From staff reports
It's a good commencement that erupts into a standing ovation.
Ohio University's graduating seniors and the audience cheered, laughed, groaned knowingly and ultimately rose up in wild clapping today as Sports Illustrated senior writer and NBC Sports analyst Peter King put color-commentary touches on a speech that any Ohio alum could love. It was a proper sendoff for a class brimming with parting sentiments about its time in this place.
King addressed more than 3,000 almost-graduates who marched in separate morning and afternoon undergraduate commencement ceremonies. With teary eyes, unbound grins, purple tennis shoes, sunglasses, black polka dot pumps and no shortage of customized mortarboards, they pressed onto the Convocation Center floor as the Ohio University Wind Ensemble set the mood with "Pomp and Circumstance."
The tool of the day: the cell phone. "I'm walking in right now," a graduate announced, alerting family members to watch the proper entrance. Others wielded the prolific devices for texting friends, snapping photos and waving glowing screens toward family and friends in the stands above.
Graduates of the colleges of Business, Communication, Fine Arts, and 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 Arts and Sciences, Education, Health and Human Services, and Honors Tutorial College marched into the Convo at 2 p.m.
Words from a fellow alum
King, a 1979 alumnus, had the crowd in his hand, especially when he announced at the outset that he'd timed the speech to just 11 minutes. The standing ovation at the morning's ceremony made it clear, however, that a few more minutes would have been just fine with everyone.
Assuring his fellow alumni-to-be that they have what it takes to make it in this world, King shared four lessons he said might get them from the seats they occupied on the Convo floor to the podium where he was "honored and humbled" to stand before them:
1. If you've done the work at Ohio University, you can do it in the real world. "If you were paying attention," he said, "you got the kind of training here that will pay off out there."
2. Don't let money rule the job you take. You'll have a nice car someday, don't worry about it. Love what you do, not what you make. "I was always doing what I loved, so I never cared about money very much. The bills got paid."
3. Use spell check. "You know what bosses in the real world hate? Sloppiness. ... There's never an excuse for submitting anything less than your absolute best."
4. Be a person your friends, your family and your employer can trust. "I don't know many people who get far in any job without being able to be trusted. ... The day I retire, I hope that's what it says on my professional tombstone: 'He was fair.'"
He concluded with "Ten Things I Think I Think," reminiscent of his "Monday Morning Quarterback" column for SI.com. Among things he thinks about the Class of 2008: "I think you shouldn't script your life at 21 or 22. Be ready for anything. Be open to anything. ... I think you should read for a half-hour every day. And Us Weekly does not count. Cosmo doesn't count. ... I think you should remember it's a big world out there. Did you know the United States has just 4 percent of the world's population? For every one of us, there are four and a half Chinese people. Live in the universe. Don't go thinking you're the center of it."
King, also the author of five books, was one of two individuals to receive honorary degrees at today's ceremonies. John S. Mattox was honored with an honorary doctor of public service for his efforts to preserve history and educate communities about the Underground Railroad. He established and serves as curator for the Underground Railroad Museum in Flushing.
Ohio tradition turns graduation into the president's opportunity to single out a few standouts among the university's distinguished academic community. Today those included Presidential Teachers Pramod Kanwar, Scott Titsworth and Debra Henderson. The three were honored for their extraordinary accomplishments as educators inside and outside the classroom.
McDavis also commended Ann Fidler, who this month will end her six-year tenure as dean of the Honors Tutorial College to become interim associate provost for strategic initiatives. She will have capped off her dean's duties with a proud accomplishment: For the second consecutive year, every one of HTC's some 50 graduates earned cum laude, magna cum laude or summa cum laude honors.
Also recognized at the afternoon commencement was Professor of Music and Director of Bands John Climer, who was marking his last year directing the university's Wind Ensemble.
Student leaders' perspectives
Two key senior leaders shared thoughts with the grads. At the morning ceremony, Senior Class Council President Lynn Walsh urged classmates to stay in touch and return to campus often.
"Do not forget what you have learned and experienced here. Take all of it and show the world what the promise of Ohio University is all about. ... Let's show them how caring, kind, intelligent, adventurous, outspoken and fun we all are. Let's be the true leaders that as Ohio students we know how to be. Because as Ohio students, if there is not a path, we will create one, and we will not be traveling down it alone -- especially if it is covered in bricks!"
In the afternoon, Student Senate President Tim Vonville encouraged graduates to appreciate their last four years before moving into their futures.
"We all are at one of the proverbial intersections of life trying to figure out 'what next?'" he said. "At this intersection we are waiting to cross the street. ... To the left is our past. To the right is our future. ... I am simply encouraging each and every one of you to assert your right as an Ohio University graduate and take it all in before we make our right turn."
