Wesley Lowery, a national correspondent for The Washington Post and former OHIO student, delivers the Commencement address at this year’s Undergraduate Commencement ceremonies.

Wesley Lowery, a national correspondent for The Washington Post and former OHIO student, delivers the Commencement address at this year’s Undergraduate Commencement ceremonies.

Photographer: Ben Siegel

(From left) Graduates Wesley Lumpkin, Brandon Foote, Tyler Kimble, Jamison Days and Jarman Smith pose for a photo at Undergraduate Commencement.

(From left) Graduates Wesley Lumpkin, Brandon Foote, Tyler Kimble, Jamison Days and Jarman Smith pose for a photo at Undergraduate Commencement.

Photographer: Ben Siegel

Graduate Kendra Lutes celebrates during this year’s Undergraduate Commencement.

Graduate Kendra Lutes celebrates during this year’s Undergraduate Commencement.

Photographer: Ben Siegel

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Class of 2017 celebrates end of undergraduate years, beginnings as Bobcat alumni

Members of the Ohio University Class of 2017 celebrated their final moments as OHIO undergraduates and their very first moments as Bobcat alumni during Undergraduate Commencement ceremonies held Saturday, April 29, on the Athens Campus. 

Surrounded by loved ones from home and members of their Bobcat family, approximately 3,000 undergraduates participated in the morning and afternoon ceremonies at the Convocation Center, marking the culmination of their transformative OHIO experience and reflecting on the moments, the people and the overall efforts that led up to this day. 

“Graduates, each of you is achieving a personal milestone today,” Interim Ohio University President David Descutner said in welcoming the Class of 2017. “Today, we honor you, your achievement, your commitment and your passion.”

Dr. Descutner also took a moment to introduce two special guests – OHIO’s incoming president, Dr. Duane Nellis, and his wife, Ruthie. Dr. Nellis will assume his role as Ohio University’s 21st president on June 12.

“This is the first of many Ohio University Commencements to come for the Nellises,” said Dr. Descutner, “and I know they are thrilled to share this special day with the Class of 2017.”

A warning and an assurance from one Bobcat to the Class of 2017

Also traveling to Athens to be a part of the occasion was former student Bobcat Wesley Lowery who served as this year’s Undergraduate Commencement speaker.

Only a handful of years into his career, Lowery’s award-winning work has been featured in some of the nation’s most notable newspapers.   

A national correspondent for The Washington Post, Lowery covers issues of race, justice, law enforcement and politics. He has been the newspaper’s lead reporter on the Black Lives Matter movement and was a member of the team awarded the 2016 Pulitzer Prize and George Polk Awards for National Reporting for its coverage of fatal police shootings. 

Prior to joining The Washington Post, Lowery was a reporter for The Boston Globe where he contributed to the newspaper’s Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings and was one of the lead reporters covering the 2013 mayoral race and the murder trial of former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez. 

Lowery’s reporting has been appeared in The Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, Sports Illustrated and The Guardian, and his 2016 book “They Can’t Kill Us All: Ferguson, Baltimore and a New Era in America’s Racial Justice Movement” is a New York Times bestseller.

Lowery attended OHIO’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism from 2008-2012 and served as editor-in-chief of the campus’ independent student newspaper, The Post.

In addressing the Class of 2017, Lowery told the graduates today is “about you – about your last four years of growth, of your accomplishments, and about your futures.”

“After a few years away from campus, I do think there are two things I’m qualified to tell you – two kernels of guidance I can impart regarding what is to come: a warning and an assurance,” he said.

Lowery started with the warning: “Everything is about to change. … You’re leaving the confines of this beautiful campus to enter the real world, and a lot of it is going to be terrible.”

He shared with graduates how the world has changed since he left Athens in 2012 – before OHIO had switched to semesters, before Uber and Netflix, before terror attacks in Boston, Orlando and Charleston, and when most had yet to hear of ISIS. He also told the graduates to be prepared for change in their careers and the industries in which they work, reflecting on how journalism has changed from his time at OHIO’s Post to The Washington Post.   

