During Wells College’s 151st Commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 18, 2019, President Jonathan Gibralter conferred undergraduate degrees upon 117 graduating students. In addition, three longtime professors who are retiring this year were granted honorary titles of professor emerita, and several students were honored with academic and leadership awards (see list below).
The day’s events began at 10 a.m. in front of Macmillan Hall, with festive processional music provided by the Orchestra of the Southern Finger Lakes brass quintet.
Following the traditional processional, Sachem (Chief) Sam George, of the Bear Clan of the Cayuga Nation, delivered the opening “Words Before All Else,” an ancient supplication of the Six Nations peoples. President Jonathan Gibralter read aloud the land acknowledgement statement expressing solidarity with the Cayuga Nation and its peoples. Henry’s VIII, the College’s co-ed a cappella group, then led the assembled guests in singing the National Anthem, after which graduating senior Majesti Grubb ’19 offered a heartfelt rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
After the Rev. Barbara Blom ’82 shared a spirited invocation, Chair of the Board of Trustees Carrie A. Bolton ’92 congratulated the graduates on their extraordinary achievement of completing their college studies: “You have hopefully discovered something new about yourselves, while at the same time broadening your horizons and learning how to become a part of something larger than yourselves.”
In his remarks, President Gibralter exhorted the graduates to “embrace the coming change with youthful spirit and unwavering abandon . . . with hope in your hearts and conviction in what you love and believe in.” He then added, “Class of 2019, you will always be a part of the Wells family. This day belongs to you.”
Student Commencement speaker Antonio Oliveri ’19—a double major in English literature and Political Science as well as an extremely active member of the campus community—struck notes of thankfulness and togetherness during his speech. He expressed his great gratitude to many members of the Wells family, remarking that, “Here, we are blessed with a village that embraced us with open arms . . . but simultaneously challenged the ways we view and engage with the wider world.” Oliveri, a native of the New York City area, will be staying in the Finger Lakes region after graduation, where he plans to work in higher education or government in order, as he said, to “put what I’ve learned at Wells into action and continue to give back.”
Rebecca Haag ’74 delivered the main Commencement address. An accomplished and passionate advocate for a wide variety of social and civil rights, Haag challenged graduates to “contribute to your broader community, to reach beyond yourself, to seek ways to make an impact.” The unknown can be a scary thing, she said: “We can’t even predict the skills and knowledge you will need 10 years from now, much less over your lifetime. But each change is an opportunity to try anew, to stretch and to reach even higher. And, I would add, an opportunity to serve others who also have dreams and aspirations but face greater odds and obstacles.
President Gibralter presented several academic and leadership awards to deserving students. He then granted emeriti status to three retiring faculty members: Catherine Burroughs (English), Cynthia “CJ” Koepp (History), and Milene Morfei (Psychology and Sustainability). All three are longtime, beloved members of the Wells campus community, having touched many lives along the way.
Following the ceremony, graduates were invited to move the tassels on their caps from right to left, signifying the final step in their journey. All attendees were then invited to a reception on the Lisa Marsh Ryerson ’81 Commons, honoring the Class of 2019.
Frances Tarlton Farenthold Leadership Award: Shannon McMann ’19
Presidential Leadership Award: Bentley Gordon ’19 and Bellina Mushala ’19
Gertrude H. Freiert Prize in Fine Arts: Joyglenn Lionel ’19
Alberto J. Varona Prize in Hispanic Culture: Lauren Schraft ’19
Koch Prize for Best Senior Research Paper: Antonio Oliveri ’19
117 — number of graduating students
35 — number of graduates who earned distinction in their major field(s) of study
38 — number of graduates earning Latin honors (cum laude, magna cum laude or summa cum laude)
10 — number of Phi Beta Kappa inductees
13 — number of U.S. states (including New York) from which graduates hail
98 — number of graduates from New York State, from 34 different counties
zero —number of raindrops felt throughout the beautiful, sunny day!