Hard Work, Promise, and Hope: Norwich Honors Class of 2017

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Photo: Norwich President Richard Schneider speaks during Commencement 2017
Norwich University Office of Communications

May 15, 2017

Norwich University celebrated its 380 graduating seniors at Commencement and Commissioning ceremonies this past weekend, honoring the many accomplishments of the Class of 2017 from the nation’s oldest private military college.

On Saturday, 232 Corps of Cadets and 142 civilian students walked across the stage in Shapiro Field House before an adoring and proud assembly of family, friends, faculty, military leaders, and staff. The graduates received diplomas in 1 master’s degree and 32 undergraduate programs.

Civilian student Timothy Bain ’17, who earned a master’s in architecture, was the first new alumnus to receive his diploma. Corps of Cadets member Kurtis Leonard ’17, a sports medicine and health science major, was the last. But the magna cum laude graduate certainly wasn’t the least.

At Sunday’s Commissioning ceremony, 105 seniors formally began their careers as military officers in the United States Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines.

Throughout the weekend, the Norwich community, its distinguished guests, and especially the Class of 2017 honored and reflected on the hard work of its newest graduates, the challenges they face, and the hope they embody.

Norwich President Richard W. Schneider began Saturday’s commencement ceremony by wishing everyone a happy Mother’s Day. He invited all the mothers present to stand for a round of applause. (Seizing a marketing opportunity, he also invited all future mothers to send a child to Norwich, a well-worn pitch met with laughter.)

Addressing the Class of 2017, President Schneider, an avid reader of U.S. presidential biographies, quoted John Quincy Adams: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, do more, become more, you are a leader.”

“That’s what the entire faculty and staff want for you,” Schneider told the seniors seated before him, dressed in traditional black caps and gowns or elegant navy and white formal cadet uniforms.

Speaking of the ideal character embodied by Norwich graduates, Schneider said, “We may fail, but we never quit.” He then offered a second Adams quote: Try and fail. But do not fail to try. “So that’s my gift to you, the senior class.”

Don Wallace, a professor of mechanical engineering, retired after a 55-year teaching career at Norwich. He was among those to receive an honorary Norwich doctorate on Saturday. In brief acceptance remarks, he shared lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein from the 1945 Broadway musical Carousel with the senior class.

General David G. Perkins, chief of recruitment and training for the entire U.S. Army, gave the Commencement keynote address. He advised graduates that a key to happiness and well-being in life is the ability to feel and show gratitude. Perkins reminded the Class of 2017 that “life is a team sport” and that each and every one of us owe the people around us our thanks.

Perkins also counseled seniors to put character ahead of the career ladder. “Spend some time thinking about who you are,” he said. “Focus on who you are first, and let the accomplishments follow.”

Many faculty, parents, and students shared reflections and advice that day. Earlier, College of Professional Schools Dean Aron Tempkin addressed the 31 graduating nurses and their friends and family in White Chapel at a morning nurses pinning ceremony. “I’m incredibly proud of you, as I’m sure everyone in this room is.”

Upholding tradition, senior nursing graduates Olivia Como ’17 and Jill Howard ’17 gave a humorous, heartfelt address to their fellow program classmates. “To my classmates entering the military, stay safe,” Howard advised in closing. “To my classmates entering the hospital, stay sane.”

Elsewhere, School of Architecture + Art Program Director Danny Sagan addressed graduates of the undergraduate and graduate architecture programs at Chaplin Hall in a small ceremony before Commencement.

Friends and family gathered in an open, first-floor gallery showcasing senior projects. The designs spanned a light-filled American embassy, an Antarctic research station, a resilient waterfront community, and a cutting-edge project that sculpted a New York City soundscape through architecture.

“This world of our needs a lot of good design—and they need it soon,” said Sagan, one of many faculty who spoke during the ceremony. The professor and practicing architect observed that no one attends a military college or an architecture program thinking it will be easy. Both are environments that value perseverance in the face of adversity, he said.

“It’s always great to celebrate what you have done,” he said in closing. “But really we’re celebrating what you will do.”

Other ceremonies on campus that morning celebrated the work of students at the School of Business and Management and the David Crawford School of Engineering. In Dole Auditorium, Norwich engineering graduates joined the Order of the Engineer, receiving symbolic metal rings.

As the day progressed and Commencement approached, friends and family gathered outside Shapiro Field House.

Kevin Hill from Bridgeport, Conn., intently combed a Commencement program, wearing a suit and a red and gold tie from USC, his alma mater. He wryly explained that he wanted to confirm that his son Trevor, a Studies in War and Peace major and Corps of Cadets cadre member, was indeed graduating.

Hill said Norwich taught his son rigor and discipline and honed his inherent respect for others. “It’s really turned him into a good young guy,” Hill said. “We like him a lot.”

After graduation, the younger Hill heads to California for a summer job as a wildland firefighter, work he hopes to continue in the fall while applying to the California National Guard.

John Dippolito drove from New Jersey to watch his son Peter graduate. The Norwich senior served in the Corps of Cadets, majored in Criminal Justice, and minored in Leadership. “I’m very proud,” the elder Dippolito said. “He’s just grown tremendously.”

Senior LaShawn Thomas, a Business Management major from San Antonio had a baker’s dozen of family members from Texas; Sacramento, Calif.; and Boston, Mass. there to support him.

“He’s going to be a great citizen after Norwich,” said his father Eli. “He was great when he got here, and Norwich made him even a little bit better.”