Monmouth College Gives Its Blessing to Class of 2022 During a Weekend of Homecomings

Commencement weekend was a homecoming event for two of the featured speakers who helped celebrate Monmouth College’s Class of 2022 on May 14-15.

Kunal Kapoor, a 1997 Monmouth graduate and chief executive officer of Morningstar Inc., delivered Sunday’s Commencement address to the 172 seniors who gathered on the Wallace Hall Plaza.

The day before, the Rev. Dr. Teri McDowell Ott, editor and publisher of the national magazine Presbyterian Outlook and formerly Monmouth chaplain for a decade, presented the traditional Baccalaureate sermon.

In addition to making returns to campus, both Kapoor and Ott asked the students to pose a question to themselves. For Kapoor, it was to list 15 things that the graduates — which included seven sets of twins — hoped to accomplish within the next 15 years.

‘Your liberal arts chops’

Kapoor told them they would be helped along the way to those accomplishments by calling upon “the liberal arts chops” they’d acquired at Monmouth, and also by following three basic guidelines: “Speak your own truth … operate with grit … know what you stand for.”

Kapoor also received an honorary doctorate from his alma mater.

Relating to the first point, Kapoor said he had a decision to make between two opportunities as he neared the end of his senior year at Monmouth, and he chose to take the lower-paying one.

“But Morningstar spoke to me,” he said of the investment company he joined almost 25 years ago on May 19, 1997.

Then, Morningstar had around 200 employees, and Kapoor’s first assignment was simply data entry. Now, Kapoor is CEO of a company with 10,000 employees.

From Monmouth, he joined employees who had studied at universities such as Notre Dame, Northwestern and Michigan. But in his CEO role, he emphasizes looking at graduates from smaller liberal arts schools, “because they have grit.”

“Embrace the fact that you have those advantages,” he told the graduates.

The other featured speaker at the Commencement ceremony was summa cum laude graduate Elizabeth Gustafson of Kewanee, Illinois, Monmouth’s Student Laureate of the Lincoln Academy of Illinois.

Gustafson reminded her classmates of the grit they showed, moving from the shock of online learning as sophomores, to hybrid learning as juniors, to taking a leadership role in a transition year as seniors.

‘Who saw you?’

Ott’s Baccalaureate message drew on the biblical story of the woman at the well, whom Jesus engaged with despite their differences in gender and religion, which were both major social barriers at the time.

“Jesus sees that she’s created for more,” Ott told the gathering in Dahl Chapel and Auditorium. “One person changed her course. It’s amazing the kind of influence that someone who ‘sees’ us can have on our life.”

Ott said former Monmouth Dean of Students Jacquelyn Condon “saw” her and told her that if she accepted the chaplaincy at Monmouth, it could lead to a national presence, which she now has in her Presbyterian Outlook role.

“We all need people who see us and value our potential,” said Ott. “The people who saw me changed the trajectory of my life. Seniors, I encourage you to think of who has seen you at Monmouth. Who saw you? Who pushed you? Who helped you rise to your God-given potential? Some of you changed so much here that you are like new people today.”

Monmouth President Clarence R. Wyatt opened the outdoor Commencement ceremony by saying he’d make only one mention of the “R-word,” and he stayed true to that promise. The overcast skies held off rain for the entire ceremony — a bit of a surprise considering the number of dreadful weather days this spring — and the temperature was a comfortable 70 degrees, with a gentle breeze.

Wyatt saluted the Class of 2022, praising them for their four years of “dedication, study and hard work. Two-and-a-half of those years were in the shadow of COVID. To quote the Grateful Dead, ‘What a long, strange trip it’s been.'”

Wyatt was on the platform at Wallace Hall — named for Monmouth’s first president, David Wallace — to present the graduates with their diplomas. It called to mind the message that Wallace himself delivered to Monmouth’s graduates 145 years ago:

“We should address you a few parting words, place in your hands the parchment which you have fairly won, and give you our blessing,” Wallace told Monmouth’s Class of 1877.

Honors and announcements

Fifteen members of the Class of 2022 graduated summa cum laude. In addition to Gustafson, those students included:

Alexandra Chamberlain of Canton, Illinois; Karlie Drish of Milan, Illinois; Riley Dulin of Monmouth; Mariah Garzee of Bushnell, Illinois; Alex Hatlestad of New Windsor, Illinois; Hannah Jones of Davenport, Iowa; Jordan Kintigh of Goshen, Indiana; Sidney Moore of Marshfield, Wisconsin; Julia Oakson of Lombard, Illinois; Kaitlyn Osmulski of Peoria, Illinois; Andrew Shie of Davenport, Iowa; and twins Matt Simonson and Sara Simonson of Monmouth; and Karisa Warren of Knoxville, Illinois.

Faculty promotions were announced at Commencement. Promoted to full professor was Dan Ott (philosophy and religious studies). Receiving tenure and promotions to associate professor was Janis Wunderlich (art).

Also announced were the recipients of the College’s three Hatch Awards for Academic Excellence. Business and economics professor Mike Connell received the Hatch Award for service, while the Hatch Award for scholarship went to modern languages, literatures and cultures professor Jennifer Thorndike. Chemistry professor Laura Moore received the Hatch Award for Distinguished Teaching at Homecoming.

The College also recognized three faculty members who retired at the end of the academic year: Marjorie Bond (26 years in mathematics) and husband and wife professors Frank Gersich and Judy Peterson (both 24 years in accounting).

***Report Courtesy of Monmouth College***

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