Karen Heywood was taken aback last year when Laura Eisenbaum, president of the Student Government Association at Stephens College, told Heywood she’d make a fantastic senior class president.
It wasn’t that Heywood — or anyone else at Stephens — thought herself incapable. But at 50 years old, Heywood was surprised that the younger students at Stephens wanted a leader who could be both their class president and their parent.
“I was so relieved that the other students didn’t treat me like their mother,” Heywood said. “They truly treated me like a peer.”
Throughout the year, Heywood held monthly meetings and sent out numerous e-mails to try and spread her feelings of respect and gratitude for Stephens into other students’ hearts.
Heywood’s experiences at Stephens came to a celebratory conclusion Saturday morning at John and Mary Silverthorne Arena as she and about 125 other students graduated from the college.
At the commencement, 1970 Stephens alumna Trebbe Johnson, an author and the creator of Vision Arrow, a company that offers assistance in personal transformation through spiritual seeking and adventure travel, gave the keynote address. She told the myth of a Beninese prince and his lover who threw caution to the wind in order to live a fulfilling life together.
“You should find something that scares you because it makes you feel that life is too big,” Johnson told the graduates. “Do something that only you can do at only one moment in time, and don’t let anyone talk you out of it.”
Eisenbaum, who received her bachelor’s degree in fashion marketing and management, and Leslie Kersha, a Rock Bridge High School counselor who received her master’s of education in counseling, were the class speakers.
Kersha told her fellow graduates to always be grateful for what they have. With this attitude, she said, life “cannot seem lacking” and is “abundantly full and promising.”
The 2007 graduating class and current Stephens College President Wendy Libby both arrived at Stephens in 2003. Libby was recognized as a “Four-Fold Girl,” someone whose personality embodies that of an exemplary Stephens student. Helen Washburn, chairwoman of the Stephens Board of Trustees, lauded Libby’s tenure, noting the re-establishment of campus traditions and the renovation of many buildings in order to further enhance Stephens’ prestige.
At an awards banquet in 2005, Heywood heard Libby speak about the college’s “Ten Ideals” program, which has honored individual students’ strengths in character since 1921. Heywood said her being named the ideal student of leadership for this year’s graduating class “was much more important than being class president.”
Heywood said she hopes her bachelor’s degree in creative writing will serve as a springboard to get published on a regular basis. No matter where the next years of her life will take her, however, Heywood will be forever grateful for what Stephens has provided her.
“I’m just going to miss the faculty and other students so much,” Heywood said as she fought back tears. “But at the alumnae weekends, I’ve always seen how being here is being part of something bigger. Knowing that I’ll always be a part of Stephens makes it easier to graduate and move on.”