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commencement 2016

Exceptionally Proud

The familiar crescendo of cheers from family and friends filled the air.

Caps and gowns flowed through campus like slow-moving rivers of pomp and circumstance, converging on rows of empty chairs waiting to unite graduates of different, races, colors, and creeds through the great equalizer – a college education.

It was indeed a special weekend here as more than a thousand students took to the stage and officially became graduates of Widener University.

“It has been a long few years and now we are suddenly at the end. It’s overwhelming a little bit because we are all about to start new and exciting careers,” said criminal justice graduate Thomas Fleming. “It’s a surreal feeling.”

The graduate and undergraduate ceremonies featured two remarkable student speakers with similar, but distinct, messages centered on service.

Graduate student speaker Sonalee Rashatwar empowered her fellow students to find meaning through helping others.

“Get better at trusting yourself and learn to be bold,” said Rashatwar, who graduated with two degrees: a master of social work and a master of education in human sexuality. 

“Use this lifetime as a source of inspiration and motivation to change our collective world. Pepper a little revolution into your day to day.”

Undergraduate speaker Nicole Gillette challenged her peers to give back to the Widener community as alumni.

“The friends you made, the experiences you had, the struggles you endured, and the accomplishments you cherished, they made you who you are right now,” said Gillette, who graduated with degrees in biology and biochemistry. 

“And there are so many more of those experiences yet to be had by those who are just behind us.”

Borrowing from President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural address, Gillette asked her fellow graduates: “Ask not what Widener can do for you... But I ask now, what can you do for your Widener – and why not do it?”

In closing, President Julie E. Wollman reminded the graduates to “be ambitious, keep your aspirations alive, and keep working toward them.”

“Your Widener education gave you the tools to be a game changer not only in your profession, but in your community, across the country, and around the world,” she said. “I know you will put these tools to work in ways that will continue to make us all exceptionally proud!”