The Victory Bell outside of Valparaiso University’s Athletics-Recreation Center rang once more this past Sunday afternoon, signaling another group of young professionals – lawyers, engineers, nurses and more – celebrating their graduation from the university with VU’s 2016 Commencement Ceremony.
With bright yellow banners draped from the ceiling of the gymnasium, offset by a backdrop of brown to signify VU’s colors, the stage was set and ready to celebrate another group of bright, young minds. Hundreds of young men and women, some local residents, some from neighboring states, still others from across the country and even across the globe, anxiously lined up, awaiting their turn to file into the gym and take a seat as thousands of members of their friends and families filled the seats surrounding the auditorium.
Founded in 1859, Valparaiso University consistently ranks among the very best colleges in the United States, boasting many prestigious and distinguished alumni. A Lutheran-based college, VU urges an atmosphere of continued interaction among its graduates, encouraging them to remain in active relationships with the college even as they move forward with their lives and careers.
Following the graduate’s procession into the gym, the Commencement began with the singing of the Star Spangled Banner, played by members of the VU Orchestra, and sung by Zachary Malone Boor (Class of 2016), who led the audience in honoring our nation’s anthem.
The microphone was then handed over to Valparaiso University President Mark A. Heckler, Ph.D., who congratulated the graduates and welcomed their families.
Special recognition was given to Helene V. Debelak (Class of ’73), who was awarded an honorary doctorate degree.
Heckler introduced speakers Mark L. Bierman, Ph.D and Arne M. Sorenson, who shared jokes with the crowd before offering a prayer of congratulations and encouragement to the graduates.
Heckler then introduced VU Senior Class Representative Benjamin L. David, who addressed his fellow graduates.
“Now, we are no longer the bystanders of the social and political block, but its owners and heirs,” said David, as he encouraged his classmates to shoulder the responsibility of ushering our world into the future.
Special recognition was also given to those students graduating with honors, before the students were called to proceed to the stage to be awarded those diplomas which they had worked so very hard to earn.
Graduates of VU’s Graduate School, the College of Arts and Sciences, College of Business, College of Engineering and finally the College of Health Professions each smiled and wiped away a stray tear as they proudly received their degrees.
Following closing remarks, University President Heckler was proud to introduce Valparaiso University’s Class of 2016 to all those gathered in the auditorium, who rewarded the graduates with a standing ovation and an overwhelming round of applause.
“Continue to seek truth and knowledge, even as you grow in wisdom, and to see more clearly our God, and the creator,” said Heckler. “In the Christian faith, Jesus tells us ‘To those who have been given much, more is required.’”
“In acquiring advanced learning, much has been given to you. I charge you to use your knowledge responsibly in your chosen vocations and in your interactions with others. Devote your wisdom and your energy, not just to your own pursuits, but also to the benefit of your family, your friends, your community and your place of worship. And remember always to give thanks to God, from whom all gifts come,” said Heckler.
After the ceremony, we spoke with Chicago native Chazz Johnson, who graduated VU with a degree in digital media. “I feel accomplished. Very happy. It took me four years,” said Johnson, who was joined by her family in celebrating her achievement.
Johnson’s fellow graduate, Anne Rowley, lives in downstate Illinois, and graduated with a degree in civil engineering. She plans on going to grad school, and hopes to work with environmental sustainability.
“My dad went to VU,” said Rowley. “Actually, my aunt and uncle did, as well. It’s kind of a shock – It’s a big change... I’ve spent so much time here over the last few years. It really hasn’t sunk in yet.”
More graduates took their turn ringing the Victory Bell, smiling, and proudly posing for photos. Some toting balloons, some holding flowers – gifts from loving family and friends.
And eventually, all left the campus, with no doubt that VU will hold a special place in their hearts.