by University President Dale Knobel
This is the 168th Commencement of Denison University, but, members of the Class of 2009, you are graduating in the college’s 178th spring since its founding in the fall of 1831. There were no graduates, of course, in the first years of the college’s existence and a little thing called the Civil War interrupted the progress toward a degree for many students about a century and a half ago — thus the discrepancy.
In these last 178 years, Denison has evolved from a frontier academy to a leading undergraduate arts and sciences college with a national and even international reputation. It has not stood still during the last four years, either, and maybe just a few highlights of the changes around you will encourage you as about-to-be graduates to reflect upon the personal evolution you have experienced since you arrived here from high school. As I point out to graduates every year, since you arrived on campus, Class of 2009, about sixteen hundred other men and women with whom you shared this campus in the fall of 2005 — the sophomores, juniors, and seniors of your first year-- have already graduated and a similar number have taken their places in the classes that follow you. While at any point in the last four years, we have been a college of approximately 2100, you've actually crossed paths with, learned with and from, and made friends among approximately 4,000 Denisonians during your four years here, and your sense of comradeship will grow as you become reacquainted with them at reunions and at regional alumni activities in years to come.
Change has come to the faculty during your time at Denison, too. Not only have there been four years of retirements of accomplished senior faculty (though none this year), but twenty-five new professors joined the permanent Denison faculty since you arrived, bringing their own skills and energies to the classroom, laboratory, and studio. A strong and forward-looking college is always experiencing intellectual renewal.
Although you may have forgotten it, when you arrived on campus, Wright and Hayes Halls (then known as Upper and Lower Maple) and the two Elm Halls, had just opened, adding significantly to the campus’ stock of apartments with kitchens for student living. During your first year, the campus, indoors and out, was covered by a wireless data network, allowing access to the internet from just about everywhere, and new electronic classrooms have continued to pop up in academic buildings throughout your four years. The reference area of Doane Library was completely reconfigured as a “learning commons,” bringing together in one place resources for locating information either in print or digital form. In your time at Denison, Knapp Hall and Slayter Union received major renovations, as did Piper Stadium and Deeds Field, the baseball and softball complexes, and Curtis Dining Hall.
Nor will the campus freeze itself in time after your departure today and preserve itself unchanged as you begin to enjoy your new status as alumni/ae. Sixteen new tenure track professors will join us in the fall. And soon, of course, taking your place on campus will be some 640 members of the Class of 2013, men and women a little like you were in the fall of 2005, but different, too, already part of a whole new student generation with their own character, tastes, and perspectives. By the end of this summer, the truly remarkable Bryant Art Center in renewed and expanded Cleveland Hall on the hill behind me will open to faculty and returning students. No, Denison won't be EXACTLY the same each time you return to the hill. And I hope you wouldn't want it any other way; it will be better.
But these are just road marks of the changes that have come to you as women and men. There are certainly more profound indicators of those changes in the collective accomplishments of the Class of 2009. In all, you number 502 graduates and you have earned 3 Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees, 75 Bachelor of Science degrees, and 424 Bachelor of Arts degrees.
The valedictorian of the class is Cecila Whitney Murch, who has earned a B.S. in biology, and the co-salutatorians are Benjamin Braden Holder, who earned a B.A. in economics, and Michelle Mariko Oyakawa, a B.A. in sociology and anthropology. Actually, 137 of you have prospered so well in your studies that you are graduating with Latin honors--the various notations of cum laude listed in your program and recognized by different color shoulder cords on each recipient's gown. And yesterday, I participated in the induction of thirty-seven members of the Class into Phi Beta Kappa, the historic academic honor society — an unusually large number. On Friday, I had the pleasure of joining Dr. Kent Maynard and other faculty colleagues at a ceremony to recognize 55 graduates who challenged themselves by fulfilling the requirements of Denison's interdisciplinary Honors Program. And just a few weeks ago, no fewer than 81 of you submitted completed senior honors projects, which are the result of sustained independent scholarship and close collaboration with a faculty mentor.
Several of you have represented your classmates especially well by attracting national attention for your achievements. Megan Ansbro and Beza Ayalew have earned international Fulbright post-graduate research awards to universities in, respectively, Austria and Canada, and post-graduate teaching awards funded through different elements of the Fulbright program are taking Elyse Akhbari to Malyasia, Liz Cummings to France, and Sadie Orlowski to Germany. In addition, Ameena Ali and Carly Newman have been selected as French Government Teaching Assistants for 2009-10. Dana Meyer received a highly sought-after grant from the Davis United World Colleges Projects for Peace which will allow her to work on health care issues in Bolivia this summer, and many of you noticed the inclusion of Caiti Schroering in USA Today’s All-USA College Academic Team several weeks ago.
As these forms of recognition highlight, members of the Class of 2009 repeatedly seized opportunities to challenge themselves both in and out of the classroom. Many of today's graduates participated actively on one of the 26 service committees of the Denison Community Association (the DCA) or in the America Reads Program, providing this year alone more than 21,000 hours of documented service to area schools, communities, and social service agencies. Brandi Abrams, a volunteer leader in the America Reads program, and Trevor Smith, a Granville volunteer fire fighter and emergency medical technician, were singled out by the Granville Area Chamber of Commerce to share the annual Kussmaul Award for exceptional student service to the local community. And my hat is off to the hundreds of students, including many of you, who blended work and fun just a few weeks ago to raise nearly $50,000 for the American Cancer Society at Denison's own Relay for Life.
On the strength of top three finishes in eleven of twenty-two conference men's and women's varsity sports, including seven conference championships, Denison has just earned its unmatched eleventh North Coast Athletic Conference All-Sports Trophy, tying this year with Ohio Wesleyan University. Eleven years ago, when I became Denison’s 19th president, I had no idea I was coming to a “jock” school! Eight teams advanced to NCAA national tournament play, and the women’s tennis squad is still in action, having progressed to the national quarterfinals. Men’s lacrosse also advanced to the national quarterfinals and only came home after a hard-fought loss to Gettysburg this last Wednesday.
Many Denison students thrive upon the combination of academic challenge, off-campus service, athletic activity, and campus leadership in different proportions appropriate to each individual. Some pursue these combinations with such remarkable results that they earn the acclaim of faculty, college staff, and fellow students alike. The exemplars of this are recognized as Denison President's Medalists. The Class of 2009 includes five such honorees, who were announced at the Academic Awards Convocation in April and who will be the first to cross the stage today. They are Meredith Atwood, Michael Barnes, Bryan Blaskie, Kristen Hohl, and Charrise Mandimika.
As a class, 2009, you have accomplished much at Denison — much that builds in the rest of us anticipation for your achievements in the years ahead. 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 passage entirely on your own. Consequently, before we move on to the next events in this ceremony, I’d like us to recognize the 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 friends whose loss during these college years inevitably makes commencement less complete for some of us. Members of the Class of 2009, would you please stand, turn toward your families and friends who are here to celebrate your achievement, and join me and the faculty in expressing our appreciation with applause.