Waynesburg University honored the Class of 2023 during Commencement Exercises on Saturday, May 6, and Sunday, May 7, on the Lawn of Miller Hall, honoring nearly 400 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students.
Tom Foley, president of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in Pennsylvania (AICUP), and Mindy Zatta, private wealth advisor with IronBridge Wealth Council, addressed the Class of 2023 as the Commencement speakers. The Reverend Austin Crenshaw Shelley, senior pastor and head of staff at Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, served as the Baccalaureate speaker.
Zatta spoke at the Graduate and Professional Studies ceremony at 4 p.m. on Saturday, and Foley spoke at the undergraduate ceremony at 2 p.m. on Sunday. The Baccalaureate Service was held at 11 a.m. in Roberts Chapel.
During her address, “The Power of Defining Moments,” Zatta reflected defining moments throughout her own career as she imparted some of the wisdom she has gained along the way, encouraging the graduating class to not allow fear to hold them back.
“There is so much work to be done my friends, I know you know that,” Zatta said. “Our families, our communities, our churches, our colleagues, our clients – they need us to wake up every day and embrace the opportunities we have to make a difference because of our unique gifts and higher purpose and calling. Just how are we supposed to evoke positive change and empower others and our communities if we allow fear to hold us back?”
Zatta encouraged graduates to choose courage, faith and love so that they may serve, lead, inspire, elevate and transform the people and world for the better.
During his speech, Foley spoke on “The Value Proposition of a Waynesburg University Degree,” noting that economics is only one way to measure the value of a Waynesburg education.
“Ben Franklin could not have known how accurate he was when he wrote 250 years ago, that an investment in education pays the best dividends. According to repeated analyses by the Federal Reserve, a four-year degree generates an annual return of 14 percent a year over a 40-year career. If college were a stock, it would be the darling of Wall Street, and that economic ROI is especially true here at Waynesburg. You rank highly in all the major national indexes, and get specific high marks in many of your most popular fields of study.”
“You are growing good citizens here, which some argue is the first purpose of education in a democratic society,” Foley said, while referencing the University’s mission of educating students to make connections between faith, learning and serving.
He challenged graduates to protect the idea of truth in a digital world of information overload, and charged them to remember that kindness is truly the universal language.
“There is an uncommon shared strength in [kindness],” Foley said. “As wartime President Franklin Roosevelt said, ‘Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel in order to be tough.’ Neither does a person.”
During the Baccalaureate ceremony, Rev. Shelley encouraged graduates to “pay attention, on this rather exceptional day, to what you might otherwise deem ordinary,” including the love of family, friendship, forgiveness and second chances.
“These are the ordinary, extraordinary gifts of this life,” Rev. Shelley said. “We can let them take a back seat to academic regalia and to the striving for accomplishments, or we can magnify gifts, these ordinary relationships with God and with our neighbor, as the most important reasons for our commitment to any and every pursuit, academic and otherwise. I am hoping for the latter.”
Foley and Shelley were awarded honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degrees, and Zatta was presented the Timothy & Carolyn Thyreen Service Leadership Award, which celebrates Timothy and Carolyn Thyreen’s legacy of serving others and is presented to those who exemplify servant leadership in their daily lives, resulting in a transformational effect on their area of focus.
In addition, Becky Shank, a psychology graduate from East Berlin, Pennsylvania, was awarded the 2023 Douglas G. and Kathryn D. Lee Servant Leadership Award. This award was established by the Waynesburg University Board of Trustees to honor the leadership and commitment of Douglas and Kathryn Lee to the University. It is awarded each year to one graduating student who has demonstrated exceptional leadership qualities over the course of their time at Waynesburg University in the mission focus areas of faith, learning and serving.
The following students were named valedictorians:
- Maddison Butler
- Gabriela Hallman
- Elliott Kimball
Hallman addressed the Class of 2023 at the undergraduate ceremony, and Alyson Johnson addressed fellow graduates at the Graduate and Professional Studies ceremony on Saturday.
About Waynesburg University
Consistently ranked a best value school, Waynesburg University’s Strategy for the 21st Century affirms its commitment to developing an entrepreneurial mindset and ethical leadership skills for all students. Rooted in its mission of faith, learning and service, the private, Christian university is located on a traditional campus in the hills of southwestern Pennsylvania, with an additional site for graduate and professional programs in Southpointe.