An end and a beginning

May 7—ANDERSON — Each of the nearly 300 graduates who made the traditional walk from Byrum Hall to Kardatzke Wellness Center to kick off Anderson University's commencement ceremony Saturday represented a story.

"Each person is unique," AU President John Pistole said. "Each has their own story, and some of their stories I know fairly well if they come and talk to me about careers and what not.

"That's one of the beauties of being on a relatively small campus — that sense of, yes, we can make a difference in these lives."

Gratitude for their experiences with professors and other support staff who helped them navigate their academic journeys was evident among the black-gowned graduates, many of whom stopped frequently to give hugs and high-fives.

It was an opportunity for the honorees to bask in their accomplishments and, in a bittersweet way, express thanks to their mentors one final time.

Many memories shared by the new graduates included lessons involving putting the needs of others ahead of their own as a way of improving the world around them.

"Most everything I've learned is connected to helping people in a better way no matter what career I end up choosing," said Callie Guthrie, who received a degree in social work.

"Whether it's in social services or not, it can be applied to anything, I think, in life."

Other graduates shared a keen awareness that the day, while in many ways symbolic, also represented a threshold leading from one season of life to the next.

"It's kind of marking the end and the beginning at the same time," said Erica Smatlak, who graduated with honors from the university's social work program. "I've spent four years here learning a bunch to prepare me for my future career, and now I get to really celebrate all of my accomplishments with my friends and family."

The ceremony itself included thoughts and words of encouragement from spiritual and civic leaders with connections to the university. The messages sought to reassure the new graduates as well as prepare them for difficult challenges they might encounter as they begin their careers.

"They are our future leaders, our future elected officials," said former state representative Terri Austin, who delivered the commencement address.

"They're going to shape our country and our world, and I want them to know we have confidence in them. What I hope they'll do is take the lessons they've learned here at Anderson University and apply them."

In her speech, Austin told the graduates that those lessons were forged through challenges posed by the pandemic as well as a rapidly changing employment marketplace. The degrees they received, she said, represent a foundation for living out the university's values of integrity, excellence, generosity, responsibility and servant leadership.

"Believe me, our world needs those values, and we need more people who are personally committed to them," Austin said.

Many graduates said they'll take more than academic lessons with them as they leave their educational careers behind.

"It's a new chapter," said Brooke Neu, who received a degree in elementary education. "Something I'll take with me is to lean on my family. Keep them close. Don't give up. When times get tough, just take it day by day and keep going."

Follow Andy Knight on Twitter @Andrew_J_Knight, or call 765-640-4809.