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Columbia Missourian

Stephens College graduates given 'hope, direction and reassurance' by school president

By Doug Davis
May 15, 2010 | 4:58 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — During both Stephens College graduation ceremonies on a rainy Saturday, family members crowded around the door of Silverthorne Arena to photograph the soon-to-be graduates' processional march. The familiar sound of Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance" played over the arena's speakers as the students walked to their seats.

The morning ceremony at 10 a.m. was for graduate and continuing education students, and the 2 p.m. ceremony was for undergraduates.


Graduate and continuing studies ceremony
The graduate ceremony keynote speaker, Rose T. Dunn, lightened up a reserved crowd when she said "Graduation day, finally. Where's the alcohol?"

Dunn, a retiring adjunct faculty member in health information administration at Stephens, said graduates would have to adjust to "a new life when weekends and evenings will not be devoted to homework, but to career and family." Dunn concluded by advising the graduates: "Shoot for the moon - even if you miss it, you'll land among the stars."

Perseverance pays off when trying to complete a degree, said graduate student commencement speaker Kirsten Burnfin, who received a master's degree of education in curriculum and instruction. Burnfin, a third grade teacher, said one of her students defined perseverance as "doing what you need to do, over and over and over again."

While working toward her bachelor's degree at Stephens 15 years ago, Burnfin would call to tell her mother she wanted to leave school. Her mother would tell her to stick with it, because "quitters don't get Christmas presents."

Stephens College President Dianne Lynch likened getting advanced degrees to getting tattoos. "Not that I've got (a tattoo)," she said, "but people tell me that once you get a tattoo, you always want another one." She said whenever a college graduate starts thinking about doing something new, something that requires more training, it's like wanting that next tattoo.

"When you start thinking about that next class, we'll be here," Lynch said.


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Undergraduate ceremony

Lynch gave the commencement speech to the Stephens undergraduates at the 2 p.m. ceremony.

"It's my first year at Stephens, and your last," she said. She said she was surprised when the graduating class selected her to be the commencement speaker.

"I thought, 'That's something I can do! Great!'"

Lynch said she read through a list of 30 commencement speeches, starting with one given by the Dalai Lama, then J.K Rowling, and finally ending with one by President Barack Obama.

She said those speeches were great, but wanted to tell the graduates the things she wanted to hear at her commencement, but didn't. Those things were hope, direction and reassurance.

Lynch said graduates should be hopeful because they had been preparing for this moment since the age of five - when they started kindergarten. "Now you're big kids - you've got choices. You've got every reason to hope."

Direction is the course you take with your life and career, Lynch said. She gave an example of a student who got a job offer from a firm he did not want to work for. Lynch asked the student to close his eyes and when he opened them, visualize where he wanted to be in the future. When he opened his eyes, he said, "I'm in Alaska."

Lynch then called a friend who ran a newspaper in Alaska — the student got a job offer and several years later was offered a job at the New York Times. Lynch said direction is determined by what you do when you have a choice to make.

As for reassurance, she promised them that they are going to get a job and won't be the only college graduates to never get a job offer, Lynch said.

"It's a sisterhood"
Columbia native Sarah Carlisle graduated with a bachelor's degree in psychology. She was with her mother, who had graduated at MU the night before. Carlisle would like to work in alumni relations eventually, but plans to begin a master's of business administration program next year.

Going to Stephens was special for Carlisle because the smaller campus size meant more familiarity among students. "It's like a sisterhood that never dies. Stephens women are like family, and we have a close connection," she said.

Kaya Henderson from St. Louis received a master's degree in counseling. She graduated from MU with bachelor's degrees in sociology and psychology in 2005, but in 2007 decided to try for a master's degree to qualify for other opportunities in counseling. She plans to enter a doctoral program in the area, but in the short term, she is looking for a counseling job.

Her mother, Sakina Henderson, said graduation was a great day because all the work her daughter had put into practicums and night classes had paid off.

When the program was particularly intense, Sakina Henderson said her daughter would sometimes call home discouraged she might not be meeting the expectations of other people. "She put herself up to extremely high expectations," Sakina Henderson said. She told her daughter to think about the program like a tree that needed to be chopped down — just keep at it, and she'll be through soon.

Dreams and careers joined through degree programs
Stephens' equine management program graduate Lauren Blondell said her degree would help her live out her life dream of working with horses. Blondell, from Wheaton Ill., said she first got interested in horse training while working at a 48-stall horse farm when she was 14.

During her freshman year at Stephens, Blondell tried business, then nursing, but said she always seemed to find herself back at the stables. So after her freshman year, she switched to the equine management program.

"I get to live out my dream, because I know how to make a living, but I get to do what I love," Blondell said.