COMMENCEMENT 2022 HIGHLIGHTS
Carpe Diem Award Chicago native Janiece Withers was named this year’s recipient of the Carpe Diem Award, bestowed annually on the graduating senior who has made the most positive impact on the Mercyhurst University community. Withers graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Fashion Merchandising with minors in Creative Writing and Graphic Design. Among her extracurricular activities were serving as president of Black
Commencement 2022 marked a busy weekend for the Mercyhurst University community, the first-ever Mercyhurst graduation for President Kathleen A. Getz, Ph.D., and a resumption of pre-COVID traditions. The traditional commencement celebrated 652 students, among them 548 baccalaureate degree recipients and 104 associate degree candidates. The ceremony took place at Erie Insurance Arena on Sunday, May 15. Meanwhile, the evening of Friday, May 13, saw 213 master’s degree candidates graduate at the Mary D’Angelo Performing Arts Center. And, on Saturday, May 14, the university commissioned nine students, members of the U.S. Army Pride of PA ROTC Battalion.
Students for Unity, event planner for the Fashion Council, and posts with the Multicultural Activities Council and Student Activities Council (MAC/SAC). She was also an Ambassador. Withers is best known, however, for her influence in the realm of racial justice, specifically in relation to how the university, as a Mercy institution, holds itself to the standards of anti-racism that the founding Sisters of Mercy hold as a critical concern. Her courage to initiate high- profile events on campus, combined with her energetic spirit, have inspired many students and employees to become better educated and more involved in the university’s commitment to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice (DEIJ). She is largely responsible for the university’s newest tradition of hosting an annual march on campus each fall as part of its DEIJ efforts. Kente Stole Ceremony As part of Commencement 2022 events, Mercyhurst hosted a celebration of cultural achievement, known as a Kente Stole Ceremony, on Wednesday, May 4, in the Great Room of the Carolyn Herrmann Student Union. A Kente stole displays the colorful, intricately woven patterns of the traditional West African Kente cloth. While the Kente ceremony is primarily considered an African-American celebration, students from many ethnic backgrounds wear Kente stoles and participate in the ceremonies every year. Sister Natalie Rossi, RSM, who has been actively involved and supportive of students of color at Mercyhurst, opened the ceremony with a prayer. Also speaking was Jessica Hubert, the university’s multicultural and inclusion coordinator. At the celebration, participants were presented with Kente stoles, which were later worn over their respective gowns during commencement exercises.
Teaching Excellence Award Among the traditions celebrated as part of the graduation festivities was the choice of this year’s Teaching Excellence Award recipient, Dr. Robert von Thaden, professor of Religious Studies. Each year, the Teaching Excellence Award recognizes one extraordinary faculty member who has contributed significantly to the intellectual life of Mercyhurst.
In naming von Thaden, Dr. Joanne Hosey-McGurk, vice president for academic affairs, described his teaching as “excellence in action.” His dean, Dr. Christina Riley Brown, noted, “Rob is an expert lecturer, and his classes are both rigorous and engaging. He presents his students with challenging materials that capture their curiosity and then skillfully leads them through critical reading and analysis.” But von Thaden is more than a classroom teacher. He is an advocate for his students and their needs. Who better to judge than those students? For alum Becx DeCarlo ‘20, von Thaden is thoroughly engaging and genuinely compassionate, an educator who “truly has broadened the worldview of thousands of students and encouraged them to be the best people they can be.” Dr. von Thaden specializes in biblical and other sacred texts. He received his Bachelor of Arts from Muhlenberg College, his master’s from the University of Chicago, and his doctorate from Emory University. His Mercyhurst career spans 16 years.
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