Tag Archives: graduation

Memories of the Class of 2017


Dr. Ron Feldt, retiring professor of psychology. See you at Half Price Books, Ron.

Commencement weekend at Mount Mercy University has come and gone. The class of 2017 has graduated, even as I still struggle with a mountain of grading for the classes of ’18, ’19 and ’20.

At Commencement, it was a good year for the newspaper staff. The top two honors given at Commencement—the Mary Frances Warde and Mary Catherine McAuley Awards, given respectively to the top transfer student and the top student who started at MMU—both went to MMU “Times” staff members.

Capria Davis, photo editor of the “Times,” won the Warde prize for a whole host of activities, including helping to found the Black Student Union at MMU. Bianca Kesselring, who wrote an entertainment column for the “Times,” won the McAuley honor. She was active many things, including choir and student ambassadors.

The paper also saw the graduation of Anna Bohr, a key staff member. For the past two years, her title—web editor and then multimedia producer—implied work on the paper’s internet presence, which is accurate, but she was always an important and reliable staff member who made important contributions to the print newspaper. Capria was recognized as this year’s outstanding Communication Program student; Anna was the outstanding journalist of 2017.

capira and anna

Capria Davis, outstanding Communication graduate of 2017, and Anna Bohr, outstanding graduating student journalist, after Friday’s Honors Convocation.

Graduation this year had many highlights, but in particular two other items stand out to me.

On May 19, at the Honors Convocation, the President’s Award was given to Gabriel Acosta. The other two top student graduation honors are voted on by faculty and staff—but this award comes straight from MMU’s president. And Laurie Hamen got a bit choked up when she spoke of Gabby. His life journey put him squarely, if innocently, in one of the hot political debates of the day. As a young child, Gabby was brought, undocumented, from Mexico to Iowa by his undocumented immigrant parents.

And his family is being separated today by the stiffening of American immigration policy.


Gabriel Acosta, 2017 President’s Award winner.

Throughout it all, Gabby has been open and honest and willing to share his story to help others understand. Sadly, it’s not been enough to turn back the tide of nationalism that trumps any sense on immigration, but I can’t think of a more deserving graduate of MMU for the honor President Hamen bestowed.

Another poignant moment for me was seeing Professor Ron Feldt lead the procession of faculty at commencement today. He is now an emeritus professor, retiring from the full-time faculty this year.

Others also retired, and will also be missed, but Ron was special to me. He was part of my tenure review group. I valued his feedback. He and I have both served as chairs of the faculty, and I think there’s a bond between those of us who have tried to lead this group of independent souls we call a faculty.

More images from the weekend are in my galleries of the Honors Convocation, Commencement Mass and Commencement Ceremony. MMU’s news release about the event is here.

At graduation today, Bianca gave a good speech, Ron and two other retiring faculty members were applauded and many students walked the stage. Monday will be anticlimactic for me; it will be a day spent tying up thousands of loose ends so the spring semester and school year can officially be called “over.”

But it’s over now for the class of 2017. Good luck, and let us know what shenanigans you get in to.

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Taylor Z and Billie B and Others Win Awards


Taylor Zumbach, outstanding communication student of the class of 2016, with her parents.

Honors Convocation, an annual tradition at Mount Mercy University, was held today.

And the Managing Editor of the Mount Mercy Times, Taylor Zumbach, was named the winner of The Sister Mary Agnes Hennessey Communication Award.

Another Times staff member, Copy Editor Billie Barker, won both English awards given at the ceremony: The Sister Mary Xavier Creative Writing Award and The Sister Mary Idelphonse Award.


Dr. Mary Vermillion, English professor, with Billie Barker, outstanding English graduate.

So it was a good night for some of my favorite students. I’ll miss both Taylor and Billie. Taylor was a spark plug at the newspaper, bright and energetic, almost always upbeat, willing to work hard and ready with a quirky sense of humor. She and I discovered we like many of the same jokes and same musicians—she’s another Tom Petty fan—and she used to say that she spent way too much time with me.


Taylor Zumbach listens to Dr. Dave Klope talk of frozen cow tongue football.

