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College Confers Degrees to Over 230 Graduates

Posted on Saturday, May 21, 2011

More than 230 students earned diplomas during the 157th annual Westminster College commencement ceremonies Saturday.

Undergraduate degrees were conferred on 214 students, with an additional nine receiving master's degrees.

The ceremony began with baccalaureate service at 10:30 a.m. in Orr Auditorium.  The Rev. Dr. Stephen McConnell, pastor of Church of the Palms in Sarasota, Fla., and a 1980 Westminster graduate, shared "Best Laid Plans." 

The service included music by Westminster organist Kathryn Davison Miller and adjunct music faculty Andrew Erb on trumpet; the Senior Choir under the direction of Dr. Robin Lind, associate professor of music and director of choral activities; and seniors Amanda Gentzel, choir accompanist, and Sarah Zebley and Alayna Carroll, who sang an original composition.

Guests received a welcome from Dr. Jesse Mann, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the College, and greetings from Westminster College President Dr. Richard H. Dorman.  Prayers were offered by the Rev. James Mohr II, college chaplain, and Father Thomas Lewandowski of St. Camillus Church in New Castle.  Senior worship participants included: Talia Hullum and Holly Penco, who read Scripture; Leigha Krivacek, who led the call to worship; Katelyn Gray and Christopher Bodle, who led the litany of faith; and Alison Paden, who served as cantor.

While waiting for the graduates to appear for the 2:30 p.m. Commencement ceremony, parents and friends were treated to music by Dr. Nancy Zipay DeSalvo, associate professor of music, at the organ and the Westminster College Faculty Brass Quintet: Robert Antonucci on tuba; Andrew Erb, a 1996 Westminster graduate, and Terry Gale on trumpet; Heather Johnson on horn; and Robert Matchett on trombone. 

Zipay DeSalvo played "Pomp and Circumstance" as the graduates, faculty, trustees, and platform party entered in the grand march.  Dr. A. Dwight Castro, professor of classics, was the mace bearer and Dr. Gary Lilly, associate professor of sociology, was faculty marshal.  Students were led by marshals Dorita Bolger, professor and librarian, and Dr. Richard Sprow, professor of English.

The opening declaration was made by John Weisel, chair of Westminster's Board of Trustees and a 1979 Westminster graduate.  Rev. Mohr gave the invocation and President Dorman offered greetings. 

An honorary degree, doctor of laws, honoris causa, was presented to Wendell Freeland, a respected Pittsburgh attorney, civil rights leader, and former member of Westminster's Board of Trustees.  He was introduced by Dr. Wayne Miller, member of the Board of Trustees and a 1961 Westminster graduate. 

A native of Baltimore, Freeland graduated cum laude from Howard University and with honors from the University of Maryland Law School.  He was one of the original Tuskegee Airmen and flew as a bombardier for the Army Air Corps' 477th Bombardment Group during World War II.

Freeland entered into the practice of law in 1951 with an emphasis on civil rights and criminal cases.  He was the first president of the Neighborhood Legal Services Association, a nonprofit established by the Allegheny Bar Association to provide legal services to the poor, and was inducted into the National Bar Association Hall of Fame.

Freeland served as president of the Urban League of Pittsburgh, senior vice president of the National Urban League, and was a member of the search committee that selected Vernon Jordan to lead the National Urban League in the 1970s.

In addition to his service on Westminster's Board of Trustees, Freeland has served on the boards of the University of Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and chaired the board of governors for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington, D.C. 

Freeland received the first Professional Achievement Award from The Amen Corner, a Pittsburgh civic and social organization that dates back to 1870.

Freeland shared "Your Generation and Mine" with the audience. 

"Nurtured by your parents and further developed by your days at Westminster, your character and your behavior are more than a match for the challenges ahead," Freeland said.  "It was the character and behavior of our people that made America great.  It is the character and behavior you, Class of 2011, have.  You and I leave this place at the same time enriched by our experiences here and ready for tomorrow."

Senior class speaker Candace Okello, a communication studies major from Youngstown, Ohio, spoke on "Bind Up the Testimony." 

"I initially came to Westminster with the intent to do my work, graduate, and get a job with a decent salary," Okello said.  "However, I've realized that I've gained more throughout my four years here than I ever will with a diploma, because I've received the reward of personal growth.  I've received an income of strength and my pockets have been lined with purpose, truth, and faith because these are the intangible benefits that have gotten me through my years here at Westminster.  They will forever sustain me as I make many transitions throughout my life."

"Write down the algorithms that have given you answers to life's most complex problems, type out the processes that have helped you through the toughest days, and staple together the pages of your laughter and achievements," Okello concluded.  "Today, we complete the final chapter of undergraduate memoir.  So, pace yourself as you listen to the beat of your own drum and dwell in the possibilities of your dreams as we bind up our testimony."

Faculty greetings were given by Dr. Ross Wastvedt, associate professor of English and chair of the faculty.

Westminster's commencement would not be complete without recognizing its faculty.

Distinguished Faculty Award
Dr. Phyllis Kitzerow
, professor of sociology, received the Distinguished Faculty Award.  Kitzerow, who has been with Westminster since 1978, earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin and master's and Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh.  Nominations came from students, faculty, and alumni, citing Kitzerow's commitment to students, not only academically but also through "compassionate counsel, flexibility, time, and attention."  Her "unique approach to a variety of subjects and projects is always with intelligent, curious enjoyment, which makes potentially staid academic business lots of fun."  Kitzerow was recently selected to give Westminster's 2011-2012 Henderson Lecture that will highlight her study of women who graduated from law school by 1975. 

The Distinguished Faculty Award is given to the faculty member who has, over a sustained period of time, demonstrated characteristics of the most outstanding faculty - intellectual vitality, effective communication skills, the ability to motivate or inspire compassion and concern for student success, collegiality, and leadership.

Gittis Honored with Emeritus Status
Dr. Alan Gittis
was honored with designation as professor of psychology emeritus.  Gittis, who joined the faculty in 1976, earned an undergraduate degree from Temple University and master's and Ph.D. from The Ohio State University.  While at Westminster, Gittis served as chair of the Department of Psychology and chair of the faculty; supervised students in Honors research, independent study, and field experience/internship; was named Educator of the Year by the Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience; and was instrumental in securing a $125,000 grant for computer hardware and recording equipment from the National Science Foundation. 

Deanna Owens, a music education major from Waterford, sang the Westminster College Alma Mater to end the ceremony.

Departing guests were serenaded by Ms. Miller with selections on the Westminster carillon.

Commencement highlights are available at

Wendell Freeland
Rev. Dr. Stephen McConnell
Stream the commencement ceremony video.