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Graduates Honor the Fongs; Faculty Cited for Mentoring

Commencement speaker Suzanne Fong told the Class of 2015 that no matter how their plans may have changed over the past four years, they have learned to be resilient and flexible. While some graduates may pursue different dreams today, together they learned to  move forward.

“We are saying good-bye to life at this beautiful place, for many of you, the first home that you have made away from your home,” she told the 353 graduating seniors. “We are moving into a new life that we cannot fully see or even imagine, full of danger, full of possibility, full of joy. Yet we carry with us, in memory, in lessons learned, in skills acquired, all those we leave behind. The love that they have poured into us is now ours to share with the world.  It is scary, but you are ready,” she said.

The 142nd commencement ceremony honored Mrs. Fong and her husband, the late President Bobby Fong, with honorary baccalaureate degrees symbolizing that they are honorary members of the Class of 2015. Bobby Fong became president July 1, 2011, and the Class of 2015 entered in August, 2011.

Asking graduates if their four years at Ursinus was “worth it,” Mrs. Fong reminded the class of the lessons they learned. “You have acquired more than particular knowledge of one subject,” she said. “You have learned to be curious, to make connections, to see beyond the obvious answer, to ask questions like ‘Why?’  ‘What is the evidence for that?’ ‘What would happen if we tried it this way?’ You have learned to make connections between very different things and, in doing so, to enrich your understanding of both.”

She reminded the campus community how they moved forward after Bobby Fong died Sept. 8,2014. “Tests were given, plays performed, games played. The board launched a capital campaign and a presidential search, and you will soon welcome President Blomberg.  Ursinus has two Watson fellows and a Fulbright fellow; Centennial conference champions in women’s’ swimming and wrestling, some wrestling academic all-Americans, a $500,000 grant to bring in and support more students in the sciences.”

Quoting A.A. Milne character Christopher Robin leaving his enchanted forest, she said, “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart… Ursinus will always be with you.” 

Chair of the Trustees Alan Novak, who presided over the morning ceremony, said he was beginning a new commencement tradition by asking all present to give the faculty a standing ovation.

Alvin Varghese, President of the Class of 2015 who graduated with honors in Neuroscience, invoked Ursinus history by holding a banner from the Class of 1915. Student speaker Quinn Gilman-Forlini spoke about taking risks.

Christian Rice, visiting assistant professor and assistant dean for civic engagement presented baccalaureate speaker Bishop C. Hopeton Clennon an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree.

Interim President Lucien “Terry” Winegar presented Suzanne Fong with an honorary bachelor’s degree, and presented an honorary baccalaureate degree posthumously to Bobby Fong, which was accepted by their son, Colin.

“You have been a community advocate and both encouraged and developed innovative town gown partnerships. You have enriched our campus and the Collegeville communities as well as every community that has been fortunate enough to have you as a resident,” he told Mrs. Fong.

Of Bobby Fong, he said, “We are enriched by his vision and by his spirit. He has had a significant impact not only on this class and the entire campus, but on the local community and the entire higher education community.”

Three Ursinus professors were honored for embodying the highest faculty ideals: mentoring, teaching and scholarly achievement.

Akshaye Dhawan, Associate Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science, was the recipient of the H. Lloyd Jones, Jr. Award for Excellence in Mentoring and Advising This award was created in honor of Lloyd Jones, a member of the English department from 1947 through 1988.

Students noted that Dhawan, a computer scientist, always goes beyond the expected and provides additional help not just in mastering difficult material and concepts but also in preparing and planning for internships, jobs and graduate school. He was described by students as an influential professor willing to help beyond classroom hours.

Associate Professor of Music Holly Hubbs, an accomplished classical saxophonist, was given The Laughlin Award for Outstanding Teaching. Hubbs was chosen from student nominations by a committee of faculty who were previous recipients of the Teaching Award. Students described her teaching as invigorating, exciting and innovative. Her style is constructively critical and passionate, they said, and she made her students feel that their success was paramount. The award was endowed by Henry P. Laughlin, M.D., Class of 1938.

This year’s Laughlin Award for Professional Achievement was given to Assistant Professor of History Susanna Throop, a scholar of medieval history. Since completing her graduate work in medieval history at Cambridge University, Throop’s contributions to scholarship are embodied in journal articles, monographs, conference presentations and a book, all in her area of expertise: vengeance and the Crusades. One outside reviewer noted, her award-winning Homer Haskins Society essay, Christian Community and the Crusades, “reveals a command of the larger literature, masterful handling of her evidence and sensitivity to its limits; careful reasoning and an easy and fluid writing style.”

Closing the ceremony, Interim President Winegar told the graduates that “there will be challenges. But the liberal education in which you have immersed yourselves here will serve you well. You have learned to deal with ambiguity. You have learned to discern truth from foolishness. You have learned to gather evidence and make rational decisions based on what you have learned. No matter what your path, these skills will serve you well.”