One-hundred eighty-seven graduating seniors from the College of Arts & Sciences marched through Neville Hall onto the West Plaza on Saturday, May 12. Their proud guests, faculty, and staff members were gathered there for the 135th Commencement.
PC President Bob Staton welcomed everyone to the event.
“Today brings to a close one chapter in our graduates’ lives and begins a new chapter, a chapter full of great opportunities and responsibilities,” Staton said. “It is a day filled with joy, anticipation, promise, and maybe a little sadness.”
Staton said this year’s commencement is especially meaningful for him because he graduated from PC 50 years ago.
“Life has taught me a great deal since 1968,” Staton said. “One thing I have learned is that life won’t always go according to your plan and how you respond will define you as a person.”
Staton offered wise words to this year’s graduates, telling them that those who have made a difference in their lives share six traits. He said they rely on their faith to sustain them, are guided by a clear set of values, never give up, embrace change, are optimistic, and they treat others with respect and dignity.
“Always remember life is not about ‘I,’ but about what ‘we’ can do working together,” Staton said. “It takes many people for us to have a fulfilling life. Never kid yourself and think you can do it by yourself—none of us can.”
Staton asked the graduating seniors to remember the PC motto, “While we Live we Serve,” as they walk across the stage.
“I encourage you to go out and serve and inspire the world by your actions,” he said. “Never give up on your dreams and don’t let the world change you or pull you down. Go out and make a positive difference in the lives of others.”
Professors, Students Recognized
Staton recognized several faculty members after addressing the graduating seniors. He asked all in attendance to observe a moment of silence for the late Dr. Jerry Alexander, associate professor of English and chair of the English department. Alexander passed away in March after a brief illness. Staton also recognized Dr. Richard House, associate professor of music, who is leaving PC, and Dr. Porter Stokes, professor of music, who is retiring after 20 years of service to the College. Stokes will become the Barksdale, Professor of Music Emeritus.
Staton also recognized faculty members who were granted tenure and/or were promoted this academic year:
- Dr. Sharon Knight was promoted to professor of modern foreign languages.
- Mr. Norman Scarborough was promoted to professor of economics and business administration.
- Dr. Emily Taylor was granted tenure and promotion to associate professor of English and world literature.
- Dr. Craig Vondergeest was promoted to professor of religion.
- Dr. Julia Wilkins was granted tenure and promotion to associate professor of education.
Also during the event, Janie Engelmann Miles and Jonathan Turnley were recognized as the valedictorians for the Class of 2018. The valedictory award recognizes graduating seniors who attained the highest academic average at the collegiate level.
“Trust Our Guide,” Outstanding Senior Asks Fellow Graduates
Miles, also the 2018 Outstanding Senior, delivered this year’s Outstanding Senior address. She asked her fellow classmates to think about how far they’ve come since arriving at PC.
“These four years have given us an education, lifelong friends and memories, and an alma mater we can be proud of,” Miles said. “People say all the time that what makes PC is the people. We may be moving on from a building, a campus, an institution. But we are not moving on from PC because the people are PC.”
Miles spoke about memorable moments that she and many of her classmates share, like playing in or watching Blue Hose athletic events, studying in the library and residence halls, and even jumping in the fountain. She talked about how others warned her how fast the time would go.
“You start high school and everyone tells you how fast it will go, and you believe them, but you don’t really understand,” she said. “Before you know it, you’re freaking out about where to go to college, and it feels like the biggest decision of your life. Then the decision is made, and everyone tells you again how it’ll fly by, how it’ll be the best four years of your life. And this time you’re sure you understand, but all of a sudden you’re in your cap and gown, and it is time to make actual grown-up decisions.”
Miles reminded her fellow graduates of a sentiment that Staton expressed earlier: that life doesn’t always go as planned. Miles said the Lord will determine where the graduates will go and asked them to have faith.
“We may not know where we are going,” Miles said. “We may not know what life will throw at us in the years to come. But the question for us, graduates of Presbyterian College, is do we know our guide? May He receive the glory wherever we go from here.”
Professor of the Year Talks about Zen and Bass Fishing
Dr. Michael Rischbieter, professor of biology, delivered the 2018 Professor of the Year address. Rischbieter spoke about how one of his favorite books inspired his talk, “Zen and the Art of Bass Fishing.”
Before going into the book, however, Rischbieter took a moment to thank some of his students, among others.
“I think you have taught me as much as I have taught you,” Rischbieter said. “Hopefully you will keep in touch as you make your way into the big world awaiting you.”
Rischbieter went on to explain how Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance inspired his speech. Rischbieter said the book is “the author’s philosophical search for ‘quality,’ which he basically says is impossible to quantify, but you know it when you see it.”
Also, Rischbieter said the book is about “being in the moment and trying to let your mind analyze complex ideas without being tied in too directly with the facts.”
The book isn’t about Zen or motorcycle maintenance, Rischbieter said.
“The message for me from the ‘Zen’ part of the title of the book and this speech is that I think sometimes you need to step back and rethink what you are doing at times, look at it from a different perspective, and maybe you will find the solution to that particular problem,” he said.
Rischbieter went on to explain what bass fishing has meant to him in his life. Rischbieter grew up catching many types of fish, but admitted that catching bass was an “enigma” to him when he first tried it.
“I got really scientific with it, obsessed with it, and I did get pretty good at it,” he said, “but it became something other than what fishing had always been for me, so I got out of it.”
After he stopped bass fishing, Rischbieter realized catching fish wasn’t most important. Instead, he said, what was much more important was “actually enjoying being outdoors and being away from everybody and everything. To really appreciate the incredible beauty in nature, and to just take a depth breath and relax.”
Rischbieter told the graduating seniors he hopes they find a special place like he’s rediscovered with fishing.
“My hope for you, Graduating Class of 2018, is that you will find a special place like I have found,” Rischbieter said, “whether it be on a lake or river, or maybe a hiking trail, your backyard. Any place that you can disconnect for a little while from all of the technology and pressure that you will have to deal with on a regular basis, and let your mind relax a bit.
“It is an amazing feeling, one I hope you guys will have the chance to experience once in a while as you make your way through graduate schools and professional schools and new jobs and new places.”
President and Mrs. Staton, along with Elwood G. Lassiter III ‘69, chairman of PC’s Board of Trustees, held a reception for Class of 2018 graduates after they received their diplomas. The event was held on Alumni Green.