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Mikesell Giving Up Diploma Calligraphy After 27 Years


Thousands of Wabash men have left campus the past 27 years with their sheepskin diplomas and thousands of memories. A big part of the sheepskin diploma tradition has been Vina Mikesell's calligraphy.

Mikesell, the wife of retiring Political Science Professor Phil Mikesell, has lettered each name and degree for nearly three decades. The Class of 2008 will be her final year.

We asked her to reflect on the experience. She offered the follow summary of her experience:

"In 1982 Ted Bedrick was Registrar. A gentleman from Indianapolis had been doing the diplomas for many years, but he was ready to retire. I had just taken a calligraphy class at the Old Jail Museum, and Dr. Bedrick asked me to do the diplomas. With Sharon Lawton’s help, I have done the diplomas for 27 years.

"The Class of 2008 is the largest group ever. I allow about 2 ½ weeks to do the work. Writing on sheepskin is unique. Each diploma is different. Some are thin; some are thick. Some accept ink easily; some don’t. You must allow each diploma to dry thoroughly, separated from the others. Any moisture touching the surface creates puckers.  Humidity affects drying. Graduating seniors have to be reminded not to touch their diplomas with the roses they receive upon leaving the stage.

"Over the years, the number of diplomas has increased. The huge change in the variety of names has also been fascinating. This year there were five gentlemen who were IVs.

"Perhaps two or three times over the years, I was asked to do a paper diploma for animal rights activists.

"As far as I understand, only Notre Dame and Wabash still provide sheepskin diplomas in Indiana. One year, the Notre Dame calligrapher was not available and I was asked to do three diplomas for an overseas presentation. The Notre Dame diplomas were very complicated and used a lot of gold ink, as I recall.

"I was unable to do the diplomas one year. We were on sabbatical and the college arranged for someone else to do the work. I remember how happy Sharon was to have me back.

"The most memorable event concerning the diplomas occurred last May. Phil and I had moved to an upstairs downtown apartment after selling our house. In the middle of the night, a policeman knocked on our door to say that the building on the corner was on fire and we had to leave. My second thought was the diplomas. I carried my pens, ink and the all-important list, and the policeman carried the box of diplomas downstairs where he secured them in his car. As soon as I had a place to put the diplomas, I retrieved them. For the next few hours we watched the fire consume several buildings, but not ours. Luckily, we were able to move back in the next day, and I could continue my work.

"In addition to the diplomas, I have done hundreds of Wabash certificates and awards; designed Classics Department Bookplates; and created large framed documents listing the founding members of several Wabash giving societies. It has been a pleasure to do this work for the College and to know that the diplomas, especially, mean so much to the men of Wabash."

- Vina Mikesell