As one journey ends for hundreds of Methodist University students, another springs to life.
At Segra Stadium in downtown Fayetteville on Saturday morning, Methodist University recognized the members of the Class of 2022 during its 59th Annual Spring Commencement Ceremony in front of their family members, friends, faculty and staff.
Methodist University President Stanley T. Wearden set the tone for the event with a note of encouragement for graduates, who have dealt with the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic the past two years.
“You have not only completed your Methodist University degree programs, but you have done so at one of the most difficult times in American history,” said Wearden. “I’ve been working in higher education for 40 years, and I’ve never seen challenges like those we have faced together over the past two years. You have felt the pressure – I’ve seen that. But what I hope you now realize about yourselves is that you have deep reservoirs of strength, character and compassion.”
Following his introduction, Wearden honored two individuals for their contributions to MU. Dr. Don Lassiter, psychology professor and director of Accreditation, Assessment and Student Learning, received the University Medallion for his special service to the university. Wearden also gave special recognition to John “Mac” Healy, the MU Board of Trustees chair.
Attention then turned to a man who has left a positive impact on the area, Fayetteville Technical Community College President J. Larry Keen. Serving as this year’s commencement address speaker, Keen has led an important effort to provide educational programs of study for college transfers for the past 15 years. He has also played a pivotal role in continuing an important relationship between MU and FTCC.
Keen mentioned the Class of 2022 should be proud of its efforts and offered encouragement.
“One of the things I would encourage you to be is to be that person in the arena,” he said. “We have a lot of people who stand back and will condemn this person or that person, this group or that group. I’m going to encourage you to be in the arena, play the game, and be the champion today. Be the one who invests all you have to be the best you can be.”
Afterward, Wearden presented an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree to Keen for his long career of service and leadership to higher education across the country.
Individually, several students received recognition for their time at Methodist, including three international students – Teboho Motselekatse ’22 (Lesotho), Nerketa Damiba ’22 (Burkina Faso), and Ali Hussain ‘22 (Pakistan) – who all became the first MU graduates from their respective countries. Their country flags will hang inside MU’s Berns Student Center, bringing the total number of countries represented by MU graduates to 127.
This year’s Lucius Stacy Weaver Award went to Kesimy Martinez ’22, who majored in Social Work and Business Management. The award, as voted by the MU faculty, is given to the student who best exemplifies academic excellence, spiritual development, leadership and service.
Also, Henry Murray ’22 was selected as this year’s Distinguished Graduate. As one of the five students in the Class of 2022 with the highest GPA, Murray expressed gratitude for his time at Methodist while keeping an eye to the future.
Following Murray’s speech, the university moved toward the most-anticipated segment of commencement, the conferring of degrees. Not only did the nearly 300 graduates receive their coveted degrees on stage, but each graduate also participated in the hooding ceremony – a long-standing tradition at MU in which an individually-selected sponsor (often a parent, spouse, child, professor, or friend) hoods the graduate to mark their academic achievement.
Speaking on behalf of MU alumni around the nation, Dr. Mica Mitchell '01 (president of the MU Alumni Association) had this message for the graduates: "As you move forward from today, remember the moments of truth, virtue, justice and love that you experienced at Methodist University. Take these lessons with you in your careers and in your communities. Join with alumni like me and thousands of others around the world in representing our alma mater well. Stay connected. We can’t wait to read about all your accomplishments in our alumni newsletter, and we are looking forward to seeing you at future Methodist University homecomings."
Wearden then directed the graduates through the symbolic moving of the tassels, signifying the end of one journey and the beginning of the next.
Before loved ones could embrace their graduates outside of Segra Stadium, Wearden left the Class of 2022 with one final call for action.
“Congratulations, graduates. This is a significant achievement, and it will change your lives in many ways both tangibly and intangibly,” said Wearden. “This is your university today, and it will always be your university. Stay in touch, share your accomplishments with us, and stay involved. This is a great institution, and as we all work to make it even better, we will need your help.”