It was a year of many challenges for Bethany College, as well as much of higher education in America. But as we formally brought the academic year to a close on May 17, honoring the Class of 2014 at Commencement, we found much to celebrate as we united old traditions with the new beginnings of our graduates.
Our seniors enjoyed two exceptional speakers during the weekend: the Rev. Gary Kidwell, president of the Christian Church Foundation in Indianapolis, who delivered the Baccalaureate sermon, and former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security and twice-elected governor of Pennsylvania, the Honorable Tom Ridge, who was our Commencement speaker.
It was the perfect combination of distinguished guests that only a highly respected, small liberal arts college like Bethany could bring together.
The presence of Rev. Kidwell reminded us of our heritage as a church-related college, our spiritual roots, and our moral obligations as an institution that have transcended the 174 years of our history. The appearance of Secretary Ridge on our graduation stage brought us fast-forward to the realities of our current century, our necessary response to the threats aimed at the very national heritage we cherish, and our renewed responsibility to teach tolerance and personal responsibility as well as vigilance. I could only imagine the serious but humane gaze of our founder Alexander Campbell who could, with his extensive knowledge and vigorous intellect, appreciate the complexity yet propriety of welcoming two such different speakers on our campus on the same weekend.
For it was Campbell, in a dangerous time of his own in the years prior to the American Civil War, who had the foresight to found a college devoted to freedom from the tyranny of ignorance and “vulgar prejudices.” He knew this was necessary to guide us away from violence and the disastrous failure of morality and reason. I think that Mr. Campbell would be pleased with our selection of speakers this spring, and their differing but inspiring messages that nourish the spirit as well as the intellect.
It was a special pleasure at Commencement to present this year’s winner of the Oreon E. Scott Award, Cameron A. Cooper. Granted to the graduating senior with the highest academic standing over the course of study, the award this year honored an outstanding economics major, president of the Business and Accounting Club and the Economics Club, CEO and Chief Portfolio Manager of the McCann Student Investment Fund, and captain of the Bison football team. Cameron will enter Vanderbilt University this fall to pursue his master’s in accountancy. We congratulate one of the most impressive students with whom I have been associated in 23 years as a college president.
Another of the deeply satisfying moments of the academic year occurs on Alumni Weekend. In early May, we welcomed back the Class of 1964 on their fiftieth anniversary of graduation from Bethany. This is the class of our own Larry Grimes and Randy Cooey, longtime professors and leaders of the College, who continue faithfully to answer calls to service when they are needed.
At Saturday evening’s banquet in Commencement Hall, we honored four very different but accomplished and loyal Bethanians with the various alumni awards.
Don Wells, a 1943 Bethany graduate and World War II veteran, received the Community Service Award, which recognizes alumni who demonstrate significant leadership and service to their region or community. A resident of Alexandria, Va., Mr. Wells is an attorney and prominent leader for many local organizations.
Dr. Cheryl Mitchell, a 1976 Bethany graduate, was honored with the Alumni Achievement Award, which recognizes Bethany alumni for achievements and contributions to their profession or field. She is the founder and president of Creative Research Management in Stockton, Calif., where she also serves as senior research chemist.
George Manahan, a 1983 Bethany graduate, was presented with the Distinguished Service to Alma Mater Award, the highest recognition award given to one recipient annually for alumni involvement, volunteer service, and support to Bethany. Currently residing in Charleston, W.Va., George is CEO of The Manahan Group, one of West Virginia's largest advertising and public relations firms. Inducted last year as a member of the Communications and Media Arts Alumni Wall of Fame, he serves as professional advisor to Bethany’s chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America.
Elizabeth (Beth) Sweeney Athol, a 1982 Bethany College graduate and Pittsburgh attorney, was named Alumna of the Year. She currently practices law at the firm of Lovett Bookman Harmon Marks LLP, where she specializes in estate and transfer tax planning. She serves on the College’s Board of Trustees and chairs the Advancement Committee as well as our $52 million “Transformation Now!” capital campaign. Beth comes from a family with many years of connections to Bethany as graduates and Trustees.
So it was a season of the coming together of rich traditions, inspiring addresses, and special honors for some very accomplished Bethanians. Each year, as we sign the diplomas of our seniors and prepare the graduates for their final walk through the Oglebay Gates, I take enormous satisfaction in the work that we do. The symbolism and sense of accomplishment sustain us throughout the summer and into the new academic year as we welcome our newest Bethanians to our historic campus and time-honored mission.
To the Class of 2014, congratulations, and to all Bethanians everywhere, have a great summer and thank you for your support and continuing engagement with A Small College of National Distinction.