Grad­u­a­tion ‘sur­real’ for UD se­niors

Newark Post - - FRONT PAGE - By KARIE SIM­MONS ksim­mons@ches­

For­mer Gov. Jack Markell may not be in charge of the First State any­more, but he charged the Univer­sity of Delaware’s Class of 2017 with two pri­mary re­spon­si­bil­i­ties on Satur­day: not to let hate­ful speech stand and to ac­tively cul­ti­vate an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for di­ver­sity.

He said that when hate speech oc­curs, free­dom of speech doesn’t just al­low oth­ers to re­spond – it calls on them to do so. It also calls on peo­ple to stand up for tol­er­ance, which means re­spect­ing those whose views you don’t nec­es­sar­ily agree with, he said.

“It’s true that this is a free coun­try, and thank God that it is, but it’s only free be­cause gen­er­a­tions of Amer­i­cans went be­fore us and stood up to dis­crim­i­na­tion,

de­fended the marginal­ized and ex­er­cised their own free­dom of speech to re­spond to hate,” Markell said.

Markell gave the ad­dress at UD’s 168th com­mence­ment, held at Delaware Sta­dium, where the univer­sity con­ferred 5,883 un­der­grad­u­ate and grad­u­ate de­grees. An es­ti­mated 20,000 peo­ple at­tended.

A life­long Ne­warker and grad­u­ate of Ne­wark High School, Markell holds an un­der­grad­u­ate de­gree in eco­nomics and de­vel­op­ment stud­ies from Brown Univer­sity and an MBA from the Univer­sity of Chicago. Af­ter a ca­reer in the pri­vate sector, in­clud­ing a top lead­er­ship po­si­tion at Nex­tel, Markell served three con­sec­u­tive terms as state trea­surer and then was elected to gover­nor in 2008. His fi­nal term ended ear­lier this year.

Markell said his fa­ther taught at UD for 35 years and his wife Carla, is UD alum, so he has a real ap­pre­ci­a­tion and love for the school. As gover­nor, he said, he learned first-hand how tightly the fu­ture of the state and the con­di­tion of the univer­sity are linked, which is why he en­cour­aged the grad­u­ates on Satur­day to con­tinue to fight so­cial in­jus­tice and do what’s right.

“Let that be your legacy,” Markell said.

Out of all the de­grees awarded Satur­day, 2,764 were to stu­dents who live in Delaware, like health be­hav­ioral sci­ence ma­jors Sa­mara Gayle from Ne­wark and Sierra Riley from New Cas­tle. Both women have an eye to­ward their fu­ture – Riley plans to get a mas­ter’s de­gree in health­care ad­min­is­tra­tion and Gayle hopes to be a per­sonal trainer – but seemed to be strug­gling on Satur­day to ac­cept the present.

“It’s sur­real,” Riley said. “It’s about to be over.”

“[Col­lege] is gone in a blip,” Gayle added. “It’s al­most un­be­liev­able we won’t be com­ing back.”

Gayle said her fa­vorite mem­o­ries from UD are the univer­sity-spon­sored par­ties at Tra­bant Univer­sity Cen­ter, while Riley said she will never for­get study­ing abroad in Spain. But those ex­pe­ri­ences, they ad­mit­ted, would mean noth­ing with­out the stu­dents, pro­fes­sors and em­ploy­ees who made them mem­o­rable.

They both agreed one of the things about UD they’ll miss the most is the tightknit feel of the cam­pus and fam­ily-like at­mos­phere.

“You could al­ways be sure to run into some­one you knew at some point dur­ing the day,” Gayle said.

Grad­u­a­tion day had also not yet sunk in for friends Natasha Bar­bosa from Ge­orge­town, Lo­gan Ferry from Bethany Beach and Laura Thron­ton-Smith from Rye, N.Y., who swapped sto­ries in be­tween smil­ing for pic­tures and wav­ing to their fam­i­lies in the crowd on Satur­day.

“It feels like a dream al­most,” Bar­bosa said.

Bar­bosa lived in the Dickinson dorm her fresh­man year, and re­called a time when the power went out due to a storm. She said all the stu­dents on her floor hung out and bonded un­til the lights came back on, and it was the most fun she had that year.

“And now that’s com­pletely gone,” she said. “It’s in­sane I can’t even go back there.”

UD closed both Rod­ney and Dickinson res­i­dence halls to stu­dents in May 2015. The city of Ne­wark is in talks to pur­chase the Rod­ney site on Hill­side Road for use as a stormwa­ter pond.

The women joked they will miss get­ting UD alerts, which is the univer­sity’s pri­mary emer­gency no­ti­fi­ca­tion tool that sends mes­sages to stu­dents about se­vere weather, safety con­cerns and crimes in the area. For some rea­son, they said, they re­ceived tons of th­ese calls, texts and emails dur­ing their sopho­more year.