I’m sure when it got to be 1 a.m. and we were finishing an edition of the MMU Times, that was probably true. But I’ll sorely miss her persuading me to try the worm, or weaseling her way to some cake mix cookies.

Billie was also a key staff member. Probably our most advanced writer, she was prolific and gifted. It’s no surprise she swept the English awards. She is a very talented wordsmith.

I enjoyed seeing other students I know win various other awards, too. Meg Monson, one of most focused, talented young woman I’ve met, earned several awards. Amazing-Grace Ighedo, a December nursing graduate, won the top award for that major. Hillary Kaefring, a talented soprano who has performed several times with the MMU Handbell ensemble, and who I had the pleasure of having in class just once, and that was this semester, won music and drama awards.

And in a very poignant moment, Aimee Redlinger, who lost a teen daughter to an accidental shooting not that long ago, became the first Advance student to earn the President’s Award, one of the top three awards given during Mount Mercy’s commencement weekend.


Laurie Hamen, MMU president, with Aimee Redlinger.

Sigh. It’s bittersweet to attend this ceremony. Class of 2016, I will miss you. Meg and Emilie and Hillary and Melissa and … well, many others. So long, but not farewell, I hope.

I’ll miss you both the most, Billie B. and Taylor Z. There should be a song lyric in that somewhere …

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The Pigeon From Hell At MMU

Maddy and Tom after MMU honors ceremony May 17, 2014.

Maddy and Tom after MMU honors ceremony May 17, 2014.

I’ll miss TJ Kremer III, recently former editor-in-chief of the Mount Mercy Times. He is a thoughtful writer, and was a very good editor.

And he understood the pigeon from hell. For some reason, pop music lyrics and their strange lack of meaning came up as a topic of conversation while the newspaper crew as putting the polishing touches on the final issue of the “Mount Mercy Times” for the spring semester. During the conversation, I made some reference to the “pigeon from hell,” and after a few seconds, Tom piped up with “The Pretenders.”

Yes. “Back on the Chain Gang.” 1982.

But it wasn’t just that he understood 1980s cultural references that many college students, born these days in the 1990s, don’t understand. More importantly, Tom cared about journalism and worked hard to ensure his readers got his best effort. Sometimes, it seemed like a lonely job, as student journalists can act lazy or indifferent.

Still, he wasn’t alone. There was, for instance, Madison Jones, his partner in crime and co-editor. Maddy was every bit as serious about journalism, but balanced Tom, partly through a more relaxed demeanor that could help calm a newsroom on deadline, partly through a penchant for visual flair. He was our best writer. She was also a very good writer, but served as our best page designer and photographer.

They will both be missed. Both were honored by the Mount Mercy University Communication Program at “Honors Convocation,” along with many other students. Usually, my department colleague and I split the task of giving the awards, but since I knew both Tom and Maddy best, I gave out both the journalism award and communication student award.

It was an honor to honor them. I was glad to see that they got some additional honors—Maddy picking up an English award for her writing in Paha, the MMU literary magazine; Tom was singled out as the outstanding philosophy student of the year. And many other news seniors were honored today, and even those that weren’t at today’s ceremony will leave holes at the Times. We’re losing two Taylors, Foster and Grangaard, who were honored at the convocation. Our fiercest advocate for the transfer student population, Cassie Paulson, is graduating. So is our business manager, Shannon Brown.

Taylor Foster? Keep it cool, man. May your life be full of drama, but only the kind on stage that you enjoy. Taylor Grangaard? I was downloading stories for my journalism class today, and noticed how often your byline popped us as I pawed my way through stories. Keep on going, gal. Cassie? I know you think every pigeon is from hell. Don’t let them push you around.  Shannon? I know your life is changing, and graduation from MMU is the smallest part of it. Best wishes with your new roles as an MMU alumni and becoming a new father. And Nikki, you’re not graduating from MMU, but instead returning to your home U in the Czech Republic. Best wish, and watch out for those friendly tornadoes.

Amanda? Glad you’re around for another semester.

