WEST TERRE HAUTE —
The first-ever winter commencement at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College Saturday was a day of joy and celebration for graduates and their families.
Friends and relatives packed the auditorium, and 72 graduates went up to the stage at the Cecilian Auditorium to receive diplomas.
But those assembled also took a few moments to remember innocent lives lost in a Connecticut school shooting Friday.
Woods President Dottie King asked for the moment of silence to remember the 26 victims of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary.
The Woods is not only an institution of higher learning, but a Catholic, faith-based college, she said. She hoped that those attending would not only pause and think about the families of shooting victims, but also be “spurred to action.”
“Let’s continue to keep those families in our prayers,” she said. Their lives are forever changed.
She also asked those attending to “be thoughtful and loving to people around you.” Friday’s tragedy should remind everyone that life is precious, fragile and uncertain.
Finally, King said, “I would ask that we use our collective faith and talent to reach out to a troubled and hurting world around us … I think it’s our duty to make a difference.”
During the graduation ceremony, Jennie Mitchell, Woods professor of business, delivered the commencement address. “You celebrate a great success today,” she said. “I know your journey has been challenging.”
She talked about success, how to measure it and how to achieve it.
Mitchell quoted from several people, including Dottie King, who defined success as “an ongoing way to live that continues to be curious, determined and concerned for others. Successful people have all experienced failure, and unsuccessful people have all experienced success. The difference has to be in persistence and purpose.”
Mitchell urged graduates to achieve success by being “FIERCE,” with F standing for focus; I for innovative; E for entrepreneurial; R for respectful, C for courageous; and E for empathetic.
“Seize success, but not at the cost of your heritage,” Mitchell said. “Success is not about money; instead it’s a life journey that is measured by the people you touch, the good things you do, and happiness you bring to yourself and to those around you.”
Two graduates received Alumnae Medals for Leadership and Service: at the undergraduate level, Nicole Coutlangus, and at the graduate level, Darla Hopper.
Among those graduating Saturday were a mother and daughter. Marie Dunlap, 63, of Bedford, received a bachelor’s degree in psychology, while her daughter, Stacie Bennett, 42, of Ellettsville, received a bachelor’s in theology with a minor in accounting.
Both received their degrees through the Woods Online program; Dunlap worked on her degree for nine years, and Bennett for 10 years. All those years, they supported and encouraged each other, they said.
Asked her reaction on graduating with her daughter, Dunlap said, “It’s so exciting. I didn’t think we’d ever get here,” she said.
“I didn’t either,” quipped her otherwise supporting husband, Dick Dunlap.
Marie Dunlap, previously a nurse for 30 years who had to give up that career for health reasons, said it took her awhile to finish the degree because she helped take care of grandchildren, and “family was most important.”
Next, she plans to pursue an online master’s program in social work and her goal is to be a licensed, clinical social worker.
Bennett said that graduating with a parent “is pretty cool. Not many people can say they graduated college with their mom.”
She works full-time for IU Health in Bloomington, and the degree will enable her to maintain her position and further her career goals.
Another graduate who celebrated with his family was Chet Berry, 50, a pastor at Hope Church in Indianapolis, who received a master’s in leadership development through Woods Online.
He pursued the degree to strengthen his leadership skills and believes the skills he gained will give him more confidence, particularly “when difficult times come.”
Accompanying him were his wife, Marchelle and three children. Berry’s son, Austin, a high school senior, said his father’s successful pursuit of a master’s degree “is very exciting and sets a great example for me.”
One of the reasons for the new winter commencement, college officials say, is to enable more family members and friends to attend the ceremony.
Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or firstname.lastname@example.org.