“In a more micro sense, your lives are going to change,” Lowery said, noting the new places, people, personal challenges and responsibilities, moments of loss, and mistakes that lie ahead. 
“The only reassurance I can muster in the face of the uncertain future in front of you is, you’ll be fine – I promise,” he said. “You’ll be fine not because the pain and disappointments won’t sting. They will. You’ll be fine because there’s no challenge that lies in front of you that you haven’t been prepared for by the experiences that lie behind you.”

Lowery noted the last time the Class of 2017 gathered in one place – at the President’s Convocation for First-Year Students. He described that gathering as “an assembly of thousands of kids who thought they were ready to be adults.” Four years later, he said, “You sit here as adults, molded and matured by four years of learning, who wish that, even for another week or two, they could still be kids.”

“As you leave this place,” he continued, “things you’ve learned about your world and yourselves – your faith, your worldview, your moral compass – will increasingly be a guide, telling you when to extend grace to someone who has wronged you, when to stand up for yourself in the face of haters, and when to let it all roll off your back.”

“Your time here has also taught you that progress is not inevitable, success and triumph are not guaranteed,” he caution, urging the graduates to listen to their moral compasses and to remember that a moral compass is only as meaningful as the hand that holds it. 

Lowery ended his speech by speaking directly to two groups of graduates – those about to depart OHIO for their dream jobs, and those who are wondering what comes next. He advised the former to relish every achievement while remembering a key lesson learned in Athens: “Work isn’t everything.”

“There is more to who you are than your career, your job title, the degrees and accolades that come after your name,” Lowery said.

To those whose immediate future plans remain unknown, he offered the following: “Some of the people who end up in the best places do so by taking the longest route. Uncertainty and adventure make for better stores.” 

Lowery then shared a brief narrative of his post-OHIO journey that started with an internship after Commencement. He recalled the day an editor at The Washington Post stopped by his desk in need of a reporter to cover protests in a small town in Missouri. He was reluctant to go, unsure of the story itself, its relevance and whether he was the right person for it.

“I couldn’t have imagined I’d end up spending three months in Ferguson, Missouri, and then three years covering the stories that would come to define this era of my career,” Lowery said.

“Part of professional success is preparation, which you have,” he told the graduates. “But a large part – I’d argue a majority of it – is having the curiosity and the intuition to say yes when opportunities present themselves, and knowing it’s going to be fine.” 

Student speakers address their fellow graduates

In addition to the words of wisdom offered by Lowery, a Bobcat who has gone before them, graduates of the Class of 2017 heard from two of their own.

Graduating seniors Sarah Boston and Nicole Morino were selected as this year’s student speakers, earning the opportunity to address their fellow graduates through a competition hosted by OHIO’s Division of Student Affairs. 

A University College graduate who earned a bachelor of specialized studies in event planning management, Boston addressed graduates at the morning ceremony, kicking off her speech by giving thanks to family, friends and faculty who have supported the graduates in their academic journey.

“Graduates, we did it!” Boston exclaimed. “We are here with gratitude and love for our school. We are here with four years of knowledge and experiences to guide us through the world outside of Ohio University.”

As Boston reflected on her OHIO experience, she spoke about how Ohio University became smaller and smaller with each passing year as she expanded her circle of friends, immersed herself in opportunities to get involved on campus, and challenged herself to step outside her comfort zone. 

“In four years, I’ve gone from Brown to Biddle, and pre-med to specialized studies. I’ve had friends go from bachelor’s to master’s, student to faculty, single to married and who have traveled from country to country all while at OU,” Boston shared. “Few of us had the same experience or have accomplished the same things, but OU became a bit smaller with each one. It got smaller as you met new people and did new things whether in Athens or not, whether in your comfort zone or not. The real wonder of this place has been that, after some time here, we are all able to claim small pieces of OU as our own.”

