Inspiring a standing ovation, Commencement speaker Zainab Hawa Bangura, Special Representative of the (United Nations) Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, told the Class of 2014 that every one of them “has the power to positively impact the life of another person.” See Video.
Bangura, who received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree at the Ursinus 141st Commencement May 16, spoke on the power of education to improve society, against the backdrop of her own life in Sierra Leone, born to a woman who had no formal education and where women were considered property. “By virtue of the schooling that I received, I am now considered the head of my family. . . . in one generation a woman can go from being considered chattel to being in charge,” she said.
Her country is also “a testament to the capacity of the world to change,” she said. Once devastated by a civil war, today Sierra Leone attracts foreign investment and trade, and has had several free elections.
Joseph Melrose, Professor of Politics and International Relations and a former Ambassador to Sierra Leone, called Bangura a “champion of oppressed peoples, especially women, all over the world,” and lauded her “mandate to combat the use of rape as a weapon of war, and develop a coherent global strategy to fight all forms of sexual violence.”
The Reverend Gail E. Bowman, a minister and lawyer who serves as Chaplain and Director of the Willis D. Weatherford Jr. Campus Christian Center, received an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree. She offered a stirring talk during Thursday evening’s Baccalaureate Service, connecting her message of activism to Ursinus news and student groups.
The approximately 360 graduates were handed diplomas in the Floy Lewis Bakes Center field house, where the ceremony was moved because of heavy rain. John E.F. Corson, who was President of the College when the Class of 2014 entered as freshmen, presided and greeted the graduates. Class President Tyler Schindler introduced the speakers, and Codey James Young offered remarks as the Class of 2014 speaker.
“With jubilant spirits, we must realize that our education has only just begun; the real work of an Ursinus degree starts the moment the celebrations cease,” said Young, who is the recipient of the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship. “The ultimate task of building a sustainable community begins within each and every single one of us here today, but it must not end there,” he concluded. “We are charged to extend ourselves outward to uplift those who are coming behind us. Do not simply share with the world how Ursinus has transformed you; lead lives with compassion, conviction, and courage for the betterment of us all.”
Valedictorian was Amber Mae Moyer and Salutatorian was Andrew John Kane.
Three faculty awards were announced. The H. Lloyd Jones Jr. Award, established in honor of H. Lloyd Jones Jr., professor of English from 1947 to 1988, was awarded to Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Rebecca Lyczak for distinguished advising and mentoring.
“Prof. Lyczak is known among her students for working tirelessly not only in support of their research projects but also helping them successfully apply for summer programs, graduate school admissions and prestigious awards such as the Goldwater and the Rhodes Scholarships,” said President Bobby Fong.
The Laughlin Professional Achievement Award, endowed by Henry P. Laughlin M.D. 1938, and his wife, M. Page Durkee Laughlin, was awarded to Professor of Media and Communication Studies Lynne Edwards, Class of 1988, for significant contribution to scholarship. Dr. Edwards exemplifies “the Ursinus College ideal of the teacher-scholar-researcher,” said President Fong. In addition to work published in journals, books and presented at conferences, and work on a National Science Foundation grant, Dr. Edwards’ most recent accomplishment was being named Distinguished Research Fellow at the prestigious Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. One of only 20 such fellows named nationwide, Dr. Edwards is the only Fellow appointed from a small liberal arts college.
The Lindback Award, for distinguished teaching, was given to Associate Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies Kelly Sorensen. A student wrote, “I am unable to describe Prof. Sorensen’s teaching style in any other way than ‘magical.’ He does a miraculous job of flawlessly balancing moderated and informed discussion, clarification and explanation of an author’s view…… Classroom discussion is nothing short of phenomenal.”
Dr. Fong told the graduates they will encounter challenges. “But the liberal education in which you have immersed yourselves here will serve you well,” he added. “You have learned to deal with ambiguity. You have learned to discern truth from foolishness. You have learned to gather evidence and make rational decisions based on what you have learned. No matter what your path, these skills will serve you well.”