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K-State Today

May 15, 2012

From the Provost’s Desk: Why I love commencement

Submitted by April Mason

Provost April Mason

Dear Colleagues,

It started this year on our Salina campus when I introduced myself to the commencement speaker, Skip Yowell. “What do you do, Mr. Yowell?” I asked. He said, “I am the co-founder of JanSport.” "I have about five of those at home,” I blurted out. To which he said, “Good!” I have never spoken to someone who climbed Everest. This man is a wonder. His message to our graduates: Follow your passion. He surely has! We now have a mace on the Salina campus, and its debut was a hit. Dennis Kuhlman presided over his last commencement after 15 years as dean and was recognized by his students for his contributions. Thank you, Dennis.

On Friday, our first honorary doctorate since 1988 was given to Robert Gates. His Graduate School commencement speech was incredible, challenging us all to give to our public good. Best lunch comment by Dr. Gates: "In my opinion, a handy position to have had before being a university president, the director of the CIA." The ceremony for Dr. Gates and the introductory video were wonderful. He departed for commitments at the College of William and Mary, but will have a package awaiting him at home with his honorary hood, medallion and framed diploma.

The College of Veterinary Medicine commencement has a tradition of allowing brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, uncles, aunts, grandparents and fiancées to hood the candidates if they themselves are veterinarians. The personal touch is wonderful. This year’s commencement speakers, alumnus Nels Lindberg and Assistant Professor Meredyth Jones — chosen by the class members — were truly fun, even if they did talk about animal bones and internal body parts on the outside being replaced to the inside. I remember a lot of mud and early mornings being discussed. Devoted folks, these veterinary medicine students.

Attending the ceremony for the College of Architecture, Planning and Design was a first for me this year. Commencement speaker Randhir Sahni’s daughter was delayed in Dallas, as was my husband, but she will be able to see the video. She will be proud of her father coming to Manhattan, Kan., from India in 1966 to pursue his master’s degree and went on to design much of the San Antonio and Houston of today. An architecture-related joke in his talk flew over my head, and Associate Dean Lynn Ewanow tried to explain. Lynn, I’m sorry I didn’t even get the explanation! Each graduate in interior architecture and product design gave their first-year department head, Kathy Ankerson, a flower — my first tear of the day. Dean Tim de Noble apologized to President Schulz if his garden is missing a few blooms.

The colleges of Arts and Sciences and Education were under Kirk’s watch, and I hear he gave great commencement speeches to both groups – different to each, by the way. At the College of Arts and Sciences, our question on Friday of whether the graduates would fill all the seats on the floor and go up into the stands was answered – yes! At the College of Education ceremony, our dean of 22 years, Mike Holen, officiated at his last commencement and was celebrated for his accomplishments. Our very best to you, Mike.

Business Administration had senior Kyle Landau sing the national anthem with three others, then give the student address that recognized his mother who, while battling cancer, had missed his brother’s commencement from the same college another year – many tears for me. Commencement speaker Terry Matlack talked about ordinary folks from ordinary Kansas places going great places and accomplishing great things with their knowledge and critical thinking gained at Kansas State University.

Agriculture had two student speakers and they were both phenomenal: Bethany Bohnenblust and Kate Bormann. Our students are really good, so well prepared, eloquent and confident. It puts a great deal of pressure on the rest of us! Commencement speaker Emery Castle, alumnus of agricultural economics with both a bachelor's and master's degree, talked about staying in touch with mentors and colleagues. Dr. Castle had stayed in touch with his mentor at Kansas State for nearly 50 years. As he and I talked we realized we knew many people in common from agricultural economics — some of the best of the last century. We are now developing the best for the 21st century. Another tear as he told me a mutual acquaintance was very ill.

Human Ecology, my home college, had Petros Levis, a three-degree graduate of Kansas State now with General Mills, as the commencement speaker. Students heard firsthand of his seven-hour interview and what tripped him up as a new food sensory analyst. Awards to fine faculty were distributed, and I glowed as I know so many of these wonderful contributors to our university. The College of Human Ecology ends with the alma mater and the students sway, arms linked together. OK, a lot of tears!

Turning into the final lap comes engineering. I am tired, my feet are aching, my husband is still not back from Dallas — now nearly 24 hours delayed, weather has turned to mechanical. He should have driven. I am cranky. Then Gary Clark’s son Robert sings the national anthem and afterward tells me his sister graduated from Tennessee yesterday with her master’s and is sitting with mother Barbara Clark in the stands, camera ready for his big moment. Where are my tissues? Associate Dean Byron Jones reminds us in his commencement speech of our Morrill Act roots as a land-grant university nearly 150 years old. Thank you, Byron, for doing that. It was perfect. A mother, father and twin brother received a posthumous degree on behalf of an engineering student. Thank you to all who made that moment for that family. Again the alma mater, swaying and arm-linking, and the day ends. Tears run down my face.

I walked to my car, still in regalia. I'm too tired to change right now. Kirk took robes off, but kept his mortarboard on. We must have looked a sight. Text from Frank: Am home, Alan Renz picked me up at the airport – thank you Alan. Amy said you were great and I believe her.

It took so many to make commencement day(s) happen. To each who played their parts: faculty, staff, administration, and Salina Rec center, Bramlage and McCain personnel. And to Michelle Langvardt and Kelly Moon, who kept us all organized and fed and watered Amy Button Renz, Kirk and me, my sincere thanks! Our students had a great recognition of their accomplishments! Thanks to all of you for your work teaching, guiding and helping these students along the way.

Why do I love commencement? Because it is a set of stories, pictures, moments, hugs, music, families, friends, and glances to the future, all captured in a ceremony full of pomp, color and history, cowbells and cheers.

The day after commencements are done, my feet are up, my right hand is iced, and Frank has been told the kitchen is closed. Happy Mother’s Day!

It’s been a wonderful close to academic year 2011-2012. Enjoy the summer!

April Mason

P.S.: Coach Weber, I parked in your place behind Bramlage all day. I thought you would understand…

P.S.S.: One guilty pleasure of commencement: footwear watching. I may need to go shoe shopping. Can a 6-foot-tall provost wear platform 6-inch heels? Never mind, I think I know the answer.