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Newest Ohio University alumni celebrated during Fall Commencement ceremony

On Saturday, nearly 900 Bobcats gathered along with family and friends to be honored at Ohio University’s Fall Commencement ceremony in the Convocation Center on the Athens Campus. The ceremony, which marks the transition from students to alumni, was a bittersweet occasion, as President Roderick J. McDavis presided over his final Commencement before stepping down from his position in February.

President McDavis, who is also an Ohio University alumnus, shared that the 1970 Commencement ceremony, in which he was supposed to walk, was cancelled due to the shooting at Kent State University involving students and members of the National Guard. Graduating during an uncertain time in the country’s history, McDavis said, is a situation today’s graduates also face.

“I want to empower you today,” President McDavis said. “I want you to feel confident that the education you just received will serve you well. Just as that same education served me well during the turbulent 1970s when I too felt unsure of the future."

Despite that uncertain future, President McDavis encouraged the graduates to move forward and act as change agents in the world, using experiences and knowledge learned both inside and outside the classroom during their time at Ohio University.

“Diversity of mind and thought is the very bedrock of higher education and we pride ourselves on fostering an environment where free speech and expression is not only tolerated, but welcomed and encouraged,” he said. “The environment we have created on campus has allowed many of you to learn about different experiences that your fellow classmates have had. Perhaps you never have been exposed to such a diverse group of people and perhaps you never will be again.”

Lessons in diversity, according to McDavis, will allow Ohio University’s newest alumni to understand the world we share, empathize with the struggles of people different than oneself and harness the power to effect real change in the world.

He encouraged the graduates to reflect on the question, “Who were you created to be?” That question, President McDavis admitted, is one that he is thinking about himself, as he prepares to once again leave Athens for a new path.

“I love this town,” he said. “But more than anything, I love this university. I love its people. I love its mission. I love its purpose. I love its failures. And I love its accomplishments. Because all of it has taught me something. That’s right, if you do it right, you don’t stop learning after the degree is completed!”

To conclude his remarks, President McDavis asked the graduates sitting before him to use the lessons and life skills they have learned for good.

“Because no matter how far from this university we roam, Athens will always be home,” he said. “No matter how much our world changes, we all continue to share a common bond that will never be broken. We are and always will be Bobcats.”

As the Fall 2016 Commencement speaker, Dr. Jenny Chabot, associate professor of child and family studies in the College of Health Sciences and Professions, addressed the afternoon’s graduates, asking them to reflect on their experiences at OHIO and the people who have helped shape them, including members of their own family and their Bobcat family.

“I’m a long-time believer that we are very much the products of the collection of family, adults in our community, and our peers and friendships, and that we must be surrounded every single day by people who believe in us,” she said. “I know these individuals exist for you, because you have continually shared stories about the roles they have played throughout your lives.”

After sharing her experience growing up in a small town in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and leaving home for college at Michigan State University, Dr. Chabot discussed how her career in child and family studies has grown since coming to Ohio University 18 years ago.

“Being a professor at Ohio University has given me the opportunity to study and create my life’s work – in essence, the classes we teach and hone over the years absolutely contribute to our life’s work,” she said. “As a professor in child and family studies, I am so incredibly lucky that I get to work with students who are going to make a positive difference in the lives of children and families along the entire lifespan. When the world gets tough and feels hard, I feel great pride in this knowledge.”

In addition to her research interests in families who are navigating the health care experiences of their children and ambiguous loss experienced within these families, Dr. Chabot shared how she also come to realization that she has also been studying college students for the last 18 years – and what she’s learned from them along the way.

“I know developmentally that during this time at OHIO, you have honed your identity, and have sometimes struggled with who you are and who you want to be,” she said. “If you haven’t yet, you’ll eventually figure it out. You have solidified what you will begin as your careers, and don’t be surprised if you change your job path along the way. You have very meaningful relationships and friendships – they are your center, so cherish them. You can sometimes feel instability, a bit ‘in between’ two worlds of adolescence and adulthood: and now adulthood truly begins as you leave OHIO.” 

Dr. Chabot encouraged the day’s graduates to live a life they love and surround themselves with people who support them, as well as to value the experiences and relationships they cultivated during their time at OHIO.

