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713 Undergraduates Receive Wesleyan Degrees at Commencement (with photos, videos)

Seven-hundred-and-thirteen undergraduates received degrees during Wesleyan's Commencement Ceremony May 27.

Note: Links to Reunion & Commencement speeches, photos and videos are below this article. Keep reading! 

The world is changing at a dizzying pace and uncertainty is rising, but luckily, “Wesleyan has prepared you to live and thrive in this unpredictable world,” U.S. Senator Michael Bennet ’87 told the Class of 2012 in his Commencement Address. “This is a school that rewards curiosity. It challenges you to test [your] assumptions. It encourages flexibility—of mind, of approach, even of body, if you took that class in acrobatic yoga. Wesleyan has taught you that having a plan counts for less—a lot less—than having your bearings when that plan falls apart.”

U.S. Senator Michael Bennet ’87.

An honorary doctor of laws was conferred upon Bennet at the 180th Commencement Ceremony at Wesleyan University on Sunday, May 27. The ceremony took place on Andrus Field under sunny skies. This year, Wesleyan awarded 713 Bachelor of Arts degrees; 22 Master of Arts degrees; 44 Master of Arts in Liberal Studies degrees; three Master of Philosophy degrees; and 13 Doctor of Philosophy degrees.

Bennet—son of Wesleyan President Emeritus Douglas Bennet ’59, P’87, P’94—was elected to his first full term in the U.S. Senate in November 2010. Formerly as the Denver Schools Superintendent, and now as a member of the Senate Education Committee, he has been a tireless advocate for bold, locally driven changes to public education that would ensure every child is prepared to compete in a rapidly changing economy. Senator Bennet also previously served as chief of staff to then-Denver Mayor, now Colorado Governor, John Hickenlooper ’74, where he helped balance a historic budget deficit and make city government more responsive to Denver residents. After graduating from Wesleyan, Bennet earned a law degree from Yale Law School, where he was editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal.

In his Commencement Address, Bennet described his experiences with two critical institutions—the U.S. education system and political system—that are overdue for “disruptive, transformative change, and reinvention.”

“You generation has so many more opportunities to lead, to make change, than the Class of 1987 ever did. So many more means to uproot entrenched interests… to discard worn-out assumptions… to overcome obstacles to progress,” he told the graduates. He urged them to channel their “Wesleyan impatience […] with the silliness and downright cruelties of the status quo” to address such pressing issues as energy, education, poverty and inequality in America.

Happy graduates.

“…some period of public service—teaching might be a good idea—is the debt you owe our country for the privilege of attending this remarkable university,” Bennet said.

Honorary degrees also were conferred upon Glenn Ligon ’82—an artist known for his series of text-based paintings, which draw on the writings and speech of individuals such as Jean Genet, Zora Neale Hurston, Gertrude Stein, James Baldwin and Richard Pryor—and Cecile Richards P’13, the president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

At the ceremony, two individuals were presented with the Raymond E. Baldwin Medal: Bruce C. Corwin ’62, chairman and CEO of Metropolitan Theatres Corporation, and William “Bill” Wasch ’52, P ’84, formerly Wesleyan’s director of development and director of alumni programs, and founder of a consulting firm that specializes in customized housing options and personalized services for older adults. The Baldwin Medal, named for the late Judge Raymond E. Baldwin ’16, is the highest honor Wesleyan’s alumni body presents for extraordinary service to the school, or for careers and other activities which have contributed significantly to the public good.

Wesleyan President Michael Roth, second from left, congratulates Binswanger Prize recipients, from left, Richard Adelstein, Nathanael Greene and Tula Telfair.

In addition, the Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching was awarded to Woodhouse/Sysco Professor of Economics Richard Adelstein, Professor of History Nathanael Greene, and Professor of Art Tula Telfair. Also recognized at the ceremony were retiring faculty members John Biddiscombe, director of athletics; Joseph Bruno, professor of chemistry; Howard Needler, professor of letters; and Wallace “Pete” Pringle, professor of chemistry.

In his remarks, Wesleyan President Michael S. Roth pointed to a number of remarkable accomplishments by Wesleyan students—both in the classroom and out in the world. “We want you to remember the pleasure of the camaraderie and openness that have characterized the Wesleyan community to which you will always belong. We want you to remember these pleasures, the feelings of freedom and accomplishment, because we believe that these will stimulate you to continue to be bold, to be rigorous, and to nurture your practical idealism,” he said. “This may not be as easy as you imagine. From all around you will come calls for a practicality that is not so idealistic—calls to be more serious, more attentive to ‘the real world.’ Make no mistake: these are really calls for conformity, demands for conventional thinking that, if heeded, will impoverish your, and our, economic, cultural and personal lives.”

