WOOSTER, Ohio — It didn’t take long for Interim President Georgia Nugent to develop a kinship with the Class of 2016. Speaking at The College of Wooster’s 146th Commencement on Monday, Nugent reflected on their year together and their common experiences as they now prepare to head in different directions.
“I’m particularly pleased to be able to preside over this commencement for the Class of 2016,” said Nugent, choking back some unexpected emotion. “Since my term as the interim president will soon come to an end, I feel a special affinity for this class, as we will be moving on from Wooster together and embarking on the next phase of our lives.”
Highly regarded nationally as a champion of the liberal arts, Nugent expressed admiration for what she described as “the clear formation of graduate qualities” among Wooster’s seniors. “During my time at the College, I’ve been able to observe the many and varied ways in which our Wooster students do, indeed, exhibit these characteristics,” she said, “and I thought it would be fitting to mention today just a few of the graduate qualities and ways in which I’ve observed them this year.”
Nugent began with the cornerstone of a Wooster education: Independent Study (the College’s nationally renowned undergraduate research experience), which fulfills the first graduate quality — devising and bringing to fruition a complex and creative project. She went on to note the way in which Wooster students exhibit skill in oral, written, and digital communication, including their ability to “think deeply and write discerningly.” In addition, she complimented the students for their ability to understand and respect diverse cultural conditions, and to demonstrate quantitative literacy — all fundamental tenets of a Wooster education.
More important than what they have learned and the skills the have acquired during the past four years, according to Nugent, was who they have become. “The concern among Wooster students for social justice and their commitment to the community are the graduate qualities we value most,” she said. In particular, she cited their collaborative spirit in the living wage campaign, an initiative to draw attention to the deficiencies in compensation for some of the hourly employees on campus. She also noted student involvement in such activities as the Wooster Volunteer Network, the Community Care collaboration with Wooster hospital, the International Ambassadors program, and the Martin Luther King Day events. “Wooster students are truly engaged in serving others,” she said.
In closing, Nugent cited comments from a 2005 commencement address at Kenyon (where she served as president for 10 years) by David Foster Wallace, in which he talked about an individual’s “default settings,” which cause people to frame everything in the context of their own experience as if they were “the absolute center of the universe.”
Nugent implored the seniors to re-examine their settings. “Graduates of the Class of 2016, our world so desperately needs for you to override those default settings,” she said, “and there are so many Wooster graduates who have undertaken that difficult but deeply rewarding work [and] can serve as inspirational models.”
“The graduate qualities are not an exam — or even an IS — that you finish and move on; they’re a roadmap to life-long learning,” she continued. “And that learning will not be just about you, it will be about you in relationship to others. It’s a great adventure on which you commence, and all of us here wish you well. So, let us commence.”
As Nugent concluded her remarks, a distant train whistle began to blow, serving as a reminder to the Class of 2016 that it was time to board. The journey was officially underway.
Following her remarks, Nugent was presented with an honorary degree, Doctor of Humane Letters, for her service to the liberal arts and The College of Wooster. After that, 460 graduates from the Class of 2016 lined up to accept their degrees and prepared to join Nugent for the next phase of their voyage.
Check out the Commencement 2016 photo gallery.