After a rainy Christmas and a snowy Easter in Granville, Denison's Class of 2007 got a well-deserved payback as the weather gods smiled on them on Sunday, May 13, a day to celebrate mothers and graduates. Denison's 166th annual Commencement that marked completion of the University's 176th year, took place on a picture-perfect Mothers' Day, with outdoor ceremonies held on the lawn of the Lower Campus and Fine Arts Center. Brilliant blue skies and sunshine were the order of the day for the students, faculty, family and friends who filled the 5,550 chairs set up for the occasion.
This class of 550 graduates, the largest in nearly three decades, included recipients of eight Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees, 70 Bachelor of Science degrees and 472 Bachelor of Arts degrees. Valedictorians of the class were Elaine Binkley (B.S., Biology) and Alisha Visan (B.A., Sociology/Anthropology). Salutatorian was Scott Wedemeyer (B.A., Philosophy). Shoulder cords of red, silver and gold identified the 80 cum laude, 29 magna cum laude and 35 summa cum laude graduates, respectively. Seventy students wore bronze medals in recognition of their completing the requirements of Denison's interdisciplinary Honors Program, and the seven President's Medalists could be recognized with their gold medals (Samuel Benham, Elaine Binkley, Erin Colbert-White, Kristin Cox, Jacob Neiheisel, Evan Starr and Laurel Symes). The Class of 2007 also included 31 members of Phi Beta Kappa, the historic academic honorary.
Formal Commencement activities began on Saturday afternoon, with Baccalaureate services at 1:30 and 4:00 in Swasey Chapel and the President's reception for graduates and their guests in between. The Baccalaureate service, with this year's theme Wonder, is one of the longest standing traditions of the school. It is intended to represent many of the recognized religious and spiritual traditions that are observed at Denison. While acknowledging the Christian heritage of the school, the service recognized students of other traditions to promote the pluralistic community that is the Denison of today. The ceremony included liturgical dancers, pianists, a singing bowl and American Indian flute, spirit kites, student readings from Hafiz, Mary Oliver and Barbara Kingsolver, Psalm 150 in Hebrew presented by Student Rabbi Melissa Simon, the Baccalaureate Choir with Balinese instruments and an address by Mark R. Orten, University Chaplain and Director of Religious Life.
Sunday morning was mild and sunny as the seniors and their families gathered on the Academic Quad for the traditional Faculty Coffee. By 11:30, the soon-to-be graduates had assembled on the lawn next to Swasey Chapel, donning their robes and mortarboards, pinning on shoulder cords and replacing lost tassels. Groups gathered on the chapel steps for one final photo together and Provost Keith Boone called out marching orders from the steps of a tall ladder. Led by Class Co-Presidents Whitney Adams and Lauren Snider who carried the class banner, the group marched two-by-two past Doane Administration Building and down the 143 steps past Cleveland Hall to West College Street where the parade paused for photos and the start of the processional music. The Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks by George Frideric Handel were directed by Department of Music faculty Andrew Carlson and Ching-Chu Hu and performed by a group of brass and string players who were assembled on the second floor balcony of Burton Hall of Music. The seniors marched under a canopy of class banners that dated back to 1912 and then through the double column of brightly garbed faculty in their academic attire, as hugs and applause abounded. After everyone was seated, an original Fanfare for the Class of 2007 by Assistant Professor Ching-Chu Hu was played.
President Dale T. Knobel rang the University bell to signal the start of the ceremony and Vice Chair of the Denison Board of Trustees Thomas Hoaglin welcomed the class to their membership in the Society of the Alumni. President Knobel reminded them of the changes that have occurred during their four-year tenure at Denison and congratulated them on their remarkable accomplishments. Senior speaker Julie Rogers wished her classmates a life "filled with 'soulquakes,' those experiences that tear people down only so that they can rebuild themselves stronger and more resilient - with more impassioned beliefs and a stronger sense of self." Class co-presidents Adams and Snider announced that 54 percent of the Class of 2007 had contributed to the class gift, a new school record. Chair of the faculty Joan Krone congratulated retirees Desmond Hamlet, Professor Emeritus of English; John Kessler, Associate Professor Emeritus of Modern Languages; and Bahram Tavakolian, Professor Emeritus of Sociology/Anthropology, for their contributions to the college and their collective 89 years of service.
Associate Professor of Psychology Gina Dow presented acclaimed developmental psychologist and founder of Head Start Edward Zigler for an honorary doctor of science degree which was conferred by President Knobel. Former Recent Student Trustee Greg Holden '03 presented Douglas Holtz-Eakin '80, widely respected economist and former head of the Congressional Budget Office, for an honorary doctor of laws, which was also conferred by President Knobel. Holtz-Eakin's Commencement address, titled "Step 1: Get a Job," provided a title that delighted the parents in the audience. He suggested that the students continue to remind themselves of the things they stand for today, and the special community that is Denison, and its commitment to accomplishing things.
Provost Boone presented the Class of 2007 for their degrees of Bachelor of Fine Arts, Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Arts, respectively. Associate Provost Donald Schilling read the names and Latin honors of each of the 550 graduates, 527 of whom received their diplomas from the president; twenty-three graduated in absentia. In his farewell charge to the Class of 2007, President Knobel exhorted them to find in the diversity around them the richness of the human condition, to draw upon the variety of perspectives given to them by their liberal education and to discover that there is more that brings people together than pulls them apart. The ceremony concluded with singing of the alma mater, To Denison, led by senior members of the Denison University choirs.
As the notes of the recessional music filled the afternoon, the jubilant members of the Class of 2007 threw their caps into the air with the knowledge they had successfully completed an important part of their lives and were now pointed confidently toward the future.