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Sun, Smiles Highlight Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony

A Widener graduate proudly displays her class of 2014 tassel during Saturday's Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony.

Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi on Saturday quoted both William Penn and the well-known Calvin and Hobbes comic strip to impress upon nearly 700 students graduating from Widener University the importance of civic engagement in today’s society.

As the primary focus of Widener’s mission, it’s a message that the students have lived for four years.

"In his inaugural address, President Harris explained his vision for encouraging civic engagement and promised that Widener would focus on 'preparing students to be responsible citizens,'" Senator Pileggi said. "He has more than fulfilled that promise. Our region and our Commonwealth have the good fortune of having a university president who is so deeply invested as an architect, contractor and guarantor of the modern university's proper place in our society."

Senator Pileggi, who received an honorary doctor of public service degree during the ceremony, recalled that not long ago, college graduates were told that they were too young, too inexperienced and too lacking in maturity to have an immediate impact on society. "They were advised to do an apprenticeship on adulthood," he said. "That is no longer the case. We recognize that you have the power to change your world for the better right now."

A lifelong resident of Chester, Senator Pileggi has served Pennsylvania's ninth district, including parts of Delaware and Chester counties, since 2002 and has served as the majority leader of the state Senate since 2006.

The university also bestowed an honorary doctor of public service degree upon Maureen Curley, president of Campus Compact, a national coalition of more than 1,100 college and university presidents – including President Harris – who are committed to fulfilling the public purpose of higher education.

Since becoming president of Campus Compact in 2006, Curley led an action-oriented, member-driven approach to supporting the community involvement of colleges and universities. Curley led the efforts to establish a strong strategic plan and improved organizational structure for the association. She also directed the association's efforts to examine the impact of higher education's community engagement on critical contemporary issues such as college retention and economic development.

Commencement Leap"Widener University has made civic and community engagement an institutional priority," Curley said. "Lead by the trustees, President Harris and his team, embraced and enhanced by faculty and driven and implemented by students, Widener's deep engagement is apparent everywhere in this community and recognized nationally."

On behalf of the graduating class, Senior Class Gift Committee Chair Brittany Bicking presented President Harris with a check for $7,222. The senior class designated the gift for the university's Widener Fund, 100 percent of which funds student financial aid.

"By our class helping these students, they will be able to experience the opportunities for service learning that many of us have been a part of during out time at Widener," Bicking said.

During the ceremony, Harris introduced the class valedictorian and salutatorian. Veronica Vizzard of Havertown, Pa. was named valedictorian with a 4.0 grade point average. She graduated with dual bachelor's degrees in political science and criminal justice and will attend Widener School of Law on a full scholarship in the fall. Matthew McGouldrick of Quakertown, Pa. was named salutatorian. He graduated with bachelor's degrees in electrical engineering and physics, and will immediately begin his career as an associate engineer in distribution capacity planning at PECO, an Exelon Company. McGouldrick did two co-op work experiences with PECO as a student.

The student address, however, was delivered by President's Award recipient Erica Szpynda, an economics and accounting major from Berwick, Pa. The President's Award is presented to the senior who has contributed the most to campus life through scholarship and participation in extracurricular activities. Szpynda was a standout on the track and field team field team and was president of the Student Government Association.

"This journey started with convocation, where we sat on the gym bleachers unsure about what was to come," Szpynda said. "Now, sitting here, we are able to reflect on what we have accomplished. Although these accomplishments vary by each individual, we all have a common thread that held us together. This is our support system. Our support system helped to shape who we are today."

Widener University is a private, metropolitan university that connects curricula to social issues through civic engagement. Dynamic teaching, active scholarship, personal attention, leadership development and experiential learning are key components of the Widener experience. A comprehensive doctorate-granting university, Widener comprises eight schools and colleges that offer liberal arts and sciences, professional and pre-professional curricula leading to associate's, baccalaureate, master's and doctoral degrees. The university's campuses in Chester, Exton, and Harrisburg, Pa., and Wilmington, Del., serve some 6,300 students. Widener is proud to be a tobacco-free university. Visit the university website,