College confers 273 Degrees at 144th Commencement

June 6, 2020

Jim Reynolds: ‘”You have our undying gratitude for making this place better by what you did for all of us; in the way you worked and played; in the way you loved and lived your Wilmy life!’

President Jim Reynolds hearkened a favorite song from his childhood, the Rolling Stones’ 1969 hit, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” as he presented the keynote address at Wilmington College’s 144th Commencement, which was presented online Saturday morning (June 6).

PICTURED: With Emma Marks, who provided the welcome, in the center, graduates moving their tassels from right to left — signifying their graduation — are speakers, clockwise from the top left: Vanessa Cheyann McKee, who represented main campus students; Warren Owens, Cincinnati Branch representative; Brandon Ford, who provided the welcome; and Kameron Rinehart, who introduced the keynote speaker.

He said today was an “unpleasant reminder” that we can’t always get what we want. The COVID-19 pandemic forced the closing of the physical campus for students from March 16 through the Class of 2020’s online graduation ceremony.

“Commencement for me is a time of celebration, but more importantly, it’s a time of contact: contact with my friends and colleagues here on campus, contact with proud families, who have loved their graduates to the finish line, and contact with our students, who have overcome adversity and unimaginable hurdles to graduate from college,” he said.

The president noted that, through the 40-plus commencement ceremonies he’s witnessed over his lifetime, he’s been given the gift of watching the “very essence of being human” take place.

“Hugs, kisses, tears, laughter, joyful celebration — contact with the people in our lives that have made us who we are and what we are to become,” he said, adding how a simple touch of a shoulder, squeeze of a hand, heartfelt hug or knowing smile all reinforce our common humanity. “It’s the contact with others in the world that makes our lives so rich and keeps us grounded and able to persevere through difficult periods.”

Reynolds expressed his frustration that all those who would normally gather in Hermann Court for Commencement — graduates, families, friends, faculty, staff and trustees — are this year unable to “publicly affirm” the meaningful relationships that have been built over their time at Wilmington College.

In spite of that disappointment of being unable to be together physically, Reynolds alluded to the next line of the chorus after “you can’t always get what you want.” It states, “If you try sometime, you’ll find, you get what you need.” In these times of a deadly virus, social distancing, masks and flattening the curve, he said the Class of 2020 actually has what it needs today.

“You have our love and respect because of your authentic selves, people who are able to rise above the grind and understand the purpose for which you have been made,” Reynolds said. “You have our undying gratitude for making this place better by what you did for all of us; in the way you worked and played; in the way you loved and lived your Wilmy life.

“You have a personal victory — today is not an L, it’s a W!”

Kameron Rinehart ’20, an agricultural business major from Jeffersonville and the 2019-20 Student Government Assn president, introduced Reynolds — “President Jim” — as a “friend, mentor, leader and one of students’ greatest supporters” who’s gone to great lengths during his nearly nine years as president to create a family environment on campus.

Emma Marks, an agricultural communications major with a minor in sustainability from York, Pa., who graduated summa cum laude, took her role in providing the Commencement welcome especially seriously. She addressed the concept from both a local and global context.

“From my first day on campus, I quickly learned first-name greetings were a beloved tradition in our community,” she said, noting that was an initial exposure to an “embracing campus.” Marks spoke of the need, in any community aspiring to be a beloved one, for it be welcoming to all, including those who perhaps have been marginalized or even demonized: refugees, the incarcerated, immigrants, the LGBTQ community, etc.

“While we can’t be together to share a welcome today, the value of inclusiveness is more important than ever,” she said. “I urge all of you at this time of crisis to think about what it means to feel welcome, safe and wanted in your community — to feel included.”

Warren L. Owens, a strategic organizational leadership major from Cincinnati who graduated magna cum laude, represented the Cincinnati Brach. He spoke of the “understanding, giving and caring” faculty and staff who were his partners in earning a bachelor’s degree.

Owens mentioned he had several “false starts” in his life that might have prevented others from attaining this level of academic success. He was in the lower third of his high school class and it took him more than 20 years to complete his associate degree. He thanked his wife and family for “standing by me” as he studied at WC.

“You can argue that I did all of this for them, but my rebuttal would be that, without them, I couldn’t have done this,” he added. “I would not trade my time at Wilmington College for an opportunity at any other school.”

Vanessa Cheyann McKee, a criminal justice and psychology major from Wilmington who graduated summa cum laude, represented students from the main campus. She alluded to the pandemic and how, in a matter of several months, it leaves in question economic and employment opportunities for graduates embarking upon their careers.

“These are scary unprecedented times,” she said while urging her classmates persevere in the face of uncertainty.

“Despite the confusion, chaos and calamity that have contaminated our lives, our lives are just beginning,” she said, noting there is a term in psychology — dandelions — that describes persons who are resilient in the face of obstacles. Indeed, dandelions have a proclivity for rebounding after being mowed, poisoned and dug up.

“We have to have the ability to bounce back and persevere through difficult life events,” McKee added.

Dr. Erika Goodwin, vice president for academic affairs and strategic initiatives, and dean of the faculty, acknowledged the faculty, staff, coaches and trustees who “challenged, pushed, supported and changed you for the better.” She also spoke about the graduates’ final spring semester, which was “turned upside-down” forcing them to complete their studies online, and how they successfully emerged from an unanticipated reality.

“You persevered during one of the most challenging times in our history,” said Goodwin, who will become interim president in July. “I know good things are in store for you.”