Graduating senior Riley Harrison Floyd urged his classmates to be empathetic listeners in the lives after Wabash College when he spoke during the College’s 175th Commencement Ceremony.
One hundred-ninety men received sheepskin diplomas from outgoing President Patrick E. White on a sunny, cool spring day on the College Mall. Floyd and his classmate, José Daniel Herrera, were the featured speakers on a Mother’s Day afternoon that marked endings and new beginnings.
For Floyd, who earlier in the weekend won the John Maurice Butler Prize for “having the best standing in scholarship and character” in the senior class, it was a bittersweet day. He was happy to share the celebration with his mother, Lisa, but heard only voices in his mind from his father, who passed away when he was younger.
Floyd urged his fellow students to listen — to the voices of the past, present, and future.
“Wabash teaches us to discuss—our professors and our classmates have seen to that,” Floyd said. “But discussion-based classes are not just about discussion. They are about listening. When we do that, when we listen—to voices past and present—we create a more reflective imagination capable of imbuing even the toughest circumstances with understanding and tolerance.”
President White praised the graduates for their perseverance and their civility.
“You who have taken on the rigors of this great college and have thrived under the challenge of Wabash,” President white said. “You have emerged stronger for your perseverance and your courage. Wabash has taken you seriously and you have responded with maturity and commitment. It is you, Gentlemen, who have asked difficult questions and discussed them with passion and civility. You have not always agreed with one another or your faculty — or your president — but you have always been respectful of one another’s ideas and opinions even when that has not been easy.”
The College also awarded honorary degrees to a pair of alumni and a respected theologian. Receiving honorary doctorates were Cornell University scientist Dr. Geoffrey Coates, Wabash Class of 1989, award winning broadcast journalist Dean F. Reynolds, Wabash Class of 1970, and Dr. Craig Richard Dykstra, the former Vice President of Religion at Lilly Endowment Inc.
In a surprise, Stephen S. Bowen, Chairman of the Wabash College Board of Trustees, awarded President White with an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree. President White’s tenure as the College’s 15th president will end on June 30.
“You have challenged Wabash students to live up to the highest ideals of our Mission Statement and the Gentleman’s Rule,” Bowen said in reading President White’s citation. “Wabash men, you said in one of your many Chapel Talks, ‘recognize that in the defining terms of citizen and gentleman lie a lifelong project of critical thinking and exploration of ethics, art, and culture reaching for a complete understanding of what it means to be a gentleman, what it means to be a citizen.’ You have modeled those high ideals; you have shown us time and time again what it means to think critically, act responsibly, lead effectively, and live humanely.”
The College’s other Commencement Speaker, José Herrera, who matriculated to Wabash from a rough, gang-infested Chicago neighborhood, thanked the many men and women who have taught and mentored him over the last four years, referring to Professor Rick Warner as a father. He also saluted his mother, Maria, wife, Maria Quintero, and his daughter, Osiris. And he challenged his fellow graduates — and the administration of the College — to continue to pursue students like him, whose path to violence and crime was clearly defined had he not had the opportunity of a Wabash education.
“It was not until I came to Wabash that I realized that living in poverty, in a single-parent home and in a gang-infested neighborhood was not the best environment to achieve anything beyond joining a gang, killing rivals, and selling drugs,” Herrera said.
“I believe in the power of education and have utmost respect for good teachers. They … are an equalizing force in our society. They empower individuals while also building a sense of community. Where else and on what other occasion will an African boy who lived near the slums of Kenya, a homosexual boy from Vietnam, a Mexican boy from the dying industrial region of Hammond, a Puerto Rican boy from the inner city of Philadelphia, and a Hoosier boy who has been home-schooled for all of his life come together for four years and leave as men who think critically, act responsibly, lead effectively and live humanely? In the classroom, the worth of a person’s argument is not gauged by the value of their trust fund. This is the power of education.”
Moments before he reached for the hand bell Caleb Mills used to call the very first Wabash students to class, President White thanked the 190 Wabash graduates for serving as his teachers.
“I thank you for all you have taught me,” President White said before ringing out the Class of 2013. “Thank you for your leadership, your commitment to the College, and your teaching of one another and all of the underclassmen. You have served as mentors and brothers to those younger — and older — than you at Wabash. We will continue to rely on your leadership and your example. I know that you are ready to take on the challenge of graduates of this great college. You know that Wabash College always travels with you wherever you are, however you act. Wabash College leads and acts through you.”
Floyd, too, called on his classmates to think as much about empathy as earning, harkening words he remembers his father telling him.
“My dad said, ‘Some people lose their breath talking to rock stars. I like people who work with dirt.’ …I can’t ask my dad what he meant. But if I could, I think he’d say that the best kind of work we can do is cooperative…. We are all people who work with dirt. And it doesn’t matter if that work takes place with a pen or a pickaxe, in dress slacks or denim. To do good, cooperative work, we all have to listen to each other. If there’s one thing with which we will all leave Wabash, I hope it is the conviction that empathy, not earning, makes our lives dignified and our communities stronger.”
Herrera urged his classmates to use what they have learned at Wabash to provide opportunities for those less fortunate.
“Gentlemen, we have the tools and character to positively influence and be a force of change in our world,” Herrera said. “The power of education and those that promote it has brought people from all corners of the world, colors and classes to our small college. We must recognize that for some, the doors of opportunity have been opened for them while others are forced to climb through a window. If we desire a more perfect world, we must remember not to shut this door we are currently walking through, but hold it open for the next person walking behind us.”
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The Class of 2013 includes 12 men who will enroll in PhD programs in the fall and another 20 who will enroll in medical, law, and graduate schools at universities like Yale, Michigan, Dartmouth, Texas, Northwestern, and New York University. Four men will join Teach for America, while others will serve in the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, and City Year. Six men will complete the requirements to become certified teachers after completing student teaching assignments in the fall.
The class also includes the College’s only two-time national champion, track star Jake Waterman, as well as All-American football player and NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship recipient Weston Kitley.
The Class of 2013 recorded the third highest number of seniors making gifts and pledges to the Senior Gift Campaign with 125 men making pledges totaling nearly $6,000.
Twenty-three students were inducted into the Wabash chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s oldest honorary society. Inducted this year were seniors Michael Carper (Indianapolis, IN), Anton Crepinsek (Osceola, IN), Ryan Cronin (Carmi, IL), Hung Duong (Dong Da District, Vietnam), Riley Floyd (Noblesville, IN), Alex Gillham (McCordsville, IN), Christopher Gorman (Decatur, IN), James Gorman (Decatur, IN), Joseph Granger (Celina, OH), Weston Kitley (Indianapolis, IN), William Kline (Terre Haute, IN), Wyatt Lewis (Indianapolis, IN), Tuan Nguyen (Hanoi, Vietnam), Matthew Paul (Bloomington, IN), Peter Santa Maria (West Olive, MI), Jake Schild (Indianapolis, IN), Liam Smith (Lawrence, KS), Yifei Sun (Zhengzhou, China), Gabriel Watson (Columbus, IN), Shengshuang Zhu (Chengdu, China).
Those seniors join Jordan Hoerr (Peoria, IL) and Ronald Sullivan (North Vernon, IN), who were elected as juniors last year. Junior Ryan Cloyd (Beech Grove, IN) was elected from the Class of 2014.