Special day for McDavis, too
Before conferring degrees, President Roderick J. McDavis -- who presided over both ceremonies -- offered inspiration. And while commencement day is always special for a university president, this particular one held particular significance for McDavis.
"… On a warm September day in 2004, I stood before you in this very building to greet you during your first student convocation. It is a memory I will keep with me forever, because you were the first freshman class I greeted and inducted into the Ohio University community," he said.
"On that day, I shared with you a prophecy. I predicted that over the next four years, you would find your place at Ohio University -- both socially and intellectually -- and Athens would become your home. As I stand before you today, surrounded by the faculty and staff who have nurtured you on your journey, it is time for us to bid you farewell as you begin a new chapter and embark on a new adventure in your lives."
Before processing to the platform to accept their diplomas, the graduates cheered loudly for the faculty of their respective colleges. Descending from the stage, those professors and mentors stood ready to congratulate them as Ohio University's newest alumni streamed from the Convo to the waiting arms and proud faces of family and friends.
A world of sentiments
After the morning ceremony, Gretchen Ziolek and Nicole Bryant exchanged the kind of embrace sisters would share, and with good reason. The pair was among about a dozen seniors to earn BFAs from the School of Dance.
"We've had practically every class together since freshman year," said Ziolek, of Cleveland. "We're like family." After interrupting the interview for another hug, Bryant, of Louisville, Ky., added, "I'm happy to go, but I'm sad to be leaving such good friends. I'm feeling about 50 different things right now."
What's next? "Auditions," said Ziolek. "A summer job with the Kentucky Governor's School for the Arts," said Bryant. "After that, the new Harry Potter movie comes out in September!" (The girl has priorities.)
"We did it! We did it!" Michael "Boon" Troyer exclaimed as he lifted younger sister Lauren off her feet with a hug. Troyer, of Newark, earned a bachelor of specialized studies degree in art development and recreation. It's the Troyer family's first four-year college degree -- an accomplishment that made parents Mike and Tonja Troyer especially proud. "Even as a parent, you feel like you're part of the family. I love how OU does that," Mike Troyer said.
"I met so many people from so many places and made so many friends. It was an amazing experience," Ana Milosevic, originally from Serbia, said about her journey to earn a bachelor of fine arts in theater.
"I am grateful that my professor and mentor Ursula Belden pushed me as hard as she did. That made me want to work hard to achieve the most I could."
Belden chose Milosevic for a Distinguished Professor Scholarship, an honor granted by faculty who have achieved that highest honor. Belden had an obvious eye for talent: Milosevic starts this fall at Yale, where she'll work on a master's.
Anna Rankin, who proudly calls herself a "townie," graduated with a bachelor degree's in organizational communication. She was less about celebrating her success, though, and more about congratulating Mom Wendy, who earned a master's in rehabilitation and community counseling at Friday's graduate commencement ceremony.
"I just want her to be happy," she said, nodding toward her mother.
Tearing up, Wendy -- who plans to begin work on her doctorate soon -- said, "They've all been so supportive of me. I would've never thought that I'd have my master's degree at this age. It was a personal goal."
Father and husband, Jim, was on the platform to witness both women's triumphs. At the morning undergraduate ceremony, McDavis recognized Rankin for his service as interim vice president for research and welcomed him as the new associate dean for research, graduate studies and planning in the Russ College of Engineering and Technology.
For Margie Picciano of Chesterland, Ohio, today represented the end of a long-standing family tradition. Choked with emotion, she said, "I went to school here, all three of my kids have gone here -- and now it's done."
She came to watch her son, Drew, accept his business degree. Nearby he posed for photographs with other graduates who'd been friends since grade school. He's headed to Cleveland for a job in the accounting department at Crescent Digital.
What makes Ohio University such a special place to Maggie, besides the many family weekends and other memories she'll hold dear? "It's like four years at Disney World," she said. "It's like being in a bubble with just genuinely good, down-to-earth people. There's no arrogance. Just good people."
Kevin Witham, the Office of Admissions' senior associate director for campus visit and off-campus programs, has worked at least 10 commencement exercises. He still tears up when he hears "Pomp and Circumstance."
"I enjoy the culmination of the students' success," said Witham, who often sees the students and parents he spoke with at admissions events celebrating on commencement day. "We don't recruit freshmen; we recruit alumni."
While undergraduate ceremonies were Saturday, more than 700 master's and doctoral candidates took part in Friday's graduate commencement ceremony, and 106 new physicians participated in the Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine's graduation exercises on June 7.
To speak with a media representative about this story, contact Sally Linder at 740-591-7873 (cell) or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Breanne Smith, Mary Alice Casey and Gina Calcamuggio contributed to this story.