Yet Roth said he has faith that the graduates will “gratefully acknowledge those who have sacrificed to nurture you, to guide you, and to protect your freedoms. I trust you will act to reduce violence in the world around us, especially those forms of violence that target the most vulnerable. I trust that you will practice forms of thinking that create opportunity rather than defend inequality and privilege. I trust you will resist the temptations of conformity even as you reject puerile and narcissistic displays of separateness. I have this trust because I have seen what you can do.”

Kennedy Odede '12 delivered the Senior Class Welcome.

In his Senior Class Welcome, Kennedy Odede ’12 described his journey from growing up very poor in Africa’s largest slum, Kibera, to Wesleyan. He recalled his puzzlement early on over things other students take for granted: how to work a printer or use a shower, how money could be stored on a little piece of plastic known as a “Wes Card.” He used to sprint from class to the dining hall to ensure he would get something to eat before the food ran out. One day, a classmate explained to him that his concern was unfounded; food would be available until the lunch period was over.

“What struck me most about the class of 2012 was the kindness exhibited in explanations like this. Never before in my life had I felt valued. I always felt that growing up poor was something to be ashamed of, and at first I was scared to talk about my past. But then the class of 2012 showed me this kindness on many occasions,” Odede reflected. “I had arrived at an incredible place.”

Since his start at Wesleyan, Odede founded the nonprofit Shining Hope for Communities with Jessica Posner ’09, and built the tuition-free Kibera School for Girls.

“I believe we will only live in a better world if we are willing to take risks to make it a reality, only if we are willing to say, ‘Yes.’ My fellow graduates, I hope that we continue to say ‘Yes’ today, tomorrow and throughout our lives.”

The text of President Michael S. Roth’s address to the Class of 2012 graduates can be found here.

The text of the senior class welcome by Kennedy Odede ’12 can be found here.

The text of Senator Michael Bennet’s address can be found here.

Information on the Binswanger recipients can be found here.

Information on the Honorary Degree Recipients can be found here.

Information on the Baldwin recipients can be found here.

The entire Commencement 2012 photo gallery is online here and videos of the 180th Commencement Ceremony are online here.

The weekend also saw more than a thousand alumni converge on campus for Reunion. They were kept busy with more than 150 events, including such highlights as an Eclectic party featuring The Rooks; an all-college picnic and festival on Foss Hill; a 50th Reunion and President’s Reception for the Class of 1962; the traditional All-College Sing; and an Andrus Field Tent party featuring Kinky Spigot and the Welders. A number of WESeminars also provided alumni with opportunities to revisit Wesleyan’s excellent academic experience with presentations by scholars, pundits and other experts. Topics included mindfulness-based stress reduction; a sampling of Wesleyan alumnae performance artists; music and literature of the ‘60s; the Beman Triangle Archaeology Project; money, marketing and the media; the environment; highlights of the Israeli Film Festival, and much more.

Seth Davis ’72 of Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y., who is secretary of his class, attended his 40th reunion this year.

“One of my best friends from my college days was attending his first reunion,” Davis said. “ ‘Are they always this good?’ he asked. ‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘they are.’”

The entire Reunion 2012 photo gallery is online here.

The parent paparazzi and graduates.

Kennedy Odede '12 delivered the Senior Class Welcome.

Michael McAlear, associate professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, served as Marshal of the Faculty. At right is Kennedy Odede '12.

Ellen Jewett '81, vice chair of the Board of Trustees, delivered the Board of Trustees Welcome.

The hat toss.

The Class of 2012.

The Class of 2012 parades onto Andrus Field from Foss Hill.

Wesleyan faculty members Wai Ku Chan, professor of mathematics, and Lori Gruen, chair and professor of philosophy.

Congratulations Class of 2012!

Odede ’12: From an African Slum to a Wesleyan Graduate

Kennedy Odede '12 delivered the Senior Class Welcome during the 180th Commencement Ceremony on May 27. (Photo by Nick Lacy)

Kennedy Odede ’12 delivered the Senior Class Welcome during the 180th Commencement Ceremony May 27:

Today, I stand before you as the first person from Africa’s largest slum to graduate from an American university.
For most of my life, I never imagined that one day I would be standing here.
For me, Wesleyan is HOPE.

You, the class of 2012, and my time at Wesleyan have changed me forever.

I grew up in Kibera, the largest slum in Africa, where more than a million people live in an area the size of Central Park—without sewage systems, roads, running water, or access to basic rights like health care and education.

I was the oldest of eight children in a family that could not afford food, much less school fees. In Kibera, I dreamed of many things: food to eat, clean water to drink, safety from the violence, and relief from oppression that surrounded me.

