Spirits were high among the hundreds of graduates as they received their Wabash College diplomas, moved their tassels, and proudly walked under the Senior Arch during the 185th Commencement ceremony.
Trustees, faculty, staff, students, and their families attended the celebration Saturday, on a warm and sunny spring day at Little Giant Stadium, marking the second time the ceremony has taken place inside the state-of-the-art facility.
The 175 men of the Class of 2023 received their diplomas from President Scott Feller.
“I wish you a hearty congratulations on your many achievements in our classrooms, theaters and concert halls, playing fields, and our community,” Feller began in his address to Wabash’s newest graduates. “You are better for your time here. We are better for the time we have spent with you.
“You persevered through a pandemic together; you laughed together and you lifted up one another in times of grief; you won fellowships, scholarships, and championships; and you became brothers for life,” Feller continued. “It is my hope that in times of adversity that you will rely on the brotherhood and friendships you have developed these last four years, and let Wabash Always Fights be a guide for your life.”
In keeping with a long-standing Wabash tradition, two graduating seniors were the only featured speakers at the event. The Class of 2023 Commencement speakers were Benjamin Bullock and Allen “AJ” Johnson Jr.
Bullock, a history and humanities double major and music minor from Stourbridge, England, urged classmates to reflect on their last four years and to be brave in handling challenges that await them after Wabash.
“We live by our motto, we live by the message of our fight song, and we live by our mission,” Bullock said. “And if ever there was a time when this nation and this world needs to heed the lessons of acting responsibly and living humanely, it’s now.”
Bullock plans to pursue a master’s degree at the Yenching Academy of Peking University in Beijing, China.
Johnson, a member of the Wabash Liberal Arts Immersion Program (WLAIP), spoke of the many gifts the College gave him over the years including friendship, the ability to make and learn from mistakes, and treasured memories.
“To all those people in WLAIP and freshman tutorial all the way to my senior capstone, thank you for the lifelong friendships you have given me. I’ve learned from the moments of disagreements and arguments that these were just ways for us to come together with the different gifts we were given,” said Johnson, a psychology major and Black studies minor from Indianapolis, Indiana. “To all my friends I have made at Wabash College, thank you for gifting me with your presence. Whether you believe it or not, every single one of you here is responsible for me standing before you now.”
Johnson will be attending Ball State University to pursue a master’s in student affairs administration in higher education.
During commencement, the College also awarded honorary degrees to Dr. Kristina Box and Nathaniel Mary Quinn ’00.
Dr. Box was appointed Indiana’s State Health Commissioner by Governor Eric Holcomb in 2017. As State Health Commissioner, Dr. Box has focused on ensuring health equity and access for all Hoosiers, particularly historically underserved populations. She has also worked at the forefront of Indiana’s response to COVID-19, using data acquisition and reporting to drive decision-making.
“It is a truly remarkable accomplishment to say that Wabash didn’t lose a single day of classes to COVID, especially since all of our students reside in congregate living. We could not have done that without your wise counsel and support of our campus-wide vaccination clinics,” Feller said. “Dr. Box, we thank you for your service to our state; for your advocacy for those whose voices are not heard; and for your steadfast efforts to improve the health and safety of all Hoosiers.”
Quinn, an art major from Chicago, has become one of the most accomplished artists of our time. His intricately detailed portraits have been exhibited in museums and galleries around the world, and he has also presented solo exhibitions in France, England, Belgium, and Italy, and in top galleries in New York, Los Angeles, and his hometown of Chicago. Art collectors, including Elton John, Anderson Cooper, and dozens of professional athletes and musicians, flock to Quinn’s studio to observe his process and technique with hopes of owning his work.
“Mentors like Horace Turner and Rob Johnson challenged you to make the most of your education, and art professors Doug Calisch and Greg Huebner believed that you could change the world through your art. You made them all proud,” Feller said. “You are driven by love and see beauty in others, and you live out those qualities we hope for our graduates: empathy, vulnerability, resiliency, strength.”
Commencement Day opened inside Pioneer Chapel with a thoughtful Baccalaureate sermon by Rev. Gregory T. Manning ’96 from Broadmoor Community Church in New Orleans, Louisiana.
“I invite you to remember our war cry but with a new meaning ‘Wabash Always Fights,’” Manning said. “Let us fight for the helpless, let us fight for the powerless, let us fight for the underserved, let us fight for the forgotten, let us fight for humanity and remember, as Dr. Martin Luther King said, ‘injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’”
In addition to the Baccalaureate and Commencement ceremonies this weekend, 17 students were inducted this weekend into the Wabash chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s oldest honorary society.
Seniors inducted this year are Brigham Anderson, Jacob Bishop, Jakob Faber, Parker Gamble, Grant Johnson, Quinn Leous, Nathan Pairitz, Ethan Stonis, Fanxiang Su, and Gaohang Zhu. Inductees from the junior class are Samuel Baugh, Kazi Hoque, Benjamin Jansen, William Keeling, Benjamin Sampsell, Owen Runge, and William Trapp.
Before the commencement ceremony, Caleb Gross ’23, a political science major from Columbus, Indiana, became the first Wabash graduate to be commissioned as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army after completing his ROTC training as part a new partnership between the College, the Army, and Purdue University. Gross will report to Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia, where he will enter the Armor Basic Officer Leader Course.
Before officially ringing out the Class of 2023 with the bell Caleb Mills used to call Wabash students to class, Feller gave one final challenge to the graduates.
“You have received a liberal arts education imbued with empathy and compassion. You are critical thinkers, effective communicators, and problem-solvers. You are equipped with the knowledge, skills, and experiences to change the world,” Feller concluded. “Our charge to you is simple: go forth and do exactly that.”
Commencement Speakers Podcast
In their final days on campus, Wabash On My Mind podcast host Richard Paige sat down with Ben and AJ, the 2023 commencement speakers, ahead of the ceremony, discussing what it’s like to speak for their class, belonging at Wabash, and reminiscing on their most important lessons learned in their four years. (Episode 342). Click on the play botton below to listen.