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OHIO undergrad ceremony 1970

More than 140 members of the class of 1970 siezed the Alumni Association's invitation to walk in the commencement ceremony.

Photographer: Kevin Riddell

OHIO undergrad speaker

Commencement speaker Melanie Sabelhaus delivered an impassioned address to the graduates and their guests.

Photographer: Kevin Riddell

OHIO undergrad speaker president

President Roderick J. McDavis and Sabelhaus, both 1970 alumni, shake hands on the commencement platform.

Photographer: Kevin Riddell

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Commencement

Classes of 2010 and 1970 walk together

Speaker Melanie Sabelhaus emphasized tenacity, creativity


Aside from a few soggy gowns, Saturday's downpour did little to dampen the mood at Ohio University's 256th undergraduate commencement ceremonies.

Excitement mounted to the top decibels as more than 3,000 almost-graduates assembled below deck for separate morning and afternoon undergraduate commencement exercises. The final stretch onto the Convocation Center floor evoked tears, laughs and even a few peace signs from participants, who hailed from the class of 2010 and the class of 1970.

Graduates of the College of Business, Scripps College of Communication, College of Fine Arts, and the Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ College of Engineering and Technology as well as University College and regional campuses took part in the 9:30 a.m. ceremony, while those earning degrees from the College of Arts and Sciences, College of Education, College of Health and Human Services, and Honors Tutorial College marched into the Convo at 2 p.m.

The afternoon ceremony also welcomed more than 140 graduates from OHIO's Class of 1970, the only class in Ohio University history to be denied an official commencement due to heated student demonstrations during the Vietnam War. Led by "Big Al" Newbert, the 1970 graduates pressed into the Convo to the tune of "Pomp and Circumstance" alongside the more than 1,500 students from the class of 2010. 

"Forty years ago, my classmates and I had hoped to be seated where you are now," recalled Ohio University President Roderick J. McDavis, a 1970 alumnus. "Unfortunately, our nation was in the midst of a war. Protests closed college campuses, including our university, and our world became a very different place."

"Admittedly, our world today is still confusing. We are in the midst of another war and our nation is confronting difficult economic times," McDavis continued. "In these uncertain times what will sustain you is what sustained me as I stood on the doorstep of a changing world – my education."

Commencement speaker Melanie Sabelhaus, a 1970 alumna and former deputy administrator of the U. S. Department of Small Business Administration, reinforced the parallels between the two classes.

In a fiery address infused with passion and inspiration, Sabelhaus challenged graduates to rise to the times – creating opportunity out of adversity, as Ohio University graduates always have.

"These may be looking like very tough economic times, and you can make excuses. But don't," Sabelhaus told the crowd. "The same thing that made us successful in 1970 is going to make you successful in 2010. And here's what you gotta have – this is really it: You've got to have that fire in your belly." 

In OHIO tradition, commencement also marked an opportunity to single out standout students among the university's distinguished academic community. Among the 2010 Outstanding Senior Leaders was Student Senate President Robert Leary, who addressed his fellow graduates on the need for active optimism.

"Trying times force us to think in new ways and develop new solutions to increasingly difficult problems," Leary said. "These cuts, controversies and problems present us not only with challenges, but also opportunities…We will take what we’ve learned in these last four (or five) years and implement new policy that will change the world."  

As a capstone to years of hard work, commencement sparked a wide spectrum of reactions from participants.

Many graduates, such as Kaiti Sparks and Paul Curtin, were already looking ahead to the next chapter of their lives as they exited the Convo’s floor, degrees in hand. The couple, who earned degrees in international studies and philosophy, respectively, coordinated Saturday's graduation celebration with their Sunday evening wedding, also in Athens.

For others, such as 1970 graduate Catherine Burtele-Jones, commencement served as a long-overdue victory lap.

"I've been wanting this for 44 years... including the four that I spent here," she said. "Every time the Alumni Association called I'd ask, 'Are they going to have anything for us yet?'"

Her classmates agreed.

"It's been perfect. I got the last hotel room. I got the last parking space at the Alumni Association parking lot. I'm being treated like royalty. I love the bricks. I love the buildings. I love the trees. It's a true homecoming," said Tobie Williams, who was returning to campus for the first time since her early departure in 1970. "I feel this is a completion of one leg of my life."

Advice offered to the Class of 2010 by Melanie Sabelhaus

"You will become what you think about most… Think big, think bold and think audacious."

"People: That's the most valuable asset of any organization. Surround yourself with good people."

"Fail forward. Be humble. Be coachable."

"Network morning, noon and night…Nothing can replace face-to-face communication."

"All you have in business is your reputation. You're only as good as the last person you helped."

"Life is not about how many breaths you take but about how many moments in life take your breath away."