of 2002, would you please stand, turn toward your families who are here to celebrate your achievement, and join me and the faculty in expressing our appreciation to them with our applause.