Commencement sends almost 400 new graduates into the world

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The University of the South's 2011-12 academic year came to a close May 11, 12, and 13 with three ceremonies marking graduation weekend on the Mountain. A Convocation for the Conferring of Degrees was held in All Saints’ Chapel on Friday to recognize the students who completed their studies at The School of Theology. The Very Rev. William S. Stafford, Dean of The School of Theology, preached. See more details and photos from The School of Theology here.

The second of three ceremonies marking commencement weekend began Saturday morning as the 341 members of the class of 2012 followed the University faculty into the Baccalaureate Service, also in All Saints’ Chapel. Watch video of the Baccalaureate Address, Valedictory Oration, and vice-chancellor's remarks to the graduates.

Two honorary degrees were presented during the service. James A. Baker III received an honorary Doctor of Civil Law, and Rafael “Ray” Suarez Jr. received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters. More information about the recipients is here.

Former Secretary of State Baker (left) gave the Baccalaureate address, urging Sewanee’s graduating seniors to dare to be revolutionaries. Baker cited Jesus Christ as one revolutionary who challenged the established order and “turned the world upside down.”

Drawing on America’s heritage, Baker quoted Samuel Adams and Thomas Jefferson (“A little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical”) to demonstrate that revolutionary thinking is “part of our genetic code,” and assured the students that there are revolutions to be accomplished in literature as well as in law and in music as well as in politics.

Baker encouraged them to change the world by being willing leaders, not succumbing to pessimism, and taking action—and reminded them to “take your angel with you.”

See photos from Baccalaureate and other weekend events here.

Academic processions and the sound of bells marked the beginning and the conclusion of Sunday’s commencement ceremony. The procession of graduating seniors was led by valedictorian Prashanta Kharel and salutatorian Brian Fennessy into All Saints’ Chapel for the final Convocation of the academic year as those gathered joined in singing “For All the Saints.”

Brian Fennessy (History) of Cranston, R.I., gave the traditional salutatory in Latin, addressing the vice-chancellor, faculty, and the audience before concluding with the University motto “Ecce Quam Bonum.” Grace Greenwell (International and Global Studies), of Louisville, Ken., and Carrie Ryan (Anthropology), of Pasadena, Cal., were recognized with the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Medallion for character, leadership, and service to the University and the Sewanee community, receiving a standing ovation from their classmates.

See the complete list of awards and prizes here.

Dogs in the classroom, Lessons and Carols, concerts at Lake Cheston—these are some of the suggestions from his fellow seniors to Valedictorian Prashanta Kharel (right) (Mathematics, Physics), of Kathmandu, Nepal, for topics to include in his address. Kharel spoke of some of the challenges he and others in his class had overcome to attend and graduate from Sewanee, and encouraged the graduating class to leave Sewanee with the same excitement with which it entered: “Take Sewanee with us.” He assured the seniors that their education makes them well-equipped for life off the Mountain, that they were graduating with the skills to live in a community, build relationships, respect each other and support each other. His concluding “Yea, Sewanee’s right!” was received with another standing ovation. Read Kharel's address here.

The University’s School of Letters, which enrolled its first summer master’s degree students in 2006 and granted its first degree in 2009, this year granted 10 Master of Fine Arts degrees, and two Master of Arts degrees.

University Organist Robbe Delcamp drew laughter and applause from the audience as well as the seniors, playing "When the Saints Go Marching In" as an interlude while the graduates left the Chapel to line up to receive their diplomas. The University awarded 341 baccalaureate degrees, and before reading the University's charge to the "chosen and now honored youths," Vice-Chancellor John McCardell spoke to the graduates.

Continuing the theme of the day, McCardell spoke of being surrounded by history, and saints, in All Saints’ Chapel and of the obligations gained in joining the long line of Sewanee’s saints. He warned against memory lapsing into nostalgia, and called hope nostalgia’s antidote. He quoted Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s Ulysses—“Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'/Gleams that untravell'd world, whose margin fades/For ever and for ever when I move”—and told the graduates, "We send you on your way today through just such an arch, on one side of which is memory, on the other, hope." Read McCardell's remarks here.

The morning’s light rain abated long enough for the traditional recessional, and the final event in an eventful graduation weekend came to a close with the singing of Alma Mater and the bells of the Leonidas Polk Memorial Carillon ringing down on the faculty and guests lining the sidewalks outside the Chapel, allowing the new graduates of the Class of 2012 to pass through and receive applause, cheers and embraces.

See additional photos from the weekend events here.

In a separate ceremony following Saturday’s Baccalaureate Service, 12 seniors were initiated into Phi Beta Kappa. Election to Phi Beta Kappa is perhaps the most prized honor a college student can receive. The following students join the 16 Sewanee seniors and six juniors who were elected in April:

Samarth Chaddha (Economics), Dubai, UAE
Margaret Jane Ruch (English), Birmingham, Ala.
Augustine Anthony Hosch (Philosophy, Politics, Economics), Covington, La.
Kristin Danielle Hanson (Religion), Huntsville, Ala.
Cameron Michael Jefts (Theatre Arts), Eagle River, Alaska
Benedykt Henryk Pleszczynski (English, Russian), Annandale, Va.
Samantha Lynn Albert (Economics, Spanish), Lebanon, Tenn.
Katharine McDowell Freeman (Anthropology), Lexington, Ky.
Anna Victoria Marchetti (Art), Nashville, Tenn.
Audrey Randolph Hungerpiller (English), Savannah, Ga.
Patrick Ryan Vestal (Env Studies: Natural Resources), Columbia, Tenn.
Peter Damian Staffelbach (English), South Bend, Ind.

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Listing of both today’s and tomorrow’s events at Sewanee: The University of the South.
Let’s talk about it, Sewanee
Let’s talk about it, Sewanee
“The Politics of Memory in Transitional Justice: Lessons from Rwanda”
Polish Table
Let’s talk about it, Sewanee
“Side by Side by Sondheim” Oct. 23-25
At the SUT: Jersey Boys
“Internationalizing Curriculum at Sewanee,” a Mellon Globalization Forum lunch workshop
Chemistry Department Seminar Series
Let’s talk about it, Sewanee
“Flat Earth Unfolded,” a conversation with the artists
Women’s Soccer: Millsaps
Men’s Soccer: Millsaps
At the SUT: Jersey Boys