In looking ahead, Boston took a moment to both thank her fellow graduates and challenge them. 

“Bobcats are a support system – a family,” she said. “As Bobcats, we need to uplift the efforts of our peers to impact the world around them. We need to challenge differing beliefs and argue current topics. As Bobcats, we need to stand up for what we think is right and not falter to those who intimidate us. As Bobcats, we need to remain innovative, creative and savvy. We need to continue to challenge the world around us, so that they know what we Bobcats stand for.”

Boston challenged the Class of 2017 to break through walls and to live every adventure life has to offer with enthusiasm and grace.

“Remember that there is nothing in the range of human of experience that is off limits,” she said. 

In addressing graduates during the afternoon ceremony, Morino, who double majored in global studies war and peace and political science, discussed the lessons she learned in the classroom and in life during her OHIO journey. That journey began as a sophomore when she made the “greatest decision I ever made” and transferred to Ohio University. 

“I never truly grasped what people meant when they said, ‘Your undergraduate years are more than a degree,’” Morino said. “I thought, ‘yeah, you make friends, have a memory here and there.’ But now I understand. I learned who I am here at OU. When I didn’t even know it, I was constantly learning about myself – what it truly meant to be a friend, what it truly meant to be a part of a community.”

Being a part of a community took on new meaning for Morino her junior year when, she shared, she began to have difficulty balancing her workload and her mental health and was struggling with anxiety and depression and eventually turned to friends for help.

“As much as I wanted to give up at times, I had that support group – a wide community of Bobcats that would not let me – and I am forever thankful,” Morino said, noting the role her friends and the staff at OHIO’s Counseling and Psychological Services played in supporting her. “I really wanted to speak today for those sitting here that made it through college, especially those that faced a mental or physical challenge along the way. I hope you have learned even more about yourself from overcoming these challenges, and for those still struggling, to find support and know you are not alone because you are an Ohio University Bobcat.”

Morino noted one last lesson she learned at OHIO – to be confident.

“We are a class composed of incredible men and women,” she said. “Because of Ohio University, we all have been blessed with a newfound confidence in ourselves, even if we do not know what we are doing the moment we grab that diploma today.”

She closed by telling her fellow graduates, “Remember to take care of yourselves, know that you a Bobcat through and through, and, because of that, you are never alone.”


To purchase photos from the Undergraduate Commencement ceremony, visit: http://ohio.photoshelter.com/gallery/2017-Undergraduate-Commencement/G0000SVt5P72rLwg/C0000IzSDaphvbQY

Look for additional coverage of Undergraduate Commencement in Compass later this week.

Graduates reflect on their big day, memories made

Ohio University Communications and Marketing asked members of the Class of 2017 to share some thoughts on what Commencement meant to them, their favorite OHIO memories and their future plans.

“Today is the end and the beginning of a journey and the culmination of a lot of hard work” said Nora Kornelakis of Cleveland, Ohio, who graduated with a degree in finance. Kornelakis is a member of the first graduating class of Margaret Boyd Scholars, OHIO’s first and only women’s scholars program. She said the highlight of her time at OHIO was the day she found out she was accepted into the program. “It was my freshman year, and it was kind of the first big thing I did on campus. I’ve met so many people just from that, and it’s helped me along this journey.” Kornelakis will be moving to New York City to work on Wall Street for JP Morgan.

“This University has been so good to me,” said Stephanie Wolf of Troy, Ohio, who earned her degree in strategic communication in three years. “It’s been my second home, so it’s really bittersweet to leave, but I’m so excited to become an alumna and to be able to call this a former home.” Wolf recalled the first time she visited the Athens Campus – the first college she visited. “I just automatically felt like this was where I supposed to be.” Wolf is waiting to hear if she’s been selected for a program to teach English in France. 

“Today is a big day,” said ZhouZhou Lu of Chang Sha, China, who graduated with a degree in economics. “I loved everything about being a student at OHIO.” Having been home only twice in the past four years, Lu was excited to return to China to work in business.

