Ursinus College Celebrates 144th Commencement

Bachelor’s degrees bestowed upon 364 graduates; honorary degree given to Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen ’94. Three faculty win research, teaching and mentoring awards. 

Angela Upright ’17 remembers the first time she felt the sense of community that permeates the Ursinus College campus. As a first-year student, it came from the kindness of a stranger who held an umbrella over her head and helped her walk on crutches to her residence hall in the pouring rain.

“I actually do not think I’ve seen them since, but will forever be grateful for their random act of kindness. This is our Ursinus community,” Upright said.

On Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 14, that community, including family members, close friends, and distinguished guests, was out in force to watch as bachelor’s degrees were bestowed upon 364 members of the Class of 2017 during the college’s 144th Commencement Ceremony on the lawn outside the Berman Museum.

Upright, chosen by her classmates to speak at commencement, reflected on her class’s first year at Ursinus. “We began to learn that other’s struggles are our own and that we were not alone here in this new place; this community had become our home,” she said.

Upright recalled how her class was asked to think morally and critically, emboldened to take risks, and challenged to answer, “How should we live our lives?”

“We experimented with how to live our lives when amidst this self-discovery we started taking advantage of all of the opportunities Ursinus had to offer,” Upright said.

In concluding her remarks, the Ursinus graduate said, “So how should we live our lives? The one thing we can be confident in is that through our four years here we all have developed the tools to answer this question for ourselves.”

Dan Mullen ’94, a proud Ursinus alumnus and the acclaimed head coach of the Mississippi State University football team, delivered the commencement address and received the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.

Mullen, whose Mullen Family 36 Foundation gives children around the state of Mississippi opportunities to succeed, told the graduates that setting their own path in life isn’t without risk, and they should not be afraid to take risks. He also fondly recalled his time at Ursinus and the role it played in shaping his own life.

“Ursinus helped me build a foundation for success in my life,” he told the graduates. “Not in any individual class, but in teaching me how to set and achieve goals, how to think and learn to process information, and to make decisions, helping me grow mentally, physically, socially and spiritually.” 

The late Rev. Charles Rice, Ursinus’s longtime chaplain and an assistant professor of religion and philosophy, was recognized posthumously with the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity. Rice passed away in April.

“You were our dear friend who taught us how to confront life’s most persistent problems with moral clarity and good humor,” said Christian Rice ’98, a visiting assistant professor of philosophy and religion and assistant dean for civic engagement. “You taught us that love was about showing up, and you celebrated with us in life’s greatest moments and comforted us in our moments of loss and disappointment.  You loved us deeply.”

A Baccalaureate program preceded Commencement at 10 a.m. in Bomberger Auditorium, where graduates gathered as a class for one last time for songs and readings that represent the many faith traditions of the student body.

Anthony Campolo, a professor of sociology and a special assistant to the president at Eastern University, served as Baccalaureate speaker. As founder and president of the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education, Rev. Campolo has worked to create, nurture, and support programs for at-risk children in cities across North America. Campolo also received the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity.

A family brunch followed Baccalaureate at various locations throughout campus.

Ursinus also recognized the dedication and commitment of the entire Ursinus faculty by honoring three professors who represent mentoring, teaching, and scholarly achievement.

The H. Lloyd Jones, Jr., Award for Excellence in Mentoring and Advising was awarded to Lisa Grossbauer, an instructor in mathematics and computer science. The Laughlin Distinguished Teaching Award was given to Delwyn Engstrom, a professor of health and exercise physiology.

Finally, the Laughlin Award for Professional Achievement, endowed by Henry P. Laughlin ’38, M.D., an internationally recognized scholar and psychiatrist, was awarded to Meredith Goldsmith, a professor of English.

President Brock Blomberg also acknowledged three retiring faculty members: Hugh Clark, a professor of history and East Asian studies; Douglas Nagy, an associate professor of physics and astronomy; and Patricia Schroeder, a professor of English.

In his closing remarks to the graduates, Blomberg said, “You have shown fearlessness and a willingness to take risks to pursue your goals. You rise to every challenge. You come together in moments of adversity to support one another. You have a spirited camaraderie that I expect will last a long time.”

“You may be leaving Collegeville today, but I know—as does everyone on this stage—that there will always be a part of Ursinus in you,” Blomberg said. “I want you to hold onto every memory and relish them, because they are now what best defines you as a friend, colleague, mentor, scholar and athlete.” —By Ed Moorhouse