This is day two of the three-day graduation extravaganza put on my Mount Mercy each year. Today was Honors Convocation and Nursing Pinning. I spoke at one, my wife presented at the other. Some of my photos.

My bells and chimes, ready to ring.

My bells and chimes, ready to ring.

Friday night was graduate student hooding, and I played in the bell choir for it I also attempted to videotape our part of the program, and we’ll see how that went. I shot lots of “B Roll” images to use with audio, if the audio turns out OK. Anyway, sometime next week, after I’m all done with spring grades, I’ll see if Carolyn, our director, likes anything enough to want it posted.

Tomorrow is graduation. I’m both dreading and looking forward to it. I’m not big on crowds, nor on long ceremonies, so part of it I will just endure. But the commencement ceremony is followed by my favorite MMU graduation event, the on-the-hill picnic.

I can ring and I can speak, but more than those, I excel at eating. Trust me.


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MMU Graduation Day 3 Part II: Winners Quit

MMU grad speaker

Mary Schulte LoVerde speaks to MMU graduating class.

I didn’t take notes during Mary Schulte LoVerde’s graduation address to the Mount Mercy University class of 2012, so I may badly paraphrase her.

She predicted that few would recall her words—a safe bet for a graduation speaker. But, she did give the class some items to think about. Primarily, her speech was to debunk conventional wisdom about success that she said is often not true.

For example, “winners never quit.” She told how, when taking part in a dance competition, a dance champion told her she had made 50 mistakes in a 2-minute dance. She was a bit crushed, until the dancer explained that she had not made 50 different mistakes, primarily she had repeated one mistake 50 times. Quit doing extra moves that weren’t a part of the dance and her performance would improve.

In other words, often, winners know what to quit. Winning isn’t just bullishly moving forward, it’s also knowing what must be left behind. Often, Mary noted, that’s the real key, the real first step on the road to success—recognize what you are doing that is holding you back and stop doing it. Quit, and you can be a winner.

I don’t recollect exactly what the other points of conventional wisdom she attacked were—the curse of the graduation speaker coming true—except the antidotes were to recall that success is never a solo effort but happens in a network of connections to others, and that “faking it,” refusing to acknowledge limits, often sets you up for failure.

All in all, I thought, she was a fine speaker.

She wasn’t the highlight of the ceremony, however, at least not to me. That highlight came when the Mary Frances Warde Award was announced. MMU gives three top student honors during graduation events—two at commencement itself and one at Honors Convocation. The convocation award—the President’s Award—went to last year’s MMU Times Editor, Cynthia Petersen.

The two top commencement awards are the Catherine McAuley Award, for the student who enters MMU as a freshman, and the previously mentioned Mary Frances Warde Award, for the top transfer student. The president picks the winner of the president’s award, but the other awards are based not on GPA, but rather on a vote of faculty and staff.

And who was the transfer student of the year this year? None other than Ryan Pleggenkuhle, this year’s MMU Times editor.

Top honors

MMU President Christopher Blake with Ryan Pleggenkuhle, winner of this year’s Mary Frances Warde Award for the top transfer graduate of the class of 2012. Well, cool.

There you have it, kids. It pays to be editor of the Times. Or, editors of the Times tend to be extraordinary students. Both ways of looking at it are true, I think, and also cool.

Sadly, both of these fine editors are graduating. That’s the nature of a university—just when students are at their best and most mature and most skilled, they slip away. The good news is that we will see them again, mostly—it was a great pleasure at today’s post-graduation picnic to touch base with some former students. But still, graduates have to commence—they have to leave the hill in order to succeed in the world.

Godspeed, class of 2012. I will miss you. Remember that there is an old man on this hill who would like to hear in the future what you’re doing.

For now, go do it.

Elizabeth Brumm

Bizz Brumm receives diploma from MMU President Dr. Christopher Blake. She noted her family has a tradition of earning academic honors and then having those honors overlooked at graduation, but I think she broke the tradition, which is a fine thing.


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MMU Graduation Day 3 Part I: Smiles and Tears

MMU grads

MMU graduates all smiles during Mass this morning.

MMU graduation Mass

A few minutes later, the mood has visibly shifted, emotions are more mixed.

