Two hundred and ninety-eight members of the Class of 2016 graduated on Sunday, May 22, at Centre College’s 193rd Commencement ceremony in Newlin Hall at the Norton Center for the Arts. Deborah Bial, founder and president of the Posse Foundation, delivered the Commencement address.
The Class of 2016, representing 28 states and four foreign countries, leaves a lasting legacy at Centre, thanks to their impressive academic record as well as their achievements beyond the classroom.
With a four-year graduation rate of 80 percent—a number that places Centre first in Kentucky and among the highest in the nation—the graduating seniors were celebrated for their hard work during the ceremony. Eighty-three students graduated with honors: nine summa cum laude, 29 magna cum laude and 45 cum laude. The Class of 2016 also included 36 members of Phi Beta Kappa, 10 Brown Fellows and 262 students (86.5 percent of the class) who studied abroad at least once during their four years at the College.
Also among the graduates were 10 Posse Scholars, comprising Centre’s seventh class of Posse Scholars, for whom Bial’s participation in the Commencement ceremony had particular meaning. This fall will mark the tenth year of Centre’s relationship with the Posse Foundation, a college-access program for talented high school students from underrepresented urban populations.
The Class of 2016 included a record number of 19 international students graduating, representing China, Ecuador, Germany and Vietnam. Ninety-six student athletes also graduated, with a combined 28 conference titles, 12 NCAA appearances and five All-American honors.
Jeri Howell and Matthew Cantrell were recognized as this year’s valedictorians.
Howell, of Frankfort, Ky., received the Gavin Easton Wiseman Valedictorian Prize for the top female graduate. A Spanish major graduating summa cum laude, Howell also received the Leonard and Vivian DiLillo Spanish Prize, awarded to an outstanding senior Spanish major, as well as the Mason Knuckles Award, presented to an outstanding student in the graduating class who exhibits scholarship, moral character and promise of leadership. Howell has additionally been awarded a Fulbright and will spend the upcoming academic year teaching English in Costa Rica.
Cantrell, of Mount Horeb, Wis., received the George Winston Welsh Valedictorian Prize for the top male senior. An economics major graduating summa cum laude, Cantrell also received the Charles W. Campbell III Prize for Economics, awarded to a senior economics major who displays Professor Campbell’s passion for economic analysis, critical thinking and high academic standards. He plans to pursue a career in consulting in the Washington, D.C., area.
Members of the graduating class also included students who are soon to become teachers. Emily Hooker of Cincinnati will teach English in France through the Teaching Assistant Program. Ashley Barker of Boston and Gray Whitsett of Owensboro, Ky., will both participate in Teach For America, with Barker teaching in Boston and Whitsett in Baton Rouge, La.
In Bial’s commencement address to the Class of 2016, she reminded the students not to forget the dreams they had as children.
“Protect your idealism,” she said. “When we hit adulthood, we somehow see our current selves as separate from our childhood selves. But the dreams of nine-year-olds don’t really change when we turn 21.”
Bial also reminded the graduates of their obligation to making positive change.
“Today, you are graduating, and this rite of passage is one more declaration of your adulthood,” Bial said. “You are now the adults to whom the responsibility of protecting the world is given.”
During the Commencement ceremony, Bial received an honorary doctor of humane letters.
Also receiving an honorary degree was Harold H. Smith, president of the Kentucky Governor’s Scholars Program Foundation and president emeritus of Pikeville College. Smith, a Centre graduate in the Class of 1964, has had a long and successful career in higher education, beginning with 19 years as Centre’s dean of admission and later, vice president and dean of student life. In celebration of this occasion, a small group of friends have made initial gifts in excess of $50,000 to establish the Hal and Karen Smith Scholarship Fund.
Hunt VanderToll, president of the Student Government Association, gave the senior class response, encouraging his peers to continue leaning on the support systems they created at Centre over the past four years after graduation.
“Our successes aren’t based on the diplomas we are about to receive or the numbers on our GPAs—it comes from each other. The community we have here at Centre spurs each other on to be the most thoughtful, driven and passionate students in the country,” VanderToll said. “To the Class of 2016, I thank you. You have been the most inspirational group of people I have ever known. May we go and change the world, but never forget: you have friends who will never let you down.”
President John A. Roush closed the ceremony with his own congratulations and words of wisdom.
“Don’t settle for anything less than a life well lived,” he said. “You must continue to ‘be your best, do your best, and finish each day with no regrets.’ It’s essential you live this way. Be strong, but ever mindful of those who are weak. Remind yourself daily that you are blessed.”
by Elizabeth Trollinger
May 23, 2016