Prepared to Serve

Commencement 2017

Photo by Carl Socolow '77.

Class of 2017 urged to find ways to serve as graduates

by Matt Getty, video by Joe O'Neill

The 2017 Commencement exercises officially made 530 students graduates of the college on Sunday, May 21, and urged them to find ways to serve as they carve out their post-Dickinson paths. In addition to the presentation of student and faculty awards as well as the bestowing of three honorary degrees, the ceremony featured advice from Commencement speaker and retired four-star admiral James Stavridis, who discussed why he’s sometimes troubled by the common statement to military members—“Thank you for your service.”

“My problem is that by making that catch phrase, ‘Thank you for your service,’ somehow the province of the military alone, we miss a crucial point,” he explained. “Which is simply that there are so many ways to serve this nation, and indeed to serve the world beyond what our military does.”

Stavridis pointed out how first responders, Peace Corps members, teachers, diplomats, journalists, health-care professionals, entrepreneurs, volunteers, social workers and politicians serve the country. To each, he offered the same refrain, “Today, I say, thank you for your service.”

Then he encouraged the class of 2017 to find ways to do the same. “In the gorgeous trajectories of your lives, find time to serve,” he said. “Because one day I want to be able to say to you—the class of 2017—'thank you for your service.' ”

Recognizing exceptional graduates and faculty

Timothy Wahls, associate professor of computer science, was posthumously named the 2017 recipient of Dickinson’s Constance and Rose Ganoe Memorial Award for Inspirational Teaching. Wahls passed away in February after a hard-fought battle with pancreatic cancer. His wife, Linda Null, accepted the award on his behalf. Bestowed annually, the honor is determined by a secret-ballot vote conducted by members of the graduating class.


From left, Joana Nunes and Emily Vooris. Photo by Carl Socolow '77.

Additionally, four members of the class of 2017 received special honors:

  • Joana Nunes (economics) earned the James Fowler Rusling Prize, which recognizes excellent scholarly achievement. Nunes will join Deutsche Bank as an analyst in New York City.
  • Emily Vooris (anthropology) earned the John Patton Memorial Prize for High Scholastic Standing. Vooris has accepted a position with the University of Maryland Extension as a farmers’ market program assistant in the Food Supplement Nutrition Education program.
  • The Hufstader Senior Prizes, which are awarded annually to two graduating seniors who, in the judgment of the college president, have made the greatest contributions to the good of the college, were awarded to Philip Morabito and Nicholas Rejebian. Morabito (international business & management) served as director of public relations and marketing on Student Senate and president of the College Democrats, and he worked with many other campus organizations. Rejebian (political science, economics) is a member of the Scroll and Key honorary society, Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity and numerous other campus groups.   
  • Savanna Riley (political science) was named the new Young Alumni Trustee. During each Commencement since 2011, Dickinson’s Board of Trustees has chosen a Young Alumni Trustee from among nominated seniors to represent young alumni on the board and serve a two-year term.

From left, Nicholas Rejebian and Philip Morabito. Photo by Carl Socolow '77.                          

Honorary degrees and Rose-Walters Prize

In addition to Stavridis, who received a Doctor of Public Service honorary degree, Dickinson awarded two other honorary degrees during the ceremony:

  • James Gerlach ’77, former Pennsylvania congressman and current president and chief executive officer of the Business-Industry Political Action Committee, received a Doctor of Political Science honorary degree.
  • Lisa Marsh Ryerson, president of AARP Foundation, received a Doctor of Social Services honorary degree.

The Sam Rose ’58 and Julie Walters Prize at Dickinson College for Global Environmental Activism was presented to Brett Jenks, president and CEO of Rare, which uses its expertise in human-behavior change to create enduring and sustainable climate-smart solutions for both people and nature. After accepting the $100,000 award, Jenks pledged to put it directly to use to establish more tools for helping international communities sustainably manage their natural resources.


Savanna Riley (left) was named the new Young Alumni Trustee by Jennifer Ward Reynolds '77. Photo by Carl Socolow '77.

The old stone steps

The ceremonies ended with each graduate making the traditional walk down Old West’s old stone steps to complete the symbolic journey they began four years ago by walking up those steps to sign into the college. Among the graduates:

  • 72 percent earned bachelor of arts degrees, while 28 percent earned bachelor of science degrees
  • 56 percent studied abroad in 28 countries on six continents
  • two have been awarded Fulbright scholarships
  • one has accepted a position with AmeriCorps
  • two have accepted positions with City Year
  • four seniors will join the Peace Corps
  • four have accepted positions with Teach for America
  • nine will receive their commission into the U.S. Army as 2nd lieutenants
  • and more than 150 have reported already landing jobs or being accepted into graduate schools.

Photo by Carl Socolow '77.

As they prepared to leave campus to begin their futures, Weissman reminded the graduates that Commencement may mark the end of their time as students, but it also marks the beginning of their time as Dickinson alumni.

As you leave your college days behind, you’re taking Dickinson and this community with you,” he said. “Each of you has made Dickinson a better place for those who will follow you … and in all you do and all you accomplish in your lives, Dickinson will remain a part of you.”

Published May 21, 2017