SMWC celebrates graduates’ achievements during 181st commencement

May 5th, 2017 | SMWC

The Class of 2017
Proud moment: Members of the Class of 2017 cheer on fellow graduates during the 181st commencement ceremony at SMWC today.

A culmination of students’ academic achievement and personal growth, the Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (SMWC) 181st commencement ceremony today at the Jeanne Knoerle Sports and Recreation Center was a joyous event attended by smiling graduates and proud family members.

SMWC President Dottie King, Ph.D., presented 70 campus, online and graduate students with their degrees during the ceremony, bringing the total number of SMWC graduates this academic year to 184. The spring graduates represent one foreign country (Greece) and 13 different states — California, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.

Kristin Fleschner speaking at the ceremony
Commencement speaker Kristin Fleschner, J.D., U.S. Department of State foreign affairs officer, delivers the commencement address. She encouraged the graduates to live each day with hope and optimism.

Two of the graduates, Vivian Hansen and Emily Humphrey, earned a B.A. and a B.S. (double majors) at the same time. This graduation also saw the first Master of Healthcare Administration cohort walk across the stage.

U.S. Department of State Foreign Affairs Officer Kristin Fleschner, J.D., delivered the commencement address and received an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters Honoris Causa from SMWC. In her speech, Fleschner encouraged the graduates to live each day with hope and optimism.

“Class of 2017, it’s simple,” she said. “Always cling to hope. Stick to optimism in the face of the darkest challenges. Know what your values are so when the storm comes, you have a rock to cling on to.”

“An amazing feeling”

Christine O’Connor and Na-Shaunda Rayford - composite
Master of Leadership Development graduate Christine O’Connor received the 2017 Graduate Alumni Leadership and Service Award and Campus student Na-Shaunda Rayford received the Undergraduate Alumni Leadership and Service Award (L to R).

During the ceremony, awards were presented to individuals for achievements in service, leadership and academics. The SMWC National Alumni Association presented awards to an undergraduate student and a graduate student who demonstrated exceptional service and responsible leadership during their time at The Woods. The undergraduate recipient was Na-Shaunda Rayford, a double major in criminology and psychology, and the graduate recipient was Christine O’Connor of the Master of Leadership Development program.

“I am extremely excited to graduate. This is the moment that I have waited for. I thought that graduating high school was great but college is even better,” said Rayford. The student from Anderson, Indiana soon plans to attend Valparaiso University to earn a graduate degree, but she looks back with pride at one of her biggest accomplishments at SMWC: the establishment of the Black Student Association.

Emma Riffe with President Dottie King
Emma Riffe received the Maud Helm Rockwell Medal for Academic Excellence.

“It's such an amazing feeling to know what I have accomplished thus far and to be able to say that as an African American woman, I am not statistic …” she said. “I don't have a favorite quote but I do have a favorite bible verse: Jeremiah 29:11. ‘For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

The Maud Helm Rockwell Medals for Academic Excellence were presented to the graduate of the campus program and the graduate of the Woods Online program with the highest academic grade point average. Two students, Janet Keller and Lorrie Dyer, received the Woods Online award; Emma Riffe received the campus award. 

Sarah Hutchinson and Jacqueline Peterschmidt with President Dottie King - composite
Sarah Hutchinson and Jacqueline Peterschmidt received the St. Catherine of Alexandria Medal

Two students earned awards for demonstrating both academic excellence and exemplary service and leadership on and off campus. Campus student Jacqueline Peterschmidt and Woods Online student Sarah Hutchinson were awarded the St. Catherine of Alexandria Medal, sponsored by Kappa Gamma Pi, the National Catholic College Graduate Honor Society.

After the ceremony, the graduates marched to the music and exited Hamilton Arena with confidence and excitement for what lies ahead.

Leahmarie Truxal with a diploma
Graduate Leahmarie Truxal of Terre Haute, a Woods Online health administration major, found self-worth during her time at SMWC.

“I am glad that my children witnessed all my hard work and the reward of receiving my diploma,” said Leahmarie Truxal of Terre Haute, a Woods Online health administration major. “I truly hope it inspires them to seek out a college degree, and understand its worth.” 

She gained confidence and found self-worth during her time at The Woods, she said.

“My biggest accomplishment has not necessarily been the grades I have received or even my diploma, but rather finding my inner strength to persevere when I wanted to give up. It was a great accomplishment to go beyond my comfort zone, face the fear of failure and succeed,” she said.

Melissa Renee Stuck at commencement
Big smiles from Melissa Renee Stuck of West Terre Haute who received a degree in human services today. Thanks to her undergraduate degree, she starts a new job on Monday.

“Coming here to The Woods has been my dream since I was a junior in high school back in 1986. …I’ve always wanted to say that I graduated from here,” she said.

Graduation was bittersweet. “I’m going to miss it. People talk about the Avenue Moment. For me, being a commuter … everyday that I come through those gates, I have that Avenue Moment. I look forward to coming up here everyday,” Stuck said.

Stuck may not be leaving The Woods for long. In addition to considering an application for the Master of Leadership Development program, she has a daughter who is a junior at The Woods; a niece will start attending in the fall and another daughter will start in August 2018.

Distinguished Alumni Awards

Carmen Hansen Rivera with President Dottie King
Distinguished Alumni awardee Carmen Hansen Rivera ‘70 with SMWC President Dottie King, Ph.D.

In a time-honored tradition, the College recognized during the ceremony two SMWC alumnae for superior achievements and dedication to their communities.

One of the Distinguished Alumni Award recipients was Carmen Hansen Rivera, a 1970 graduate. After earning a degree in Spanish from SMWC, Rivera was a leader who worked to improve the lives of diverse populations. In 1982, she founded Carmen, Inc., a marketing group helping businesses reach the Hispanic community. Her impressive career includes six years at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, serving as a producer and host of HOLA USA, and commendation letters from U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. She has served in the SMWC Board of Trustees.

Wayne Patrick with President Dottie King
Wayne Patrick accepts the Distinguished Alumni Award from SMWC President Dottie King, Ph.D., on behalf of his late wife, Morna Shackelford Patrick ‘72

The award was also given, posthumously, to 1972 graduate Morna Shackelford Patrick. Her husband, Wayne, accepted the award on her behalf. Beloved and cherished by her family and fellow alums, Patrick passed away in January after living a fruitful family life and career.

After graduating from The Woods with a bachelor’s degree in clothing and textiles, she embarked on a career in the corporate world as a buyer, sales consultant, image consultant and later, real estate agent. Patrick was very active in the civic and social communities as a volunteer and a leader. She served on the board of directors at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School and The Sycamore School, which she helped to establish. She also served on the SMWC Alumni Association Board of Directors from 1998 to 2004 and was president of the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra Board.

Pomeroy Faculty Excellence Awards

Students and alumni were not the only groups recognized during the event.Cheers and applause were generously given toThe Sister Mary Joseph Pomeroy Awards for Faculty Excellence awardees this year: D.J. Wasmer, professor and chairperson of the Department of Business and Leadership — for service; John McIntyre, professor of music — for scholarship; and Lamprini Pantazi, associate professor of leadership development — for teaching.

“At the center of any academic institution is its faculty, the women and men who have dedicated their lives to learning and who have helped to mold our collective futures,” King said.

Bill Riley, assistant professor of English, received the 2017 Alumni Faculty Leadership Award. These faculty members were officially recognized during the Faculty Appreciation Day reception on April 26.

View Commencement Highlight Photos