Wells College 156th Commencement 05/18/2024

Wells College’s Final Commencement

A re-cap of the college's 156th and final Commencement ceremony on May 18, 2024.
May 23, 2024

As thick clouds covered the sky and rain misted the air for brief periods, Wells College’s 156th Commencement honored not only the class of 2024 but also faculty, staff, and alumni for the final ceremony of the college’s history.

Led by Faculty Marshal and Professor of Chemistry Chris Bailey, Wells College faculty, members of the Board of Trustees, Cabinet, and President Jonathan Gilbralter marched onto the stage in front of Macmillan Hall for the first processional. Then the class of 2024 emerged, proceeded down the front steps of Macmillan, and sat in their seats.

Sachem Sam George of the Bear Clan of the Cayuga Nation recited “Words Before All Else” in his native language and invited all attendees to recognize and respect the indigenous land on which they gathered. Class President Wren Olson ‘24 also read the Cayuga Land Acknowledgment to the crowd. After an invocation by Rev. Barbara Blom ‘82, the National Anthem was led by graduates Alexander Blaine ‘24 and Katie Ostrander ‘24, and the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” was sung by Talyse Hampton ‘09.

In contrast to past Commencements at Wells, Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs Susan Henking and Dean of Students Karey Pine shared individual messages to the graduating class. This year, there were also five Student Speakers for the ceremony: Lauren Spiegel ‘24, Kayla Groth ‘24, Kalie Julien-Leach ‘24, Marissa Laird ‘24, and Isabella Ciancio ‘24. As students who committed to Wells through the COVID-19 pandemic and now as they leave the college before its closure, each Student Speaker reflected on themes of perseverance, strength, change, transformation, and a love of community in their Commencement speeches.

“I can’t help but think about the quote that has been on my mind since the beginning of this school year. ‘How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard?’ said Spiegel, who graduated cum laude with a distinction in health sciences. “Wells College will forever be in our hearts, and it is up to us as the last graduating class to carry on this legacy.”

Julien-Leach, who graduated cum laude with a distinction in criminal justice, spoke about transformation and personal growth in her address. “We have transcended unfortunate circumstances and used our experiences to become individuals of high regard and caliber. The lessons we’ve learned at Wells will never leave us. The campus may go away, but Wells lives on in us. You’ll see it in the lives we make, the careers we build, and the communities we strengthen, no matter where we end up.”

Finally, Ciancio, who graduated magna cum laude with a distinction in health sciences, shared with her class, “My time as a Wells student is about to end, and so is yours. But that’s OK. We did it together. ... The world is full of natural yellows, purples, blues and greens, so I encourage you to notice and recognize that siblinghood surrounds us everywhere we go. ... I hope you all remind yourselves to hold the power of the Cayuga, the wisdom of Minerva, and the love of Sister Wells with you on your journeys.”

After the Student Speakers, Commencement Speaker Dr. Tina Post ‘99 gave her Commencement address. Post graduated from Wells with a Bachelor of Arts in English and was announced as this year’s speaker in March. Post's speech for the class of 2024 centered on the themes of reassurance to make decisions at one’s own pace, confidence to pursue the paths unlikely traveled, and knowledge that life is about learning how to overcome challenges with the education they’ve gained.

“On one scale or another, your world will always be ending,” Post said. “The trick of life is to learn how to be in the middle of this unraveling, to endure the unendurable, to find creation in the midst of the destruction that will inevitably come. Yes, solve the problem if you can. But if you can’t, there’s art, literature, music, dance, language, history and architecture. Your favorite films, novels, paintings, cathedrals, and concertos aren’t just cocktail hour fodder but tools for making sense of catastrophe or bliss. And if what exists isn’t enough, you can make more. Write a screenplay. Design a gown. Cook a feast. Sculpt a figure. Knit a sweater. Compose a song. Make a new world from the rubble of the old. The world is always ending, and beginning, and you already know how to be inside the storm.”

Next, Henking led the Presentation of Emerita and Emeritus in which Wells College faculty are granted emerita or emeritus status by the Board of Trustees. Ten professors were honored and recognized.

  • Professor of Physics Scott Heinkemp
  • Professor of Economics Muin Uddin
  • Professor of Chemistry Chris Bailey
  • Professor of Psychology and Health Sciences Deborah Gagnon
  • Professor of History Michael Groth
  • Professor of Political Science Tukumbi Lumumba-Kasongo
  • Professor of Sociology and Anthropology Laura McClusky
  • Professor of Anthropology and Religious Studies Ernie Olson
  • Professor of Biology and Environmental Science and current Dean of Faculty Jackie Schnurr
  • Professor of Sociology Dan Renfrow

Henking also recognized four of the college’s longest serving staff members for their hard work and dedication to Wells College through the years.

  • Director of Academic and Career Advising Dr. Linda Galbato
  • Director of Financial Aid Laura Burns
  • Associate Registrar Melanie Cullen
  • Information Technology Systems Administrator Joe Dyson

Then, the traditional Leadership Awards and Student Academic Prizes were presented to select graduates.

  • Frances Tarlton Farenthold Leadership Award – Wren Olson ‘24
  • Presidential Leadership Award – Elizabeth Purcell ‘24
  • Keller-Panhuise Leadership Award – Kayla Groth ‘24
  • Gertrude H. Freiert Prize in Fine Arts - Robert Buchanan ‘24, Charlotte Siefert ‘24, and Ethan Yanacheak ‘24 for their Senior Thesis Exhibition “There’s A Feeling There”
  • Koch Prize for Best Senior Research Paper – Kit Richards ‘24 for their paper “Breaking Barriers: Understanding Disparities in Autism Spectrum Disorder Diagnosis and Treatment for Females and People of Color.”

President Gibralter then announced the conferring of degrees of Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science. The 73 Wells graduates were called alphabetically by area of study. Wells College follows the tradition of awarding academic undergraduate hoods in the college’s official colors to each senior during the ceremony. After each graduate received their hood, they crossed the stage to receive their diploma, which was handed to them by the faculty members of their major.

Finally, Rev. Blom offered a concluding benediction. She then invited all Wells College alumni to the stage, and a large crowd of people gathered in front of the podium. The alumni sang the alma mater together to end the ceremony — one last time.

Watch the full livestream on the Wells College YouTube channel. Find more of our best photos on our open photography portal. For continual updates on upcoming events that support our community, visit our Upcoming Events post. For all other information about the college’s closure, visit our Closure pages.

Emma Vallelunga

Content Strategist

Emma is the staff writer and content strategist for the Wells College Marketing and Communications Office. She helps promote campus news, events, engagement opportunities, and stories about Wells worth telling the world. It's her job to get to know you, no matter who you are, where you're from, or how you identify. Tell the Marcom team your story at communications@wells.edu

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