“Today means a lot for me because I’m probably one of the first of this generation in my family to graduate from a four-year college,” said Joshua Cooper of Yazoo City, Mississippi, who earned a bachelor of specialized studies in business management and sociology. “My favorite memory is my first year when I transferred here (from Mississippi Delta Community College) and the first fall of me actually playing football here. I had a blast! I could have transferred to any school in the U.S., and I chose OU because I love it here.” Cooper will be working at Total Quality Logistics doing business-to-business marketing.

“Today is about stress being gone. I work full time and went to school full time, so it means some free time,” said Nicole Meyers of Versailles, Ohio, who earned her degree in applied management through OHIO’s regional campuses. A dental hygienist, Meyers noted that this is her second degree and may lead to her pursuing a position in dental sales or a master’s degree.

“I am a first-generation student,” said Chloe Musick of McArthur, Ohio, who graduated with a degree in political science. “Today is symbolic of moving forward in my family. I am looking forward to upward mobility and making my family proud.” Musick said her favorite OHIO memory was marching in the Homecoming Parade with the Cutler Scholars. “We always had a huge presence in the parade, then we had a big party at Trisolini House every year, and it was fun to meet alumni.” Musick will be pursuing a master’s degree in public administration and will be working with OHIO’s Upward Bound program this summer.

Megan Johnson of Orient, Ohio, and Kayla Spodek of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, were both excited to be receiving their degrees in commercial photography. “Today is all about celebrating that you’ve made it four years and looking back on all the work you put into it,” said Spodek. “I’m excited to finally be done and to be going out into the real world,” added Johnson, who noted that her favorite OHIO memory was the internship she completed with University Advancement Communication and Marketing. “I got to do so many different things I wouldn’t have been able to do if I hadn’t had that internship.” Spodek said joining the Alpha Omicron Pi sorority was her favorite memory. “I’ve met my best friends through there.” Johnson is preparing to start a job with McAlister Photoworks in Columbus, Ohio, while Spodek plans on starting her own photography business in Pittsburgh.

“Today, I am enjoying the feeling of being done,” said Austin Rivers of Columbia, South Carolina, who graduated with a degree in political science and sociology. “But today is not about me. Today is for my family. A lot of them came in from out of town, and they are so proud.” Rivers will be returning to OHIO for graduate school and studying art history.

Jingtong Li of Beijing, China, will be returning home to work in research after earning a degree in biological science. “I loved Alden Library,” Li said. “Now that I am finally done with school, I can go home. I have only been home a few times over the past four years.”

“Since today has been about 21 years in the making, it means a lot,” said Robin Blair Ackison of Cleveland, Ohio, who received a bachelor of specialized studies in culinary arts, nutrition, food insecurity and entrepreneurism. “It’s really important, and it’s great my son gets to be here to see it.” Ackison said it was hard to single out a favorite memory, adding, “It’s just all of the friends and people I’ve met. It’s really been a blessing to meet so many people and of so many different ages. It’s kind of expanded the way I think.” Ackison operates her own business where she teaches cooking classes.

“Today is a pretty big deal,” said Ciania Bishop of Mansfield, Ohio, who graduated with a degree in applied management through OHIO’s regional higher education program and completed all of her coursework online. “I had a kid when I was 18, so it took me a little longer, but I’m just excited that I got it done. I’m the first one in my family to get a bachelor’s degree.” Bishop is employed at a correctional facility in Mansfield and plans on pursuing a master’s degree in paralegal studies. 

“Today is about the closing of one door and the opening of another,” said Cody Funk of Cleveland, Ohio, who graduated with a degree in marketing and is weighing job offers in Cleveland and the possibility of moving to Texas. “It’s the beginning of the rest of our lives,” added Hamlet Azaryan of Los Angeles, who earned a degree in finance and will be returning to his hometown to purse job opportunities there. 

Compiled by Tasha Attaway, Carly Leatherwood and Angela Woodward