“I ask that you contribute to the kindness this world needs so badly right now,” she said. “At a time when we minimize the need for safe space and genuine humanity, be a part of goodness; be a safe space for someone. Build and hone families where the children in your life can witness positive role models of human kind. We cannot underestimate the power of what children learn by watching us and witnessing our behavior. Never minimize the way you have impacted the lives of your peers, and those of the staff and faculty during your time at OHIO.” 

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President Roderick J. McDavis speaks at Saturday's Fall Commencement ceremony. Photos by Ben Siegel.

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Dr. Jenny Chabot, associate professor of child and family studies in the College of Health Sciences and Professions, speaks at the Fall Commencement ceremony.

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Eric Gorscak participates in a hooding ceremony during Fall Commencement.

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Zari Alisha Rose participates in the Fall Commencement ceremony.

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Samuel Brent Evans celebrates his graduation on stage during the Fall Commencement ceremony.

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President McDavis congratulates Maria Gaston during Fall Commencement. 

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Jake O'Brien (center) is congratulated by his friends and family following the Fall Commencement ceremony. 

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Molly McIlvain hugs her family following the Fall Commencement ceremony.

Quotes from Saturday's graduates:

Adam Taylor, online master's in coaching education, Nashville, Tennessee, visiting campus for only the second time

"Today is very important to me because I'm the first person in my family to receive a master's degree. To have my wife, mother, daughter and grandparents here is great. I plan to continue coaching high school football until I can move up to the college ranks, which is my lifetime goal."

Hien Nguyen, master's in financial economics, Hanoi, Vietnam

"I plan on looking for a job as a financial analyst back home in Vietnam. I liked Athens because the people are nice and the scenery is great."

Amos Agyemang, master's in financial economics, Kumasi, Ghana

"It means a lot to me to graduate in this country and I thank God for how far he has let me come. I will search for a bank or corporate economics job in the U.S. since I have a green card, probably in Columbus, Ohio."

Elizabeth Doran, bachelor's in psychology/criminology, Hilliard, Ohio

"This is exciting because I'm the first one in my family to graduate besides my dad. In January, I will pursue my master's degree in social work at the University of Akron with the goal of helping people who leave prison with their re-entry process."

Zach Walden, bachelor's in sociology/criminology, Springfield, Ohio

"I worked hard to get here so I'm excited to be rewarded in the end. Now I'm trying to get a job in my hometown where I would help prevent human trafficking."

Watson Tautuiaki, bachelor's in sociology/criminology, Sacramento, California, former football player

"I'm proud of myself for achieving my goal of graduating. This is for my dad who died in 2008 because this is something he wanted for me. I'm currently working in San Pedro, California, but I want to work in corrections at a prison in the future."

Tarell Basham, bachelor's in specialized studies, communications and marketing, Rocky Mount, Virginia, current football player

"This means everything to me because I'm the first one in my family to graduate. It's a tone setter for my younger sister who attends Colorado State and wants to be a veterinarian. I plan on training for the NFL Draft in San Diego after our bowl game. Outside of football, I want to open up an entertainment company called Bash Inc. that will plan and promote parties and club events."

Courtney Donkor, master's in environmental studies, Voinovich School, Tahlequah, Oklahoma

"I'm the first to graduate in my family with a master's degree. I'm part Caucasian, Native American and Irish and I represent all groups of people. My husband Frank, who is from Ghana, is graduating in Oklahoma right now from Northeastern State University. We're expecting our first child, a girl, in March, so this is an exciting time for both of us. As far as work, I've interviewed for one of five jobs in the nation as a tribal science climate liaison. If I get it, I will be working with water and food security on multiple reservations for the Southwest Climate Science Center in Tucson, Arizona."

Jacob Cox, online bachelor's in nursing, Washington Court House, Ohio, member of the Army Reserves

"I've been attending Ohio University for seven years because I've had to take intermittent breaks because of finances and the military. To finally be here as a non-commissioned officer (sergeant) means a lot to me. Now I'm hoping to continue my education. The Army has education programs for physician assistants and nurse practitioners that I hope to be a part of."