By N. Marie Dries’92
|Olivia Williams Shannon’08, center, and a group of friends made their mortarboards into “church lady hats” for Commencement. Crafting the one-of-a-kind fashions from straw brims, flouncy feathers, and silk flowers and birds gave them a welcome study break during the last week of classes.
Wearing caps and gowns topped with multi-colored cords and shimmering tassels, members of the class of 2008 approached Beloit’s 158th Commencement ceremonies with poise, maturity, and an irrepressible sense of fun. The 297 graduates marched in style, having embellished their traditional regalia with flowers, feathers, glitter, paint, and even a small-scale replica of Moscow’s St. Basil’s Cathedral.
Creative expressions aside, the graduates who claimed their diplomas on May 11 had already distinguished themselves in many ways.
Of the 256 Bachelor of Arts and 41 Bachelor of Science recipients, 136 had studied abroad, eight had established successful business ventures, another eight had been certified to teach, three had accepted positions with Teach for America, two had secured highly competitive spots in Princeton University’s anthropology graduate program, and one had been awarded a Fulbright Scholarship in South Africa.
Several had also forged their own academic paths at Beloit. Among the graduates were two students who self-designed their interdisciplinary majors—one in journalism and visual communication, another in contemporary West African civilizations. A third designed a minor in Middle Eastern studies.
That spirit of independence was reinforced in the message of poet Dana Gioia, who delivered the Commencement address. He urged graduates to find a “self-assigned task” informed by personal and authentic aspirations. “You must decide whether you want to live narrowly or ambitiously, whether you want to live by your own goals or by the outer world’s goals,” he said. “These really are your choices, and there is no middle ground.”
Quoting fellow poets Robert Frost and Rainer Maria Rilke, Gioia counted the rewards of accepting and even embracing risk in the face of making important decisions. “If you let yourself be defined by the external world, you are being very impractical, because you will be forced to occupy a life that doesn’t truly fit you,” he said. “But if you know who you are, if you have faith in yourself and in your own spiritual values, you can keep your bearings in life no matter what surprises—what obstacles—come along the way.”
|Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts Dana Gioia gave the address at Beloit’s 158th Commencement.
Words of Tribute
Honors for achievement were awarded to both Gioia and educator Rolf Wegenke, who received Doctor of Humane Letters degrees from Beloit.
The chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, Gioia is the first poet so appointed. He has published three full-length collections of poetry, co-edited the best-selling college literature textbook in America, and founded two prestigious literary conferences. He wrote the influential 1991 essay Can Poetry Matter?, which is credited with launching an international debate about the role and importance of poetry in contemporary life. In presenting the degree, President Burris commended Gioia’s lifelong dedication to bringing poetry and art to the forefront of American consciousness and discourse.
Wegenke, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, was cited for his commitment to promoting educational access and opportunity for all. “You share Beloit College’s dedication to the intrinsic importance of higher education in international affairs, economic development, and in the future of this region and beyond,” President Burris noted.
Two professors were honored with induction into the ranks of emeriti faculty upon their retirement.
Robert Hodge spent more than 40 years teaching history at Beloit, approaching his work with enthusiasm and a genuine affection for his students and colleagues. He was an early advocate of integrating women’s history into U.S. history courses and expanded the department’s offerings. In addition, Hodge coached the men’s and women’s tennis teams for 24 years.
An organist and harpsichordist, Max Yount joined the College’s music faculty in 1963. Since then, he has served as a teacher, composer, conductor, mentor, and friend, as well as the long-time chair of the music department. Yount has accompanied countless student performers, providing a vivid example of both passion and professionalism. His music enriched the quality of life on the Beloit campus, even as he performed in churches and concert halls throughout the United States and Europe.
The President’s Medal was awarded to campus neighbors Al and Phyllis Wendorf, who have voluntarily coordinated the College’s international host-family program for more than two decades. In presenting the medal, President Burris thanked the Wendorfs for their “… sensitive and caring attention to students ... who have come to live and learn among us.”
For all its pageantry, graduation also marked the end of an era. James Sanger, chairman of Beloit’s board of trustees, paid tribute to President Burris for his eight years of leadership to the College. “It is an awesome responsibility, and John Burris has executed the presidency with distinction and honor,” Sanger said.
Learn more about members of the class of 2008 in the following pages. The 2008 Commencement address by Dana Gioia may be heard online by clicking here