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Wittenberg Celebrates Class of 2010 With 165th Commencement Exercises

May 16, 2010  
 Filed in Headlines

South African AIDS activist Zackie Achmat speaks to the assembled crowd in Commencement Hollow.

Springfield, Ohio — With the sun shining brightly in the sky and all of the necessary preparations complete, the bell atop Myers Hall rang loudly multiple times on Saturday, May 15, signaling to all that Wittenberg University’s Class of 2010 would enjoy a traditional outdoor graduation ceremony in picturesque Commencement Hollow.

University President Mark H. Erickson led a celebration of the 419 members of the Class of 2010, who were honored at Wittenberg’s 165th annual Commencement exercises. He paid tribute to the graduates, noting the extraordinary accomplishments of some and the exceptional journeys of others. He also welcomed three distinguished guests in attendance, the 2010 Commencement speaker, international AIDS activist Zackie Achmat, Professor of Emeritus of English Richard Veler, class of 1958, and Ho Pak Kong, class of 1950 and founder of Hong Kong-based Lotus International Ltd. All three received honorary doctor of humane letters degrees during the ceremony.

Humanitarian Greg Mortenson, author of the best-selling Three Cups of Tea and a 2009-10 Witt Series speaker, was also scheduled to be on hand to receive an honorary degree, but he was unable to attend.

The Class of 2010 included 16 “non-traditional” students from Wittenberg’s School of Community Education, undergraduate students from 24 different states and nine countries outside of the United States. Undergraduate degrees of Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Fine Arts, Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Music Education and Bachelor of Music were awarded, in addition to two Master of Arts in Education degrees. A total of 30 different majors, spanning the alphabet from art to theatre and dance, were awarded.

A total of 125 graduates earned Latin honors in recognition of their exceptional academic pursuits. Forty-eight of them were designated cum laude (3.5-3.69 grade point average), 27 magna cum laude (3.7-3.79) and 50 summa cum laude (3.8-4.0).

Erickson started the festivities by saluting the members of the Class of 2010 for their activism and dedication while undergraduates on campus, saying they had left an “indelible mark upon this campus.” He also encouraged the graduates to remain connected to their alma mater, no matter where life’s journey takes them in the future.

“This is a talented, diverse, engaged and exciting group of young people who will change the world,” Erickson said, telling the family and friends assembled, “You should all be enormously proud.”

He encouraged the graduates to do more than just make a living after graduation. The Wittenberg motto “Having Light, We Pass It On To Others” mandates more than that.

“At Wittenberg, we seek to generate light,” he said. “We aim not only to empower students intellectually, but to instill in them a radiance of spirit, enthusiasm, compassion, optimism and faith that will sustain them for the rest of their lives.

“This is our greatest hope – that having light, they will pass it on to others. So seniors, as you go from this place, remember it is not enough to find your own light. You must also be the light by sharing your talents, your gifts and your passion with the world in which you live. That is what it means to be a Wittenberg graduate.”

Class of 2010 President Leslie Chasteen (left) hands the Wittenberg Torch to Class of 2011 President Heather DeSantis.

Class President Leslie Chasteen from Cincinnati, Ohio, playfully discussed her Wittenberg experiences, lauding the educational opportunities at Wittenberg while also mentioning many of the extracurricular and recreational activities that are so integral to the college experience. Noting that students go through extraordinary growth and change during their years on campus, Chasteen said she felt well prepared for life after Wittenberg after “learning what it means to be part of a community.”

“We are armed with knowledge, experience and relationships,” she said. “No matter where we go or what we do, no one can take that from us.”

Founder and chairman of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), Achmat is a South African AIDS activist who is committed to ensuring that the disease is not a death sentence. In April 2001, TIME Magazine named Achmat its Person of the Week, citing his leadership in the “campaign to secure treatment for South Africa’s 4.7 million HIV patients” and the “epic victory” that year “when 39 pharmaceutical companies withdrew a lawsuit to block South Africa from importing cheaper generic copies of patented AIDS drugs.” Achmat’s work, the magazine continued, raised “new hope for millions of AIDS sufferers throughout the developing world.”

After saluting the graduates, Achmat discussed the importance of education. He said the lack of access to quality education is one of the most significant obstacles to equality and justice for people throughout the world, especially in his native South Africa. Nearly two decades after Apartheid was abolished and blacks in South Africa were given equal rights, Achmat said that the education system in the country has “failed miserably.”

“Sixteen years after our freedom, what we have is a system that is more unequal than under Apartheid,” Achmat said. He pointed primarily to language barriers, saying, “We need from among you great linguists, who will help develop our understanding of our own languages – not simply languages in Africa, but in Asia and increasingly in the United States.”

Achmat knows the power of mobilizing masses of people for a purpose. He was involved in the movement that forced the government to share power, and he led the aforementioned effort to force drug companies to make cheaper generic drugs available to the masses. He encouraged Wittenberg students to get involved.

“We believe that civic engagement, active citizenship, is the only way to get organized and to change things,” he said. “All of us have to join the struggle against intellectual dispossession of children who are working class and poor, not only in Africa, but here in Brooklyn and D.C. and in all your poor areas.”

Chairman of the Hong Kong-based Lotus International, Ltd., one of the pioneering travel and tourism agencies with affiliates in various service sectors, Kong served on the Wittenberg Board of Directors from 2003-2009, receiving emeritus status at the conclusion of his last year. An advocate for education, Kong has consistently supported advanced student learning and global understanding, and is currently working to establish Chu Hai College in Hong Kong, slated to open in 2012. His daughter, Vanessa Kong Kerzner, accepted her father’s honorary degree at the ceremony.

For more than 35 years, Veler earned the respect and admiration of colleagues and students as a beloved teacher, writer and friend, in addition to his roles as university editor and general secretary of the university. Veler received the Wittenberg Medal of Honor, given to those individuals who have consistently inspired students, alumni and the entire Wittenberg family with their loyalty of service, uncompromising support of the university’s mission and values, and commitment to preserving the Wittenberg experience for countless generations.

Written By: Ryan Maurer
Photos By: Erin Pence

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