Today, I want to tell you three stories about hope.

Adelstein, Greene, Telfair Honored with Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching

Wesleyan President Michael Roth, second from left, congratulates Binswanger Prize recipients, from left, Richard Adelstein, Nathanael Greene and Tula Telfair. (Photo by John Van Vlack)

Three Wesleyan faculty received The Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching during the 2012 Commencement on May 27. The Binswanger Prize was inaugurated in 1993 as an institutional recognition of outstanding faculty members. The award is made possible by gifts from the family of the late Frank G. Binswanger Sr., HON ’85

The standards and criteria for the annual prizes shall be excellence in teaching, as exemplified by commitment to the classroom and student accomplishment, intellectual demands placed on students, lucidity, and passion. Recommendations may be based on any of the types of teaching that are done at the university including, but not limited to, teaching in lecture courses, seminars, laboratories, creative and performance-based courses, research tutorials and other individual and group tutorials at the undergraduate and graduate level.

This year’s recipients are as follows:

Richard Adelstein, the Woodhouse/Sysco Professor of Economics
Richard Adelstein has an S.B. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and received an M.A.T. from Harvard University, and a J.D. and Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania and its Law School. He has taught economics and social studies at Wesleyan since 1975. He has spent sabbatical years as a visiting scholar at Oxford University, Harvard University, and the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, and as a Fulbright Visiting Professor at the University of Munich.

Senator Bennet Delivers 2012 Commencement Address

Senator Michael Bennet '87 delivered Wesleyan's 180th Commencement Address. (Photo by Nick Lacy)

Senator Michael F. Bennet ’87 presented the Commencement Address on May 27:

Thank you, Board of Trustees… President Roth… proud parents and families…the entire Wesleyan community, and of course, once again, the brilliant graduates of 2012.

Brilliant, yes—but, as Kennedy said, no matter how brilliant, not one of you got here by yourself. So, in the most important moment of this day, let’s hear you say thank you.

A round of applause for everybody who got you here.

Senator Bennet received an honorary degree during the 2012 Commencement Ceremony.

A quarter of a century ago (and by the way, it was about 20 degrees hotter), I looked up at this podium and saw one of America’s greatest comedians: Bill Cosby.

Today, you face Colorado’s junior senator.

I’m not sure what that means for Wesleyan’s U.S. News and World Report ranking, Mr. President, but it cannot be good.

Nevertheless, I accept this honorary degree, much as I accepted my bachelor’s degree: with gratitude… and disbelief.

Because I know I don’t have what it takes to earn a real one here these days.
Sitting among you are classmates who have taught local elementary and high school kids, worked to prevent water-related illnesses in Bangladesh, and notched the most basketball wins in 110 years.

You have classmates who have worked to stop bullying in Middletown… who have burst out of Eclectic and onto the national music scene… and who, in the person of the remarkable Kennedy Odede, and Colorado’s own Jessica Posner, Class of [2009], have opened a school for girls and transformed a community in Kibera, Africa’s largest slum.

It all makes a person wonder: what in the world will you people do for an encore?

President Roth Addresses Graduating Seniors

Wesleyan President Michael Roth addressed the Class of 2012 during the 180th Commencement Ceremony May 27. (Photo by Nick Lacy)

President Michael S. Roth’s remarks:

Members of the board of trustees, members of the faculty and staff, distinguished guests, new recipients of graduate degrees and the mighty Class of 2012, I am honored to present some brief remarks on the occasion of this commencement.

When most of you began your Wesleyan education in the fall of 2008, the world was in a precarious state. It was an odd time to be investing in the future. But that’s what education is, as Kennedy said: a hopeful investment in the future. When you began here, America was waging two distant wars, the twisted legacies of a vicious attack on our country that took place when most of you were still in middle school. Today America has ended combat operations in Iraq and announced our intention to withdraw our troops from Afghanistan in the next two years. It is Memorial Day weekend, a time to reflect on the sacrifices that so many have made on behalf of our country, as we also reflect on the civilian lives that have been lost during these conflicts. We remember, but what shall we do with these memories?

In the fall of 2008 our country was headed toward the most significant economic dislocation since the Great Depression. Gigantic financial institutions that had ingeniously found ways to make enormous amounts of money, while claiming to have mastered risk with casino-like schemes, were suddenly calling loudly for government help. The entire financial system seemed to be on the brink of collapse, and through a series of measures designed to restore some basic stability to our economic life, the Federal government averted an even greater disaster than the one which has caused millions of Americans to lose their jobs, their homes and their hopes for the future. We can recall those who suffer still in this economy, even as a fortunate few reap huge rewards. We remember, but what shall we do with these memories?

