COLUMBIA — Family and friends were promptly seated. Punch was served. Speeches were made. Tears were shed. The smiles and laughter from the stage, though, lightened the mood.
A total of 152 undergraduates in the 2008 graduating class of Stephens College participated in a commemorative ceremony Saturday afternoon at John and Mary Silverthorne Arena. Family members rose from their seats to greet their graduate’s name call with applause.
Thirty-four graduate students also received diplomas during ceremonies at Stephens on Saturday morning.
Among the crowd, ShayVonda LaRee Mayes’ family stood on the side of the audience to clap when her name was called.
“We’re here for our cousin,” Lamaya Carpenter said, speaking of Mayes as she held her niece during the tail end of the speeches.
The commencement speech was given by Jo Luck, former appointee to then-Gov. Bill Clinton’s 1979 cabinet, president and CEO of Heifer International and current board member of InterAction, the largest body of humanitarian nongovernmental organizations in the U.S.
She talked to the audience about her experiences abroad, which included visiting many of the world’s poor, and efforts to instill hope in downtrodden peoples.
Luck mentioned her meeting with Paul Rusesabagina, the hotel manager who housed Tutsi refugees from Hutu militias in the Rwandan conflict and who was the inspiration behind the 2004 movie “Hotel Rwanda.” Luck encouraged graduates to establish a sense of spirituality, compassion and core values emulated, in Luck’s opinion, by Rusesabagina’s character.
“His life has been the epitome of sharing and caring,” Luck said.
Luck closed her remarks with advice to plan far ahead into one’s future. She was then followed by class leaders Samantha Mazarra and Sarah Whorton, who are both graduating with degrees in digital filmmaking. They echoed Luck’s thoughts on philanthropy in their speeches.
Mazarra and Whorton told of the positive influences they’ve received at Stephens and how the knowledge the graduates received needs to be applied for the betterment of their individualities and the community at large.
“The education becomes powerless if it is shelved as a one-time accomplishment instead of becoming a powerful framework to build upon,” Whorton said.
Columbia College also held its commencement ceremonies Saturday. More than 400 students were expected to participate, including students from Columbia College campuses in California, Alabama, Illinois, Texas and Washington.