Bar­bosa said UD’s cam­pus is smaller than peo­ple think and she’s made a lot of re­ally good friends over the years who she will miss see­ing ev­ery day. She ad­mit­ted she was cry­ing the night be­fore Satur­day’s grad­u­a­tion cer­e­mony.

“I’m not go­ing to be in walk­ing dis­tance of my friends,” she said.

But Thron­ton-Smith as­sured her ev­ery­thing would be al­right.

“I’m not wor­ried about los­ing touch with you guys at all,” she said.

“Your fam­ily doesn’t have to be blood, they can be the peo­ple you meet,” Ferry added.

Bar­bosa, who stud­ied so­ci­ol­ogy, will be ap­ply­ing to grad­u­ate schools to get her mas­ter’s de­gree and hope­fully be­come a school coun­selor, while Ferry will be look­ing for a high school English teach­ing job while pur­su­ing her masters at Wilm­ing­ton Univer­sity. Thron­ton-Smith stud­ied psy­chol­ogy and plans to look for a job where she can work with chil­dren.

“It’s so cliché that UD has given me the best four years I could ask for, but it’s true,” Ferry said, and Bar­bosa nod­ded.

“I’m go­ing to miss this place more than I thought,” Bar­bosa said.

Christo­pher Merken, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence ma­jor from Rad­nor, Pa., de­scribed grad­u­a­tion as bit­ter­sweet.

“It’s the end of an era. It’s the end of fun for me,” he said.

Merken will start law school at Vil­lanova Univer­sity in the fall and said he will have to “buckle down” and get se­ri­ous about his fu­ture. He ad­mit­ted he had a lot of good times at UD, but his fa­vorite mem­ory is when he in­terned at the White House with then-Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den, who is also a UD alum.

Now a grad­u­ate, Merken said he hopes the next batch of in­com­ing fresh­man man­age their time well and put their ed­u­ca­tion first, some­thing he made sure to al­ways do.

“I stud­ied a lot, and it paid off,” he said.

Shahin Af­shar, an in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions ma­jor from Ne­wark, said he, too, stud­ied hard and is proud of his achieve­ments. Like Merken, he said he’s also sad this part of his life has ended, but of­fered some op­ti­mism Satur­day to lighten the mood. He said grad­u­a­tion may be the end of one chap­ter, it is also the be­gin­ning of an­other.

“It might have less fun, but even­tu­ally you’ll get to achieve great things,” Af­shar said.

He said he’s en­joyed meet­ing new friends and be­ing part of the only class to at­tend UD un­der the lead­er­ship of three dif­fer­ent pres­i­dents: Pa­trick Harker, Nancy Tar­gett and now Dennis As­sa­nis.

“Ev­ery day at UD was a mem­ory,” Af­shar said.

While Satur­day was a day of many lasts for the Class of 2017, it was also As­sa­nis’ first time ad­dress­ing a grad­u­at­ing class since tak­ing over as UD’s pres­i­dent in July.

He told the stu­dents seated be­fore him to change the world by mak­ing the world look more like UD – a place of “con­stant learn­ing, ex­plo­ration and dis­cov­ery.”

“It can be a place that cel­e­brates open di­a­logue and the free ex­change of ideas; a place where we can be re­spect­ful and civil, even when we dis­agree with each other. It can be a place where knowl­edge finds its high­est pur­pose when it en­riches lives and strength­ens our so­ci­ety for the ben­e­fit of all,” As­sa­nis said.

In or­der to do this, they’ll need to work to­gether as a com­mu­nity — one that brings to­gether a wide range of ex­per­tise and per­spec­tive, he said, adding that only through co­op­er­a­tion and col­lab­o­ra­tion will mem­bers of the Class of 2017 be able to ad­dress the com­plex chal­lenges they’ll face in their ca­reers and in so­ci­ety.

He told the stu­dents to be in­no­va­tors and en­trepreneurs and en­cour­aged them to see ob­sta­cles as op­por­tu­ni­ties, to think of an­swers in­stead of ex­cuses and to imag­ine the pos­si­bil­i­ties in­stead of the lim­i­ta­tions.

“I want you to ask your­self ev­ery day, ‘How can I use my tal­ents, my skills, my re­la­tion­ships, my cre­ativ­ity to help solve a prob­lem?’ Find those an­swers, in what­ever field you pur­sue, and you will be an in­no­va­tor and an en­tre­pre­neur,” As­sa­nis said.

“The world can be a bet­ter place. You can make it bet­ter. You can make the world more like the Univer­sity of Delaware,” he added. “I am ex­tremely op­ti­mistic about the fu­ture know­ing that our Class of 2017 will be out there chang­ing the world.”


Univer­sity of Delaware Pres­i­dent Dennis As­sa­nis ad­dresses grad­u­ates Satur­day morn­ing.


Univer­sity of Delaware grad­u­ates cel­e­brate dur­ing Satur­day’s com­mence­ment.

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