Norwich’s 2015 Graduates: From Many Walks, Many Stories

Master of Architecture degree recipient Katherine Anderson was the first Norwich graduate to cross the stage. Bachelor of Science cum laude graduate Christian Pardo was the last. All 432 will leave their mark.
Norwich University Office of Communications

May 11, 2015

Norwich said goodbye to the graduating class of 2015 this weekend. But not before celebrating their many accomplishments.

At Saturday’s commencement ceremony, an emotional President Richard Schneider wished graduates well, telling them that the occasion was bittersweet. “We don’t want you to go. But we can’t wait for you to start your lives.”

Former U.S. Senator Elizabeth Dole gave the commencement address after receiving an honorary doctorate in public service. With warmth and humor, she advised Norwich graduates to serve their communities, their country, and the world.

“Service is not something you do just while in school, while in uniform, or when you have free time to give,” she said. “Service is a lifelong commitment. And I can tell you from experience, dedicating yourself to serving others is the most rewarding way to live your life.”

For many in the standing room crowd at Shapiro Field House, the real stars of Commencement weekend were the graduates, all 432 of them.

Some of the 264 cadets and 168 civilian students arrived four years ago with a clear vision of their future. Others thought they did, but changed their mind mid-course. A few are still figuring it out.

Rikki Feightner from Piqua, Ohio, knew by age 7 that she wanted to join the Air Force, inspired by her dad’s stories. A double major in international studies and Chinese, she studied abroad five times in China, Taiwan, and Turkey and commissioned into the Air Force as an officer on Sunday.

Luke Puleo from Bolton, Mass., thought he wanted to become a Marine officer but found a stronger calling in government. Following a senior year internship, he joined the Department of Homeland Security, will study for a master’s degree and hopes to become a federal criminal investigator.

Karla Brent from Lancaster, Penn., spent the spring semester in Berlin studying architecture and finishing her master’s thesis. She dreams of working across a continent or an ocean designing sustainable architecture for people who need it and hopes to never stop learning.

Some in Norwich’s graduating Class of 2015 came from small towns they couldn’t wait to leave. Others came from big cities. A few crossed half the globe to study at Norwich.

Zachary Larson left behind the tiny Cascades logging town of Lacenter, Wash., and a high school where the aspirations felt just as small. He studied death row exonerations as a summer research fellow, will serve in the Army, and plans to attend to law school and run for public office one day.

Meredith Hinz traded crowded San Jose, Calif., and its millions of cars for her aunt and uncle’s alma mater in picturesque New England. Now an RN, soon she’ll care for ICU patients at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire.

Jiacheng Zheng came from Nanjing, China, on a five-year student visa by way of high school in Arizona. A cadet, he majored in business management and accounting, joined Marine ROTC, and showcased his passion for ballroom dancing at the 60th International Debutant Ball in Manhattan. He enlists in the Army as a combat medic, on a path to US citizenship.

Some Norwich graduates were the first in their families to go to college. Others had a head start and made the most of it. A few second-guessed whether college was for them.

Giselle Lopez from Hobbs, N.M, was raised by her hard-working single mother and saw first-hand the effects of domestic violence. She is the first in her family to graduate from college and heads to law school in the fall to become human rights attorney. She wants to fight for the rights of people who cannot fight for themselves.

Tory Kethro from Barnstable, Mass., came to Norwich from boarding school in the Berkshires. She studied criminal justice with her Cambridge-educated mentor Prof. Elizabeth Gurian and is off to graduate school at Northeastern University in Boston in the fall. She plans to earn a PhD and hopes to collaborate with her Norwich mentor again.

Ryan Fecteau from Danvers, Mass., wanted to join the Marines right after high school. But he says his mom begged him to go to college first. The criminal justice major and Norwich University Research Fellow says he glad he did. He plans to enlist in the Marines after graduation.

Some in the Class of 2015 filled rows of seats with with friends and family during commencement. Other saw just their parents. A few defined family on their own terms.

Christopher Cole from Ashaway, R.I., invited more than 15 people, including his fiancée Lauren. The chemistry major and Navy ROTC scholarship recipient said his great-grandfather—a strong, 89-year-old WWII US Navy vet—Leroy Babock couldn’t make it at the last minute.

Rikki Feightner said her mom was coming to Norwich for the very first time, along with her father, and her friend, Norwich alum Chris Legge, an Army 1st Lt. who was flying in from Korea to cheer her on.

Some graduates thanked their professors in person. Others in writing. Many in their hearts. Giselle Lopez thanked Prof. Patricia Ferreria for opening the world of literature to her and Prof. Sean Prentiss for still remembering the short story she wrote as a first-year Rook.

Alexandra Palmer from South Windsor, Conn., thanked Prof. Megan Doczi for sparking her interest in neuroscience, which she’ll pursue as a PhD candidate at the University of Calgary this fall.

Many thanked their friends. Doug Delpha from Felts Mills, N.Y., wrote from graduate school in Geneva, Switzerland, to praise Andrew Bracy, his best friend from high school and the Norwich lacrosse team.

Many have aimed high after graduation. Katrina Laidlaw from Dunblane, Scotland, will pursue a master’s degree in international affairs at the London School of Economics, splitting her time between Beijing and London. She hopes to work for the British Foreign Office and one day serve as a diplomat.

Many hope to change the world. Many will lead. Many will work. Some will travel. Some will go to graduate school. Some will try something different. But first they had to walk center stage, shake hands and accept their Norwich diploma.

Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan ’59, USA (Ret.), the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, advised graduates to savor the occasion because life changes and such moments are fleeting.

Many graduates could articulate what their Norwich experience meant to them. Some said it was too enormous to capture. A few winnowed it to a single word.

Frank Carissimo from Bristow, Va., said Norwich offered a new beginning. The undergraduate research scholar and triple major says he entered as a deplorable student and left as a superior one. He said Norwich taught him one enduring lesson: Try.