Bennet ’87, Ligon ’82, Richards P’13 Receive Honorary Degrees at Commencement

Wesleyan President Michael Roth, second from left, awarded Cecile Richards P’13, Michael Bennet ’87 and Glenn Ligon ’82 with Wesleyan honorary degrees. (Photo by John Van Vlack)

During the 2012 Commencement Ceremony on May 27, Wesleyan President Michael Roth awarded  U.S. Senator Michael Bennet ’87, Glenn Ligon ’82, and Cecile Richards P’13 with honorary degrees.

Michael F. Bennet ’87
Michael F. Bennet was elected to his first full term as U.S. Senator for Colorado in November 2010. He is a pragmatic and independent thinker who embodies the values of the western state he represents, and whose work has contributed to good in the world, in the best of the Wesleyan tradition.

As the father of three little girls, he is driven by a deep-seated obligation to create more opportunity for the next generation. He has been a tireless advocate – first as Denver Schools superintendent and now as a member of the Senate Education Committee – for bold, locally driven changes to public education that would ensure every child is prepared to compete in a rapidly changing economy.

His concern for the next generation has fueled his efforts to build bipartisan consensus around a comprehensive plan for deficit reduction. It has also informed his efforts to ensure the pharmaceutical drugs we take every day are safe and do not harm American families.

As Superintendent of Denver Public Schools, he led an innovative and inclusive reform effort that turned around failing schools and produced strong gains in reading, math, writing and science.

“Senior Voices” Address by Ali Chaudhry ’12

Ali Chaudhry ’12 presented a “Senior Voices” speech in Memorial Chapel on May 26. 

When I came to Wesleyan from Pakistan, I came with my fair share of prejudices about the United States and Americans. Don’t hate me for that. It was natural. I hadn’t interacted with Americans before, so my understanding of the U.S. and Americans was limited to the media, hear-say and the odd American I came across. As my economist friends would say, my sample size was really small, which wasn’t good. Some people told me that Americans are very self-interested and will actively work to take advantage of you. Others told me that I should be careful about revealing my Muslim identity, lest I be discriminated against.

But in reality, my interaction with the people at Wesleyan, some of whom held radically different ideas to mine, had a very humanizing effect. Those, whom I conveniently labeled as the “other” without ever interacting with them, actually came to life in the Wesleyan experience and it made me question the stereotypes and prejudices that I held about them.

“Senior Voices” Address by Max Bevilacqua ’12

Max Bevilacqua ’12 presented a “Senior Voices” speech in Memorial Chapel on May 26. 

There aren’t many places that I have felt comfortable wearing a dress in public. If you had told me, before I transferred from Georgetown, that in a few short months I would be sporting a cute little pink number with a deep v-neck in Beckham Hall, my Jesuit professors would have cried, and I would have laughed in disbelief. And if you had told me, that in a few short months at Wesleyan, I would be welcomed so warmly, challenged so fiercely, or inspired so deeply…I’m not sure I would have believed that either.

The night before my parents dropped me off on campus, I was curled up in the fetal position on the pullout couch of the Rocky Hill Marriot – taking comfort only in my reasonably priced Wesleyan sweatshirt from Broadstreet Books located conveniently at the intersection of Broad and William street. I didn’t think I could handle transferring as a junior. It wasn’t just about classes or making friends – it was the fear that I would never really feel like I belonged to the place I was walking into so late.

From the start, Wesleyan was a humbling experience. I missed the fact that it was prerequisite to have the voice of an angel or the ability to nonchalantly paint like Rembrandt. But I was going to be a varsity tennis player here…until I didn’t make the team.

Residence Hall Named in Honor of Bennet Family

Members of the Donor Associates, trustees, and emeriti trustees and friends celebrated the Bennet family legacy during a dedication of Bennet Hall on May 25. Bennet Hall is named in honor of Wesleyan President Emeritus Douglas Bennet ’59, P’87, P’94, Midge Bowen Bennet, and the Bennet family. The hall is located inside the Fauver Residence complex.

Douglas J. Bennet ’59, P’87, P’94.

Class of 1962 Celebrates 50th Reunion

Members of the Class of 1962 and guests celebrated their 50th Reunion during Reunion & Commencement Weekend May 24-27.

During the reunion, Hank Sprouse ’62 presented a cardinal carving to Wesleyan on behalf of his class. The carving will be permanently displayed in Daniel Family Commons. Sprouse and Bruce Corwin ’62 also led a discussion on “Reinventing Ourselves As We Move Along” followed by a class discussion. In addition, the Class of 1962 dedicated the Highwaymen Common Room, located in the Romance Languages and Literatures Department. Photos of the 50th Class Reunion are below: