Methodist University graduated more than 200 students on Saturday during the first outdoor commencement ceremony in the school’s history (watch the recording below). The commencement, held at Segra Stadium in downtown Fayetteville, graduated seniors from the class of 2021, but also recognized graduates from the class of 2020, who missed their in-person commencement when the global pandemic hit.
“Together, we have been through a long, dark season of plague. I have borne witness to your suffering, from fear and anxiety, from loneliness, from depression, from loss,” said Dr. Stanley T. Wearden, MU’s president. “But I also have witnessed your resilience. I have seen you finding ways to buoy your own spirits and those of your friends. I have seen you making countless sacrifices to protect the health and wellbeing of our campus. I have witnessed you rising above the hourly challenges and uncertainties of these times, times that could have broken and sunk you – but I have seen you rising, instead, and finding the strength, the courage, the love, and the energy to finish your baccalaureate degrees in dignity and style.”
Students, faculty and staff were able to make a far-from-ordinary academic year successful with hybrid learning and modified events, which resulted in the campus staying open for residential living and in-person classes all year while many colleges and universities across the state and nation shut their doors.
One of these modified events was the commencement ceremony, which is usually held indoors. Methodist University became the first institution of higher learning to partner with Segra Stadium downtown to host the open-air ceremony.
Wearden made a point to remind the graduates that their last semesters in college were tough, but provided them with proof of their resilience, even in hardship.
“Though these times have tried us all, it has been a sacred privilege to spend these times with you – with this assembled group of gifted, dedicated, courageous, brilliant, and loving people, who in just a little while will become Methodist University alumni,” said Wearden. “During the dark times, I hope you will look back on this period in your lives and remember, you’ve got this. You’ve shown that you have what it takes to endure, to prevail, and to succeed, because you have done so in the face of one of the greatest challenges in modern history.”
While some aspects of MU’s commencement changed, the ceremony remained one that honored the many accomplishments of its students. Eight students were recognized for their recent commission into the U.S. Army, while graduates Elias Rodriguez (Argentina) and Hamza Boubacar Kassomou (Niger) were recognized as the first MU grads from their respective countries.
Aiden Sherry was presented with the L. Stacey Weaver Award, which is awarded to a Spring graduate via a vote from MU faculty. The student must exemplify academic excellence, spiritual development, leadership, and service.
Darryll Decotis and Rachel Townsend became the first MU recipients of the Algernon Sydney Sullivan and Mary Mildred Sullivan Awards. These awards are given to the students who demonstrate a noble character and act as humble servants who place service to others before their own self-interests.
Distinguished graduates Allison Nagel (2020) and Maria Choi (2021) were selected by a vote by the senior class to share a few words during the ceremony.
“The close-knit community at Methodist is what makes our experience so much different than that at other colleges,” said Nagel. “I want to say thank you to every single person I’ve encountered at Methodist, and I challenge you to reach out and do the same. Even when you
struggle, the people around you here today want you to succeed as much as you want to succeed yourself.”
“We’ve experienced so much in the past few years,” added Choi. “How much more will we learn and grow in the coming years? Every day, we have the opportunity to leave the world a slightly better place than it was when we woke up.”
The commencement address was given by long-time MU baseball coach Tom Austin, who was recently recognized as the winningest active baseball coach in NCAA Division III.
Austin, who has earned more than 1,200 career wins at Methodist University since joining the staff in 1980, gave graduates several pieces of advice for their life after MU.
His advice included be on time, be prepared, give a great effort, do the job no one wants to do, have a great attitude and great body language, treat others with respect and do the right thing.
“I’m going throw you one final pitch,” Austin said. “I hope you get a job you love as much as I love this job here at Methodist. Congratulations graduates, may God bless you and guide your every step.”