Diplomas were awarded to 599 Drew University graduates Saturday on the school's campus in Madison. Michael Bressman, communications associate and special assistant to the president at Drew, shared this account of the ceremony.
Drew University’s 145th annual Commencement was held Saturday, marking the graduation of its Class of 2013.
The open-air ceremony, which began at 10:30 a.m., was held on the rear lawn of Mead Hall, Drew’s iconic 19th-century campus centerpiece. With University President Vivian A. Bull presiding, graduates heard from keynote speaker Frank Occhigrosso, an acclaimed scholar of Shakespeare who retired this spring after 43 years on the Drew faculty.
Speaking to graduates, Occhiogrosso paraphrased Ernest Hemingway, urging them to continue their involvement in mankind.
“Having done us all proud already, do not stop doing so,” he said. “Never allow yourselves to say ‘I’ve done my part; now it’s someone else’s turn.’ It’s never somebody else’s turn; it’s always yours.”
In her welcoming remarks, Bull reminded graduates that part of the excellence of their Drew education is its versatility across professional and academic contexts.
“Many have you heard me say we don’t know what the jobs will be in the next 30 or 40 years,” she said. “But you have gained special skills [at Drew] that will help you in whatever direction you choose to go.”
Other speakers included Bachelor of Arts candidate Ian Edward Smith of Newton, N.J., and Mi Ran Jeon of Seoul, Korea, who were the duly elected representatives of the College of Liberal Arts, and Caspersen School of Graduate Studies and Theological School.
In his remarks, Smith revealed that he is the son of two Drew alumni from the Class of 1980. His mother, who is now an attorney, was in the audience. Smith said his father, who was a detective, passed away.
“Drew University made my parents ready for the challenges beyond college,” he told classmates. “And I know it has made me ready [too].”
Honorary degrees were awarded to Hedy Brasch, Holocaust survivor and educator, and Edward Poitras, a celebrated theologian and public intellectual, who is now doing relief work in North Korea.
Brasch is currently a member and benefactor of Drew’s Center for Holocaust/Genocide Study. She has appeared a number of times on campus to speak with students about her wartime experiences, which included internment at Auschwitz, one of the Nazi’s regime’s most feared concentration camps, at the age of 14. Brasch was also imprisoned in a slave labor camp in Bremin, Germany, before her liberation from Bergen-Belsen. She arrived in the United States in 1947, where she became an occupational therapist. She currently resides in Springfield, N.J.
Poitras, who earned a PhD from Drew in 1966, spent most of his career as professor of church history at the Seoul Methodist Theological University, where he has been credited with raising academic standards. During his 33 years in Korea, he became a national celebrity through his books and his highly acclaimed newspaper columns, published in several of Korea’s most popular periodicals, which offered observations about society and culture. Poitras was a close friend of two Korean presidents, Kim Young Sam and Kim Dae Jung, which made him a valuable source of counsel to U.S. government officials seeking advice on matters of foreign policy. He also served on the U.S.’s Korean Fulbright Commission. Upon his return to the United States he taught at Perkins School of Theology, S.M.U. In retirement, Poitras has been active in providing food aid to North Korean citizens, and is one of that country’s few foreign visitors who has been allowed to reside and to travel outside the capital to smaller rural towns. Both Brasch and Poitras offered brief remarks after their honorary degrees were conferred.
Diplomas were awarded to a total of 599 graduates, including 427 Bachelor of Arts degrees to candidates from Drew’s College of Liberal Arts. The Caspersen School of Graduate Studies awarded 70 diplomas to candidates in its Master of Arts in Teaching, Master of Fine Arts in Poetry, Master of Medical Humanities, Master of Letters, Doctor of Letters, Doctor of Medical Humanities and Doctor of Philosophy programs.
The Theological School—Drew’s oldest academic entity—conferred 102 degrees to Master of Sacred Theology, Master of Divinity, Master of Ministry, Doctor of Ministry and Doctor of Philosophy graduates.
Before and during the ceremony, graduates could be seen using smart phones to connect to friends and family on social media. Kimberly Ammiano, who will attend Columbia University’s School of Journalism in the fall, was one of them.
“Going to miss this little diamond in the forest that I’ve called home for the last four years,” she wrote on Facebook in reference to Drew’s nickname, the University in the Forest. “I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”