Manchester University
Oak Leaves

March 8, 2019

Chloe Seniors (6)

Exercise science major Harrison Hollis and elementary education major Annie Jondle enjoy the salads during dinner.

Photo by Chloe Arndt

Seniors Celebrate Last Days at Manchester

Zoe Vorndran


Some students trekked across campus, while others drove far distances to reunite with their graduating class. The Last Days to Commencement event occurred on Feb 28, 2019, at 5 p.m., to celebrate the journeys and achievements of the class of 2019.

Since 2011, Manchester University’s Alumni Office has planned the event to celebrate the seniors, recognize their accomplishments and invite them to become engaged alumni after graduating. “Last Days to Commencement is a time for us to celebrate and reminisce,” said Mike Leckrone, assistant director of Alumni Relations. “We like seniors to reflect on their experiences and appreciate their accomplishments.”

Students energetically socialized in the Upper Jo Young Switzer Center for the first half hour as they showed off their formal wear. The servers, which consisted of faculty and staff volunteers, weaved through the crowd to offer appetizers such as sushi, spanakopita and tomato basil bruschetta. Students could also quench their thirst with either water or Cosmopolitans.

During the cocktail hour, students took pictures in front of the ‘Spartans for Life’ photo backdrop and chatted with friends. “The best part of the event was friends taking pictures and reminiscing their four years at Manchester University, and how time has flown by so quickly,” said Samuel Tetteh-Quarshie, a biology-chemistry major and a psychology minor.

Students congregated into the banquet room at 5:30 p.m., where the tables were topped with black cloths, yellow napkins folded neatly and candlelit centerpieces. Students sat in assigned seats according to their majors. Staff and faculty members accompanied each table based on their department or their interests.

Students had mixed reactions about the assigned seating. Mitchell Espinosa, a history major and a Spanish minor, liked it. “I thought seating by major was a good idea,” he said. “It was nice 
to spend time with Professor Ganesan because it was nice to have a farewell dinner with a professor who you have known your entire college career.”  Tetteh-Quarshie also enjoyed the assigned seating because it helped the event run smoothly. He appreciated that they separated students by majors since they shared a common interest. Tetteh-Quarshie found it especially humbling to be served by his professors. “Personally, it edifies the personal connections that the professors here at Manchester University have with their students,” he said. “The joy on their faces while they served is something that will forever remain in my heart."

On the other hand, Mikayla Rosinski, an education studies major with a concentration in business and history minor, would have preferred to have chosen her seat for the evening; however, she did not mind sitting with others who share her major. “I would rather have been sitting with my friends since the event was celebrating our last days here,” she said. This year marked the first time the faculty and staff caterers sat and intermingled with the students. For Dr. Uma Ganesan, associate history professor, the assigned seating allowed her to connect with the students from her department. “It was extra-special for me because I had a chance to serve and sit with the first cohort of history majors whom I have known and taught from the time they were freshmen here at MU,” Ganesan said. “Each of these students have been in several of my classes and I have got to know them well over the last four years. I sure am going to be teary-eyed when this group of students graduates and leaves. While I wish the very best for them in their personal and professional lives, I will certainly miss them.”

Dr. Heather Schilling, professor of education, also appreciated being able to interact with the students since they had less of a role in serving. While she would have enjoyed meeting and connecting with other graduating seniors, she appreciated being able to serve and sit with some of her elementary education majors. “I have loved watching the senior education majors step boldly into our profession,” she said. “They have learned to challenge the status quo in order to improve the human condition.” For some students like Rosinski and Justice Smith, a finance major with a sales minor, their servers were professors outside of their department. However, they enjoyed sitting and interacting with them. Smith found Dr. Timothy Brauch to be entertaining and an enjoyable host for his table, while Rosinski commented that Dr. Stacy Erickson-Pesetski was “super funny and nice,” even though she had never had her as a professor before.

