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Westminster graduates nearly 300 students, confers honorary degree

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Posted on Saturday, May 8, 2021

Westminster College celebrated its 167th annual commencement on Saturday, May 8, conferring degrees on nearly 300 students at two socially-distanced outdoor ceremonies on Weisel Senior Terrace on the College’s campus.

The day’s first ceremony for students in the School of Arts and Humanities, School of Business, School of Communication, School of Education and School of Music was held at 9 a.m. The second ceremony followed at 11:30 a.m. for students in the School for Life and Health Sciences, School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, School of Social Sciences, students with individual interdisciplinary majors and those pursuing master’s degrees from Westminster’s Graduate School.

When most of the graduating students—who have spent the entire 2020-2021 academic year in the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic—began their college careers in 2017, the world and Westminster’s campus were much different places.

“At that time, I don’t think any of us anticipated that we would face challenges because of a global pandemic,” Westminster College President Dr. Kathy Brittain Richardson told the seniors in her welcoming remarks at both ceremonies. “Yet, in spite of that challenge, we faculty and staff have had the great joy of watching you grow in knowledge, leadership and service.”

Richardson said the pandemic and COVID protocols the Westminster community have observed since returning to campus last August have not prevented members of this year’s senior class from achieving their goals of graduating from college.

“You have offered your best, day after day after day,” she said. “May each of your new beginnings fill you with excitement and pride as you reflect on your years as a Westminster Titan and look forward with confidence to what comes next and knowing you have the competencies, commitments and characteristics needed to offer your best.”

Anna Richards, a 1972 Westminster alumna originally from Farrell, Pa., earned an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree during the first ceremony. The past president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro (N.C.) branch of the NAACP, Richards has spent her life committed to creating a just society and promoting positive change. She shared her thoughts with members of the graduating class during both ceremonies.

Richards recounted her experiences as a Black undergraduate at Westminster in the 1960s and 1970s and highlighted the challenges she and the nation faced in the years since. She reminded students that life is not without challenge and tragedy, but their responses will be what is important.

“You’ve already shown your ability to be tenacious, strong and creative,” Richards said. “You have persevered through a worldwide pandemic. The question I have for you today is this: how will you go forward? How will you choose to make a difference in a world always on the edge of disaster or greatness?”

Choices, she said, come with consequences.

“Attitude is a choice. Happiness is a choice. Optimism is a choice. Kindness is a choice. Giving is a choice. Respect is a choice,” she said. “Whatever choice you make, makes you. Choose wisely.”

In addition to her work with the NAACP, for which she and her branch earned several awards, Richards spent 42 years working in the corporate sector, retiring in 2013 from Boeing, where she provided enterprise leadership of finance operations including payroll, payment services and supply chain financial analysis.

Senior class speaker Alec Rich, an accounting major from Trafford, Pa., who graduated summa cum laude, encouraged his classmates to seek the shared experiences in life.

“Because you came to Westminster College, you have a shared experience with everyone here. As humans we thrive when we’re together. As humans it is our obligation, indeed our privilege, our pleasure to share with one another—to share our knowledge, to share our kindness, to share our experiences,” he said. “Share your curiosity, share your sense of adventure, share your passion and others will share theirs with you. And if you meet someone who doesn’t think quite the same way you do, share your patience and understanding.”

Senior vocalists Ashlinn Meehan, a music education major from Cranberry Township, Pa., and Thomas LaBrie, a music education and music-business track double major from Moon Township, Pa., performed the Westminster College Alma Mater.

A total of 241 bachelor’s degrees were conferred on 240 students—one student receiving both a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Bachelor of Science degree. Undergraduate degrees awarded included 80 Bachelor of Arts degrees, 135 Bachelor of Science degrees and 16 Bachelor of Music degrees. This year also marked the graduation of Westminster’s first class of nursing students, with 10 earning their Bachelor of Science in Nursing degrees. The students earned their registered nursing licenses in 2020.

An additional 38 students earned master’s degrees—24 Master of Education degrees, seven Master of Arts degrees in clinical mental health counseling and eight Master of Business Administration (MBA) degrees. Like nursing, this marked the first cohort of students seeking MBA degrees.

The College livestreamed its annual baccalaureate service on Friday, May 7.