News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

May 3, 2014

Capping a century of commencement tradition

Final ceremony in Woods auditorium

ST. MARY-OF-THE-WOODS — Seventy-six graduates celebrated their academic accomplishments Saturday inside a century-old building at the campus of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, following in the tradition of thousands who have gone before them.

But the undergraduate, graduate and online students who took part in Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College’s 175th Commencement were perhaps the last graduating class to walk across the stage of the Conservatory of Music’s Cecilian Auditorium because next year the ceremony will take place in a different location.

The Conservatory of Music, a three-story structure of white brick and Bedford limestone built in 1913, has been the venue of SMWC commencement exercises for about 100 years, said Dee Reed, executive director of college relations.

It is a building filled with tradition and thousands of students have walked across its stage, Reed said.

But a new tradition will begin next year because officials plan to hold commencement at the new Sister Jeanne Knoerle Sports and Recreation Center. The 43,000 square-foot building, which is named after the College’s 12th president, will be on the west edge of campus, behind the Mary and Andy Rooney Library.

The $11 million facility will have a 2,000-square-foot lobby and an NCAA regulation-sized gym, seating about 1,000 spectators.

“We look forward to next May” when the college will be hosting commencement at that location, Reed said. The Conservatory of Music will continue to be used for theater and musical performances.

At this year’s commencement, the auditorium, which seats 724, was packed with graduates, families and mentors.

One graduate was Heather Ennis of Terre Haute, who received a bachelor’s degree in humanities.

“I’m excited and nervous,” Ennis said. She expressed disbelief at how fast time flew.

But as she headed toward the next phase of her life, she also expressed appreciation at the “amazing sisterhood” she has formed at The Woods.

SMWC has a rich history as a women’s college, but in recent years, it has become coed, particularly in its graduate and distance programs. Seventy-two graduates received bachelor’s degrees, and four received master’s degrees at Saturday’s commencement. The graduates are from 11 states.

The commencement address was delivered by Sharon Vergez Vercellotti, president and founder of Louisiana-based V-LABS, INC., a consulting, manufacturing and analytical laboratory, specializing in carbohydrates and polysaccharides.

“You will only fulfill your human potential by being a life-long learner,” Vercellotti said to the graduates during her commencement remarks. “You must be eager to venture into new vistas, unafraid to be critical of what conflicts with your human experience. Yet be docile to explore history and science, unafraid to incorporate new ideas into your personal foundations.”

In addition to sharing her life experiences and her high regard for SMWC and the Sisters of Providence, Vercellotti also advised the graduates to take internships, build networks and later become a mentor.

Several awards for service, leadership and academic achievement were presented during the ceremony.

This year’s Distinguished Alumna Award was given to local resident Cindy Hux Martin, a 1978 graduate of The Woods, who later became a leader in her family-owned businesses. Currently, she is president and CEO of Hux Oil Corp., as well as the president and founding director of the Hux Family Charitable Trust. She also holds leadership roles in various groups in the Terre Haute community.

The Distinguished Alumna Award is the highest honor the College gives to a graduate in recognition of personal and professional achievements.

“It’s a humbling honor,” Martin said just before graduation began. She acknowledged the accomplishments of many other SMWC alumni.

“It’s an inspiration for all of us to aspire higher,” she added.

Tribune-Star Reporter Dianne Frances D. Powell can be reached at 812-231-4299 or

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