As the students ate their salads, Kylee Moss, director of Alumni Relations and a 2011 Manchester College graduate, welcomed the seniors in her opening speech. During her speech, she stressed that Manchester University is always a family who cares deeply about their students and alumni. She encouraged the seniors to continue their connections and to proudly join the family of Spartan alumni. “We want to start engaging future alums,” Moss said in an interview before the event. She explained that the Alumni Office hopes that the graduating class will share their experiences with other Manchester Spartans in the world.

Toward the end of her speech, she explained the contents of the black Manchester University folders that were placed on the seats of each student. The folders included the program for the evening, a pad of paper and pen and surveys to fill out. She also invited students to read the letters they wrote to themselves as first-years which elicited loud, excited chattering from the audience.

As students opened their letters, there were many different reactions. While some students found it entertaining, others thought their letters were moving. Despite the fact that she wrote about missing home and being nervous, Rosinski found the letter to be funny. For Smith, the letter contained a dollar that he had placed in the envelope during his first year. Espinosa found the letter to be emotional. “It’s nice to see and measure growth in myself,” he said.

Following Moss’s speech, Rebekah Houff, the campus pastor, led the guests in prayer. After the prayer, the song “Be Our Guest” blared out of the speakers. Without missing a beat, the faculty and staff who volunteered to serve the students filed into the dining area with plates in hand. Students clapped and cheered as two lines of faculty and staff danced their ways around the tables. Not only was the catering services special to the students, it was also special to faculty and staff who volunteered. Schilling loves volunteering for the event. “I love celebrating these amazing people,” she said. “As a faculty member, I know how hard they work to not only do well academically, but to juggle their other obligations as athletes, musicians, actors, workers, volunteers, leaders and club members. Celebrating them and all that awaits them is one of my favorite things to do.”

Ganesan also echoed those sentiments about volunteering. She volunteers to show her appreciation and gratitude towards the students she has had the opportunity of teaching and mentoring. In addition, Ganesan stated that she loves the event because it “recognizes the hard work of students and celebrates an important milestone.”

The dinner consisted of chicken or beef, au gratin potatoes, and fresh green beans with garlic. There was also a vegetarian option which consisted of a zucchini stuffed with herb garlic quinoa and tofu topped with marinara. Topics of conversation during the meals varied from each table ranging from post-graduation plans to traveling to financial statistics.

While people ate their cheesecake for dessert, alumnus Rone Davis ’02 spoke to the class of 2019. He began his speech with advice and words of encouragement from Robin Williams and Taylor Swift. Then he explained his journey as an always-late-to-class business major at Manchester. Despite his tardiness, Davis made connections with his professors because, as he said, “they take interest in their students.” Davis advised students to always make time to have fun, to be themselves, and to stay connected with Manchester’s community. He ended his speech by encouraging students to make a change in the world.

Alumna Stephanie Green Rappatta ’11 followed Davis’s speech. Throughout her speech, she emphasized the words ability and conviction. She gave examples about how both words apply to her life. Rappatta shared her experience as a middle school teacher who watches her students’ skills and abilities grow every day. She also explained how Manchester had shaped her convictions and passion about education, music and finding the good in everyone.

Toward the end of her speech, she reminded the students to remember the faculty and staff who have helped them navigate college in order to graduate. She ended her speech by encouraging the students to “Let [their] abilities and convictions shine bright.”

Following the speeches presented by the alums, seniors Tetteh-Quarshie and Gabby Anglin stirred up energy and laughter from the crowd as they asked for contributions to an organization that will improve the economic situation of prospective students. As part of the Chairs for the Senior Year Class Giving Committee, Tetteh-Quarshie became involved in order to introduce the project for the class of 2019.

In lieu of President Dave McFadden’s absence due to sickness, Melanie Harmon, vice president for the Advancement Office, gave the toast. She advised the students to learn about passion from the faculty and staff since they love their jobs, soak up campus life by participating in events, savor time with friends and continue learning. Students raised their glasses of champagne to toast each other after her speech.

After the toast, Carson Fort, a senior political science and history double major and an economics minor, led the class of 2019’s response by thanking everyone who had been a part of planning the event. On behalf of the graduating class, Fort also vowed that the seniors would take pride in becoming future alumni. The event concluded with students, faculty and staff clapping and singing Manchester’s fight song in unison.