Fall Commencement graduate and Nellis

President Nellis congratulates graduate Andrew Howard as he crosses the stage during Fall Commencement.

Photographer: Ben Siegel

Dr. Thomas Carpenter

The day's graduates heard advice and a few pieces of wisdom during Dr. Thomas Carpenter's address.

Photographer: Ben Siegel

Convocation Center Commencement

Approximately 900 students earning doctoral, master's, bachelor's and associate degrees gathered on Saturday during the Fall Commencement exercises on the Athens Campus.

Photographer: Ben Siegel

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Fall Commencement 2017 celebrates newest Bobcat alumni

Ohio University’s newest alumni celebrated their achievements on Saturday afternoon during OHIO’s Fall Commencement ceremony at the Convocation Center on the Athens Campus. 

After the ceremony was opened and graduates, their families and guests were welcomed by Janetta King, chair of the OHIO Board of Trustees, President M. Duane Nellis addressed the day’s graduates by acknowledging the uncertainty that lies ahead of them. 

“Forty one years ago, the future felt uncertain,” he said. “And I bring this up because I know many of you feel, for a variety of reasons, that 2017 is an uncertain time, too. I want to empower you today. I want you to feel confident that the education you just received will serve you well, just as education served me well during the turbulent 1970s when I too felt unsure of the future.” 

President Nellis explained that education has the power to change a family’s economic destiny, noting that both he and first lady Ruthie Nellis are first-generation college graduates. 

“One third of Ohio University’s students are first generation and we pride ourselves on providing accessibility to academic excellence,” he said. “I stand before you today because people around me believed in me enough for me to believe in myself – and I know that many of you are here today for that same reason. Today, you all redefine your own destiny and the destinies of your descendants.” 

President Nellis reminded the graduates that the skills they’ve learned inside and outside the classroom – the life skills and foundational ideologies that have been developed as part of their educational experience at OHIO – will serve them well in the real world, where diversity and empathy pave the path to being better global citizens, Americans and neighbors. 

“The world doesn’t stop evolving and neither should you,” he explained. “Your professions will continue to evolve and in order to remain relevant and employed, you must evolve too. Never stop learning. Instill a curiosity and thirst for knowledge in your children. Raise the next generation to be kind and compassionate.” 

And, as the newest alumni of Ohio University, President Nellis reminded the day’s graduates that Athens will always be home. 

After his remarks, President Nellis introduced Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Dr. Elizabeth Sayrs, who recognized OHIO’s outstanding faculty for their integral role in helping the day’s graduates reach this important milestone. 

“Your contributions have created a transformative learning experience for the graduates we celebrate today,” Dr. Sayrs said. “The time and energy you have invested in these graduates is an investment in their personal development and future success.” 

One of those outstanding faculty, Dr. Thomas H. Carpenter, the Charles J. Ping Professor of Humanities and Distinguished Professor of Classics, as well as the director of the Ping Institute for the Teaching of the Humanities, addressed the day’s graduates as the Fall 2017 Commencement speaker. 

An expert in ancient Greek religion and iconography and trained classical archaeologist, Dr. Carpenter holds degrees from Johns Hopkins University, Harvard University and Oxford University. During his remarks, he chose to share several experiences from his own life that served as both lessons and reminders for the graduates. 

In his first anecdote, Dr. Carpenter shared the story of a famous sculpture located at the sacred site of Delphi in Greece which depicts Greek gods fighting giants. For more than 100 years, archaeologists from across the globe have studied the sculpture, debating the identities of the gods and puzzling about its meaning. That is, until one day a few years ago when a German archaeologist viewed the statue in the sunlight of an autumn afternoon and found that, when the light hit it just right, inscriptions on the base could be seen. 

“My point is that hundreds of well-trained archaeologists had looked at it for over a century and saw what everyone else had seen – we saw what we expected to see, and that kept us from looking creatively and seeing what was truly there,” Dr. Carpenter explained. “All too often we see the world through others’ eyes rather than looking anew with our own. We see what we expect to see, and this keeps us from recognizing exciting new potentials.” 

