By Julia Ernst
The Liberian Ambassador to the United States, a CEO and retired company president and a professor from Texas will be joining the Rider class of 2009 at the three upcoming commencement ceremonies, all taking place in two weeks.
The ceremony for graduate and College of Continuing Studies (CCS) students will take place on Thursday, May 14, and the Lawrenceville undergraduate ceremony is on Friday, May 15, said Dr. Barry Truchil, acting dean of the College of Liberal Arts, Education and Sciences. The ceremony for Westminster Choir College students will be Saturday, May 16.
“Commencement means beginning,” Truchil said. “For all the students, it’s a bittersweet experience. While it’s good, there’s also the other side to it, of leaving the protective, comfortable world.”
Three individuals are being presented with honorary degrees at this year’s commencement ceremonies. M. Nathaniel Barnes, ’77, Liberian ambassador to the United States, and Anthony Dickinson, CEO and retired president of New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Company will receive honorary Doctor of Law degrees, Barnes on Friday and Dickinson on Thursday. Gerre Hancock, a professor of organ and sacred music at the University of Texas at Austin, will receive an honorary Doctor of Music degree on Saturday.
“We usually have interesting people,” Truchil said. “You want to have speakers who honor the institution and who generate interest. You want this to be a memorable experience for students and their families.”
Political science major Jon Chebra will be commencement speaker at the Lawrenceville undergraduate ceremony.
“I was driving in the car when I got the call letting me know,” he said. “I nearly ran off the road. It was a surreal moment. There were so many great candidates who went out for commencement speaker. I was just overwhelmed that I was chosen from among such an elite group.”
Boris Vilic, dean of CCS, explained that, while the ceremony formats are very similar from year to year, it is the individuals who are graduating that make the ceremonies unique.
“A graduating senior came to CCS after her husband passed away,” Vilic said. “She took classes on weekends and online, which enabled her to work full-time while being the primary caregiver for her ailing mother. She recently stopped by the College and described how, many years ago, as a young mother living in Trenton, she thought that college education was simply unattainable to her. While overcoming significant personal challenges, she excelled in the classroom and is graduating Summa Cum Laude as well. She plans on continuing her education to earn a law degree.”
For Truchil, his position as acting dean has allowed him to participate in the preparation of the ceremony in a new fashion.
“There’s so much work that goes on behind the scenes,” he said. “By the time the commencement begins, it’s a relief, because the work is done. It really captures what Rider is about. We make sure each student gets his or her moment in the sun.”
Chebra said that his role allows him to express his feelings about leaving Rider that hopefully will resonate with his classmates.
“I came to Rider a freshman transfer student, just looking for a place to get a degree,” Chebra said. “What I found here is a home. Rider has completely transformed me, and I think the unique experiences that Rider has provided have changed all of us. Graduation is a milestone, a crossroads of life. I am sad that I’m leaving, but excited about the possibilites that lie before the class of 2009.”