Webster University Commencement 2015: Celebrating graduates, alumni in a historic year

| May 11, 2015
Webster University Commencement 2015

Worldwide, 6,574 students are graduating from Webster University in 2015, bringing the global alumni total to over 176,000.

Commencement - Jenifer Lewis

Jenifer Lewis ’79 returned as commencement speaker during a historic year for Webster, with several symbols — like the new mace — commemorating the centennial.

“You all look beautiful, and it fills my heart to be able to celebrate with you and your families today.”

Thus began remarks from Jenifer Lewis ’79 to Webster University graduates present at The Muny in Forest Park or watching online during the 96th commencement ceremony. Lewis was “home” again, returning during her alma mater’s centennial year to share inspiration and wisdom with those taking Webster into its next century.

In this milestone year, 6,574 graduates from 110 countries are earning their degrees across the world. They celebrate through commencement ceremonies at Webster campuses on four different continents, the largest of which was the ceremony held in St. Louis on May 9. The Geneva, Leiden, Thailand and Vienna campuses were also among the campus locations also holding local commencement ceremonies that day.

Honorary doctorate recipients

Joining Lewis as honorary doctorate recipients in this centennial year: Barbara Ann Barbato, Dwight Bitikofer, Helen Hagen and Sandy Zimmerman.

In St. Louis, the commencement speaker Lewis was one of five standouts from Webster’s history receiving honorary doctoral degrees to commemorate Webster’s 100th year:

  • Lewis received the Doctor of Humane Letters for her outstanding stage and screen career and her many international community engagement efforts.
  • Sister Barbara Ann Barbato, who joined our faculty in 1963, received the Doctor of Pedagogy for her lifelong work as an educator.
  • Dwight Bitikofer, an alumnus from 1978, received the Doctor of Letters for co-founding the Webster Kirkwood Times and for his work as an award-winning journalist.
  • Helen Hagen, an alumna with two degrees – one in 1944 and another in 1982 — received the Doctor of Humanities for her work as co-founder of St. Louis PBS station, KETC-TV, and her continued work in the community.
  • Sanford J. (Sandy) Zimmerman received the Doctor of Laws in recognition of his chairing Webster’s first lay board in 1967 – a pivotal time in Webster’s history – and his continued guidance and generosity toward Webster.

Lewis was presented for conferral by Steve Swyers, chair of the Board of Trustees, while the other four were presented by Amelia Bond, current vice chair and incoming chair of the Board of Trustees.

Commencement 2015

President Elizabeth (Beth) J. Stroble conferred degrees and congratulated a worldwide graduating class that represents 110 countries and 49 U.S. States.

Fellow Board of Trustees member Ed Glotzbach opened the day’s addresses with the traditional “Words of Inspiration,” sharing five lessons from his own distinguished career and closing with a quote from Richard Bach: “Argue for your limitations, and sure enough, they’re yours.” Think hard about that observation, he said, and instead “argue for what you can accomplish, and for your potential. It will make all the difference.”

Stroble: ‘Symbols of Your Accomplishment and Ideals’

In President Elizabeth (Beth) J. Stroble‘s, address, she introduced the full debut of Webster’s new alma mater — performed by the Webster Chamber Singers — and pointed to the significance of graduates participating in this ceremony, in this historic year:

“Graduates, today, we mark history – both in your individual lives and in Webster University’s enduring past, present and future,” Stroble said. “We know you have studied and worked so very hard to reach this point. In many ways it is an end, but as you can see from your fellow honorees here today, it is also very much a beginning.”

At the ceremony’s end, Stroble said of the gathering of graduates’ supporters, the regalia and flags, and the music and ceremony was all “a symbol of the significance of your accomplishment and the ideals that you will take with you through the rest of your life.”

Schuster: ‘The Spot Where Human Needs are Crossing’
As chief academic officer, Provost, Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Julian Schuster addressed graduates and hooded the honorary degree recipients.

Provost, Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Julian Schuster addressed graduates and hooded the honorary degree recipients.

Saturday was “day 36,350 in the life of Webster University,” noted Provost, Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Julian Schuster, as he spoke of the day’s milestones and symbols of the day, including the new mace, crafted from the centennial tree that stood on the Webster Groves campus for so much of Webster’s first century.

After quoting Nobel Prize-winning author Ivo Andric on the nature of bridges, Schuster said, “Graduates, I am going to make your life harder – much harder. (I am your Chief Academic Officer, and I can do that.) I am going to ask more of you than to cross this bridge to the future. I ask you to build bridges.

“You are standing, in Andric’s words, ‘on the spot where human needs are crossing.’ So let’s build bridges. Bridges across cultures, bridges to new discoveries and inventions which will improve people’s lives and change society, bridges to those less fortunate to ensure their inclusion in society, bridges to children – the next generation of bridge-builders.”

Alma Mater

Webster Chamber Singers performed new alma mater, “Webster U. You Are Our Home,” the winning composition by student Christopher Poetz selected via a competition for the centennial year.

Lewis: Find Your Passion

In her address, Lewis thrilled the audience with words — and song — as she recalled her own personal journey from the poverty-stricken St. Louis suburb of Kinloch to starring in the entertainment industry and dealing with her own challenges along the way.

“Class of 2015, there is a point to this,” Lewis said. “When you have a great passion to do something, to be someone, as I know all of you do, there is nothing that can keep you from achieving it.

“The fact that you are breathing means you are unstoppable. I know that sounds simplistic and dramatic. But I’m an actress, not a nuclear physicist!”

After the general ceremony, graduates "walked" at individual college and school ceremonies with deans on The Muny grounds.

After the main ceremony, graduates “walked” at individual college and school ceremonies with deans and honored alumni on The Muny grounds.

Chris McGee ’01, president of the Alumni Association, welcomed graduates to the association, where they now join more than 176,000 fellow alumni around the world.

“The strength of Webster University depends, in large part, on us,” McGee said. “We, as alumni, are the sum of student experiences, faculty knowledge, and alumni success. Go forth into the world and remember our alma mater.”

Commencement 2015 - Faculty

Faculty were led in the processional by Faculty Senate President Gwyneth Williams, carrying the new mace crafted for the centennial year.

Commencement 2015

Graduates celebrated in the rain at The Muny for the individual college and school ceremonies.

With rain beginning at the end of the ceremony, the individual colleges and schools began their respective ceremonies on The Muny grounds immediately following the general commencement ceremony. Graduates “walked” for those ceremonies, and each college and school honored its chosen outstanding alum for 2015.

Webster Commencement Around the World

Across the network of Webster campuses around the world, local ceremonies will continue throughout the summer and into the fall depending on local schedule. Look for more on those ceremonies in Webster Today.

Each year, top students are selected to bear the flags of their native countries during the commencement processional. This year's class represents 110 different countries.

Each year, top students are selected to bear the flags of their native countries during the commencement processional. This year’s class represents 110 different countries.

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Category: Campus Snapshots, Webster News

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