After remarks by American author and poet George Ella Lyon, Berea College conferred degrees to 248 graduates at Commencement on May 5. Focused on the topic of “Beginning Again,” Lyon said, “You can’t be sure where your path will take you. What you can be sure of is that it will change, you will change, the world and those you care for will change, too. Your job is to stay in touch with yourself and what matters to you most through these transformations.”
Referring to what the Hopi people call one’s “original medicine,” Lyon said “I believe that each of us comes into this world with a gift only we can give. Part of the purpose of education is to help you find and nurture that gift. Berea has instilled in you the importance of service to others. Stay close to your gift and find ways to give it [to others].”
During the Commencement ceremony, outstanding students, staff and faculty were presented the following awards:
- Student Employee of the Year – Levi Vincent Kurtenbach
- Student Employment Supervisor of the Year – Kai Anderson
- T.J. Wood Achievement Award – Issac Pedro Domonech-Gonzalez
- Hilda Welch Wood Achievement Award – Amber Jean Follin
- Elizabeth Perry Miles Award for Community Service – Jacqueline Burnside
- Paul C. Hager Award for Excellence in Advising – Chris Green, Appalachian Studies
- Seabury Award for Excellence in Teaching – Robert Hoag, Philosophy
A chair was left empty in memory of members of the College community who died during the past academic year.
Lyon is originally from the mountains of Harlan, Kentucky. She says growing up surrounded by extended family and their stories helped develop her voice as a writer. Her Appalachian roots figure prominently in much of her work. Lyon has written more than 40 books, including the poetry collection “Mountain,” which won the Lamont Hall Award in 1983, and “Catalpa,” which was named Appalachian Book of the Year in 1993. Her poem, “Where I’m From” has been used as a model by teachers around the world and was listed by the New York Public Library in 2000 as one of the best books for teenagers.
Lyon’s book titles include “She Let Herself Go” (poems) and picture books including “Which Side Are You On?” “The Story of a Song” and “All the Water in the World.” Her book “The Pirate of Kindergarten” received the Schneider Award from the American Library Association. Other accolades for Lyon’s work include a Jane Addams Honor, a Golden Kite and the Bluegrass Award.
Lyon is a graduate of Centre College, and holds a Master of Arts in English from the University of Arkansas and doctorate in English from Indiana University.
Earlier in the day, a Nurses’ Pinning Ceremony for Berea’s nursing program graduates preceded the Baccalaureate Ceremony. Rev. Paul Prather, pastor of Bethesda Church in Mount Sterling, Kentucky and a contributing columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader, dared graduates “to pursue a life of the Spirit.” He offered five points of advice: study art, learn humility, pray a lot, determine to be kind and practice Agape love. Students read passages from the faiths of “the children of Abraham,” and Dr. Stephen Bolster conducted the Berea College Concert Choir in special music My God is a Rock.
Demonstrating Berea College’s commitment to environmental sustainability, the senior class continued Berea’s tradition of participating in a “Zero Waste” commencement by wearing graduation gowns with fabric made 100 percent from recycled plastic bottles. Each gown requires an average of 23 plastic bottles, so nearly 6,000 plastic bottles were diverted from landfills by this graduating class. The gowns are recycled, shredded and made into gowns again, a process that can happen up to six times before the gown can no longer be recycled. Every graduate who returned a gown was given a Berea College Alumni aluminum water bottle as a thank you for his or her commitment to make Commencement a green event.