The British royal wedding in April may have set the bar high when it comes to pomp and tradition, but even that study in elaborate millinery was no match for Beloit’s 161st Commencement exercises. When it comes to hats, Beloiters have got the House of Windsor beat. On May 15, Beloit’s 301 graduates followed their own traditions and donned mortarboards decorated with everything from a small sewing machine to a loaf of freshly baked, turtle-shaped bread.
Some attendees, however, had their heads covered for another reason—the day dawned chilly, drizzly, and overcast, not ideal for an outdoor ceremony. As he took to the podium in front of Middle College, President Bierman broke the ice by joking, “You’ll excuse me as I put on my sunglasses.” He reminded the crowd of the quote, “There is no bad weather, just different weather,” and pointed out that embracing differences is Beloit’s way of doing business.
By the time the graduates made their way to the stage to accept their degrees, however, sunglasses were an actual necessity. People doffed their extra layers as the class of 2011 sat in full sunshine.
Though it was only President Bierman’s second Commencement at Beloit, he was already well-known for propagating Beloit traditions, especially its love of turtles. “It would not be a Commencement, at least under this presidency, if I did not make a comment or two about turtles,” he said. Riffing on the idea of turtles as an unchanging, evolutionary constant, his address asked students to consider: “How is turtle sex like a Beloit College education?” It’s a matter of diligence and desire, persistence and focus, a mix that is distinctly Beloit.
There was no dearth of quirky subject matter at the ceremony, as class speaker Ben Pascoe’11 of Broken Arrow, Okla., compared his fellow graduates to plain milkshakes. The founder of Milkshake Mondays, a campus event featuring free milkshakes in Maurer Link, didn’t stop there. Pascoe likened his classmates to vanilla milkshakes blended and flavored by the experiences of Beloit, but made the metaphor literal when he had milkshakes handed out to the graduating class, who raised their glasses in a cool, creamy toast.
By the time Commencement speaker and honorary degree recipient Justice Richard Goldstone had taken to the platform, patches of blue sky were visible over Pearsons. For Goldstone, this was a return visit to campus. The South African judge served as Beloit’s Weissberg Chair in International Studies in 2007. Known widely for his human rights work, he most notably led the Commission of Inquiry Regarding Public Violence and Intimidation, which played a key role in aiding his home country’s transition from apartheid to democracy. Goldstone’s work spans many nations, however, ranging from heading a United Nations fact-finding mission examining the conflict between Hamas and Israel in the Gaza Strip to investigating war crimes in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.
Goldstone urged the class of 2011 to remember how one person can influence change in the world.
“In my life, I have seen momentous changes in my home country of South Africa,” he said. “Again and again I have seen what a commitment to humanity and human dignity can achieve.” People who today have changed the world, he added, had at one time “sat at their own college graduation, listening to some old man or woman telling them to seize the great opportunities they had been given. These men and women, who have done so much for the world and its people, were not so different from you.”
All in the family
At least two graduates had stronger ties than a shared graduation year. When she began her journey toward a degree at Beloit 12 years ago, Residential Life Administrative Assistant Barbara Cavanagh never imagined she’d be crossing the Commencement platform at the same time as her son, Bradley.
“On graduation day, as I rose from my seat to make my way to the stage, I realized I was holding my breath,” Cavanagh says. Having capitalized on a benefit that allows college employees to take a class per semester, she realized last year that she was close to finishing her degree in sociology, but didn’t have any intentions of walking in the ceremony until her son spoke up. “He teased me a bit and said it took me a lot longer to get my degree, so I needed to walk. He said, ‘If you don’t walk, I won’t walk.’”
Being the first in her family to obtain a degree means much to Cavanagh, and the emotions were only amplified, she says, because of her pride in her son, who earned his degree in biology. “I have learned so much over the last 12 years: so much out of books, from the professors, from my classmates, and my coworkers.” The culmination of graduating with her son by her side made the success that much sweeter. “I know this accomplishment happens for a lot of people, but walking with my son was an honor,” she says. “My heart was bursting with pride.”
Several alumni, members of the graduating class, and friends of the college were singled out for honors during the Commencement ceremony.
Recognized for her willingness to lend a hand, lead the way, and keep everyone from classmates to colleagues in good humor, Alicia Halvensleben’11 of Milwaukee, Wis., was awarded the Warren Miller Blue Skies award. Halvensleben majored in history and German and graduated cum laude.
Hannah Yokom’11, an anthropology and education/youth studies major, received this year’s Martha Peterson Prize. Named for the college’s seventh president, the prize is awarded to a student who exemplifies the college’s tradition of putting the liberal arts into practice. Besides excelling in academics—and graduating summa cum laude—Yokom, of Arden Hills, Minn., studied in Spain, competed as a swimmer, sang in chorus, and played the violin.
Each year, the college confers honorary degrees on individuals who have displayed extraordinary levels of achievement and service.
In 2011, three individuals received honorary degrees.
In receiving his honorary Doctor of Laws degree, Justice Goldstone was cited for championing “the belief that no one is above the law—justice demands that those who violate human rights are held accountable.” Goldstone headed up the first war crimes tribunal since Nuremberg, and his prosecutions of mass atrocities in the Balkans and Rwanda included groundbreaking indictments for rape and sexual violence.
Ruth DeYoung Kohler, a former trustee of the college (1978-84), was recognized with a Doctor of Humane Letters degree for her longstanding support of the arts in Wisconsin, and her support of teaching museums like those at Beloit College. She was honored for her “simultaneous confidence in and care for the art object and its maker.” Kohler is the longtime director of the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wis., and has served on numerous arts advisory boards and panels.
Robert Virgil’56 has deep ties to Beloit, starting with his impassioned work as a student journalist on the Round Table and his friendship with former college president Miller Upton, and continuing as he raises funds for the endowed Miller Upton programs in Beloit’s economics department. Throughout his career—first as dean of Washington University’s Olin Business School, and later with investment firm Edward Jones—Virgil has continuously given back and brought honor to the college. He was recognized with a Doctor of Humane Letters degree.
Professor of Modern Languages and Literatures Thomas Freeman and Senior Advisor to the Vice President for External Affairs Susan Cleverdon received emeriti status at Commencement.
Freeman, who came to Beloit College in 1981, taught German and Yiddish, and was known for focusing on Germany’s minority voices. The German press recognized Freeman as the foremost authority on novelist and dramatist Hans Henny Jahnn, whose biography Freeman authored.
Cleverdon served the college in a variety of capacities for more than 15 years as executive director of gift planning, campaign director, development and gift-planning officer, and senior advisor to the vice president for External Affairs. In these roles, she provided invaluable support to donor-funded programs like the Weissberg Programs and the Upton Forum, and helped organize, launch, and successfully complete the college’s recent $100 million Classic. Daring. Life-Changing. campaign.