Dr. Carpenter’s second story took place in the city of Split, located on Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast, where he and his wife, a fellow archaeologist, were hoping to examine an ancient building that was inaccessible at the time. A piece of advice from a bookseller led them to a dark medieval alley, hoping to locate the wife of the archaeologist who worked in a community center down the street. 

When they knocked on the door, a grumpy old man answered and instructed that Anna, the archaeologist’s wife, was not available – but to check back later that afternoon. 

“So, we went and had lunch and debated whether it was worth going back, given the unfriendly reception and the ambiguity of what might come of it,” Dr. Carpenter explained. “Our choice was, go back to the hotel and take a nap or go back up the dark stairs. We chose the latter – and that made all the difference.” 

Dr. Carpenter and his wife were met warmly by Anna, who introduced them to her husband, Goran, who spent the next two days showing them every aspect of the ancient Croatian building, beginning a new relationship that has had a significant impact on both of their lives. 

“The point of all this is that had we been discouraged by the grumpy old man in the black hat, none of this would have happened,” Dr. Carpenter said. “In short, my message is that you never know which grumpy old man is standing in the way of your future – another commencement – if you let him.”

After offering his congratulations, Dr. Carpenter took a minute to remind the students sitting before him of the significance of earning a degree from Ohio University.  

“In a few minutes, when you take your degree in hand, you become part of a noble tradition that stretches back more than 200 years to the first Ohio University Commencement in 1815 when Thomas Ewing was one of two students to receive a bachelor of arts degree at age 27, having followed what can only be described as a non-linear path – from farmer to surveyor to U.S. senator to secretary of the treasury to secretary of the interior to an adviser to Abraham Lincoln,” Dr. Carpenter said. “With Thomas Ewing in mind, I hope each of you has many more vital and exciting commencements in your future.”

The day’s graduates shared similar sentiments of hope and anticipation for the future. 

Miranda West, a trained paralegal and legal administrative assistant in OHIO’s Office of Legal Affairs, was looking forward to celebrating with her family after earning a bachelor of specialized studies in legal studies. 

“The fact that I finally did it – the end of this long, slow journey – is so exciting,” West said. “I could not have finished my degree without the support of my co-workers and supervisor who were patient and encouraging. Being a nontraditional student, to finally get to this day is really special.” 

Similarly, Brandon Knisley, a full-time firefighter/paramedic from Troy, Ohio, was celebrating the completion of his bachelor’s degree in business administration. Earning his degree, he said, will allow him the opportunity for promotion in his public service career. 

“If you want to be the fire chief, you need a degree,” he said. “It’s never too late to start.” 

A student at the Chillicothe Campus who recently moved to Athens to continue her studies, Rachael Ridout, from West Portsmouth, Ohio, is eager to move on to the next chapter, which means more education as she works toward her goal of being a mental health counselor focusing on patients with substance addiction. 

Ridout, who earned her associate of applied science in human services technology on Saturday, will start coursework for her bachelor’s degree next semester at OHIO. 

"As a first generation college student, it’s definitely a big deal,” she said. “Regardless of the past, I’m here today.” 

Alexis Taylor, from Tipp City, Ohio, who earned her bachelor’s degree in history, also reflected on her past on such an important day. 

“For me, today signifies personal growth,” she explained. “Early in my time at OHIO, I lost both my father and grandfather in a short amount of time. The resources, faculty and students here helped me grow through that difficult time, and my hope is to continue to grow and learn in the future.” 

A third-generation Bobcat, Chris Bush from Monroe, N.C., who earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology, remarked that the day was a bittersweet one for him. 

“In your time at OHIO, you get to create your own stories,” he said. “What was most special is that I’ve been creating mine on the same bricks that my family did before me.”