In his commencement Mass homily, Fr. Dustin Vu noted that one of the emotions around commencement is grief. Much that we love is passing away.

A few minutes later, as the graduates who chose to attend the liturgy were blessed, his point was poignantly illustrated.

The graduates stood on the steps before the altar of the Chapel of Mercy and were quiet as the congregation blessed them. Then, as three campus ministers handed each a red rose and the congregation and choir sang a song of blessing, broad smiles broke out. They had made it.

Yet, as the song went on, the smiles faded, like a cut rose aging over a week’s time. As a group, the graduates were getting a bit chocked up, corners of eyes glistening.

Well, we all know that tears aren’t always tragic and can be a relief. And grief is the price we have to pay for loving a place that we know we must leave—and the near tears that I saw seemed of the healthy variety, a passing sadness over leaving a home and launching into the world, not the all-consuming heart-rending cries of agony over a life tragedy, not a thunderstorm of emotion. At best a gentle rain, and for most graduates, a mere clouding of the sky, not enough moisture to count even as a sprinkle would.

It felt right and fitting. We don’t want to hold on too long—when it’s time to go, it’s time to go—but a final farewell does include its small portion of grief.

Well, graduates, no doubt for many there will be more waterworks this afternoon, when graduation finally happens. After that is the best party of the year on the MMU hill, the post-commencement picnic which is one of my favorite traditions.

Group photo

Chapel of Mercy was packed. Each year, graduation Mass is becoming more popular. Nice to see. Family member (I presume) snaps photo as graduates pause for that purpose.

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MMU Times Covers Graduation

Times home page

Times home page with links to stories about MMU graduation, including TV stories.

Check out the Times site for stories about MMU graduation.

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Neither Rain, Nor Wind, Nor Tornado Stops MMU

Gary Hirshberg

Gary Hirshberg speaks to the MMU class of 2011.

Well, folks, it was an interesting graduation ceremony.

Mount Mercy University held it’s first commencement exercise as a university at the U.S. Cellular Center today.

What went well: The speakers. The student speaker, an adult evening student named Ann Northrup, made appropriate, entertaining comments.

The longer speech was the keynote address by Gary Hirshberg, CEO of Stoneyfield Farms, a major producer of organic yogurt.

Hirshberg noted that many things are amiss in the current relationship between humans and their environment, and he recounted many troubling facts. Unlike many environmental speakers, however, I would say he was mostly upbeat—but he was definitely enjoining the class of 2011 to do what it can to reform the way we think about consumption and our planet.

I don’t recall the exact quote, but one of his lines was something like: “The major source of stress is reality, for those who are in touch with it.”

It was an effective, interesting speech, partly because Hirshberg tailored it to this time and place and clearly spoke directly to the graduating class.

Listening to Hirshberg

Amanda Humphrey, Colette Atkins, Scott Reisinger and Vickly Maloy listen to Gary Hirshberg's speech.

One of his points is the danger of Global Warming, including the increased risk of extreme weather events.

As if to highlight his message, midway through the conferring of degrees, a faint wailing began in the background.

It was warning sirens sounding outside, barely audible in the center. The ceremony was briefly interrupted as the powers that be conferred to determine if The Powers That Be were about to flatten the center.

Apparently, they were not. The commencement re-commenced and everyone graduated without being gone with the wind.

Later, the picnic at MMU was held indoors for the first time in living memory. Clearly, despite our cynicism, the Rapture did happen and the world is coming to an end.

Or, the odds just caught up with us. The Sisters of Mercy are known for being potent prayers and every year their prayers have been answered with good weather—until now. When the speaker was warning of global warming.

I think The Powers That Be agree with Gary, and maybe we ought to listen up.

Anyway, the Times is busy posting graduation coverage. Later Sunday night, May 22, click this link and see our graduation stories.

Good luck, class of 2011. And remember another of Mr. Hirshberg’s points:

Yogurt is always better than camel poop.

More of my photos in Facebook gallery.

Graduation Mass

Graduating seniors (and maybe some graduate students) being blessed at Graduation Mass.

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