Students share insights into how scholarships and financial aid have made their goals attainable.
Wilson’s 153rd Annual Commencement took place over the pleasantly mild weekend of May 13 and 14. Under the dappled sunlight on Main Green, families and friends watched their loved ones cross the stage and receive their diplomas from President Wes Fugate. Seeing the proud graduates and their even prouder parents, families, and friends celebrating their success and looking to a future of possibilities, you are struck by how transformative Wilson College has been in the lives of so many.
This year we honored 171 undergraduate students, 141 graduate students, and 110 students who completed their Pennsylvania teacher certification. The number of smiling and optimistic graduates who crossed that stage this year is thanks to the generous financial aid Wilson College awards to over 98% of her students.
Fugate reminded the audience of what a particularly inspiring group the class of 2023 was. They personified “perseverance, persistence, resiliency, and personal growth,” given the extraordinary challenges they faced during the pandemic and all the disruptions that wrought. “But you made it,” he reminded them, “I am so proud of you.”
Fugate also celebrated the contributions of the “village” – the families, friends, faculty, and staff — that had supported the students on their journey. To loud cheers, he singled out the contributions of all the mothers in the audience—a popular callout given it was Mother’s Day.
Class of 2023 President Anaida Fahradyan addressed the audience by quoting from the poet Vahan Tekeyan, from her home country of Armenia. “Rise up and raise others up with you,” the poet advised. To Fahradyan, this ideal of raising others exemplified the Wilson College experience. “Wilson’s Bogigian Scholarship, funded by generous donors, paid for my education here,” she said. “Others who were able to rise up and raise others – in this case, me – with them.”
She spoke of how thankful the class was for all the incredible opportunities and funding for tuition, internships, trips, and activities paid for by donors. “Breathe it in. Be grateful, and don’t forget to express your gratitude to them. They allowed us to rise up, and now it’s our turn to raise others up.” Appropriately, the Class of 2023 presented the College with a gift that will help raise up future students. “Through class fundraising efforts, I am pleased to announce that we will be joining those who raised us – the Wilson College Parents Council – and contrib-uting towards their efforts to refresh the Fitness Center. It’s our way of rising up to raise future Phoenix!”
Fugate introduced commencement speaker the Honorable Elaine L. Chao, the longest-serving US Cabinet member since WWII, having served under two Presidents. She was conferred with the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.
Chao told the graduating class about her family, the sacrifices her parents made to come to Amer- ica when she was eight, and how she overcame difficulties and challenges “Whenever I was confronted with challenges in my career, I thought of my parents—what they went through and sacrificed. That gave me comfort and courage.” She explained that knowing “your story” and “knowing yourself” are key to figuring out your path in life. “Each of you has the potential to make a positive impact on the world. By knowing yourself, you can unlock that potential and achieve great things. Find your Bold!”
After the presentation of diplomas to the Class of 2023, Lynne DiStasio ’74, president of the AAWC, congratulated the class and invited them to join the AAWC.
The Graduate commencement ceremony in the afternoon was addressed by Adam Kritzer ’23, BSN, RN, who was graduating with a master’s in nursing: education. Kritzer had intended to pursue a career in mechanical engineering. However, after being injured in a motorcycle accident, he was inspired by the care he received from a male nurse in the emergency room to become a nurse. He encouraged his fellow graduates to boldly pursue their dreams.
The stories of the Class of 2023 and how they succeeded at Wilson are many, and each one is unique to the individuals and their families. Here and in two other stories later in this issue, we will profile some of this year’s graduates to give you a flavor of this class and what Wilson means to them. Each of the students featured received scholarships and financial aid, without which they could not have gone to college. With each profile, we only included the named scholarships as financial aid packages are complex, and funding can come from many sources, including federal and state loans. The three students featured here also received either President’s or Dean’s Merit Scholarships, which go toward tuition costs. The College is committed to keeping a Wilson education affordable so students like these can receive the sort of individualized and transformative education that has been the hallmark of this institution for over a century and a half.
Aura Langley ’23
Single Parent Scholar, Phoenix Leader, nursing major
Thomas & Kathleen Kimes ’52 Scholarship, Sylvia S. Davison & Mary M. Dee Scholarship, Patricia J. Reber ’60 scholarship, Class of 1968 Scholarship, Donald B. and Dorothy L. Stabler Scholarship, Carol Tschop ’72 Nursing Scholarship, Helen Bell Cressey Ashley ’54 Scholarship
Aura Langley was raising her son James without a partner while attending community college. How- ever, she was ambitious and looking to transfer to a nursing degree program that she could afford. When she learned of the Single Parent Scholar (SPS) program at Wilson and the opportunity to pursue a bachelor’s degree while living on campus with her son, she jumped at the chance to come here.
Her love of nursing was inspired by the midwives she met during the birth of James, and her long- term goal is to become a midwife. “The whole experience of bringing life into the world is wonderful, and I want to help other people have a good experience giving birth,” she said.
“There’s a community of people who are in the same situation that you’re in,” she enthused about Wilson’s SPS program. “We’re in the same boat, and we want to be successful. So we help each other be successful. It really is just a huge family, and it’s wonderful.”
Langley’s economic situation meant that she would have had to work, raise her son, and go to school at the same time. “The nursing program is phenomenal,” she said, “but there’s no way I would have been able to do this without the donor’s support.” She wanted them to know how grateful she is and that their support “lifted” her and her family up. “I’m going to do something great with my degree.”
Geneva Dardick Robinette ’23
Veterinary nursing major
Donald B. and Dorothy L. Stabler Scholarship
Geneva Robinette grew up outside of Harrisburg, Pa., and was looking for an excellent four-year veterinarian nursing program. The only other pro- gram she could find with an equivalent reputation to Wilson’s was in upstate New York. However, once she visited our campus and met the faculty and staff here, she knew she’d found her home and didn’t even apply to the other school. “I wanted an individual experience, and I wanted to be able to connect with people,” she said. “I knew I’d make better connections and stronger connec- tions at a school where I wasn’t just a number.”
And Wilson has lived up to her high expectations. In one of the most competitive and difficult graduate fields to break into, Robinette has been accepted into two of the four veterinary schools she applied to and has chosen to go to the Univer- sity of Florida. She chose U.F. because she wants to work with exotic animals, and the school has an affiliation with the Tampa Zoo, meaning students can do rotations working with zoo animals.
Robinette believes her liberal arts education helped with her applications to veterinarian schools. It made her a better writer and a more rounded person than someone who went to a science or tech college, and that set her apart. Besides, she enjoyed the liberal arts and became a bit of a history buff, studying social structures in America before the Civil War was of particular interest.
Because her family had some medical issues, Robinette was acutely conscious of the cost of education. Without the aid and scholarships she received, she may not have been able to go to college. “I definitely am grateful to the alumni donors,” she said. “I think it’s important to give for students who do struggle financially. Anything helps. Everything helps. And I think it’s a nice way to keep a connection with the school. It’s kind of like you pay for the person behind you in line, and then they pay for the person behind them.”
During the ceremony, the College honored two retiring Trustees, Robin Bernstein, Esq. and Dr. Barbara Tenney ’67, with their election to Trustees Emeriti for their combined 39 years of service to the College.