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Grads rejoice, remember: 
Graduation a mix of sorrow & celebration

Marge Neal
Frederick News-Post Staff

(5/12) When John Sillyman collected his business degree at Mount St. Mary's University on Sunday, it was the end of a long personal journey.

The 45-year-old husband and father from Fairfield, Pa., had made a commitment to himself. With an associate's degree in hand, he enrolled in the Mount's accelerated studies program for adults in 2004.

With a full-time job and a family, he said, it was a tough road to a bachelor's degree. He's glad it's over.

Joy. Relief. Sadness. The graduation ceremony was marked by mixed emotions.

As students marched into the Mount's Knott Arena, they took great care to maintain two spaces in the procession that should have been filled by Elizabeth S. DiNunzio and Nicole M. Spencer.

Spencer, who lived in Pennsylvania, was killed in a car crash last June as she returned to Emmitsburg for summer classes and an on-campus job. DiNunzio was fatally struck by a pickup truck two weeks ago while jogging near campus.

Last year's Mount commencement was also touched by mourning after senior Dustin Bauer died of injuries suffered in an on-campus fall just two months before graduation.

On Sunday, the arena erupted in applause and everyone stood when the names of DiNunzio -- a magna cum laude Spanish major -- and Spencer -- an English major -- were announced during the awarding of diplomas.

While the two were on the minds of most, the speakers reminded the audience they had much to celebrate.

"The first order of business -- Happy Mother's Day," Mount President Thomas H. Powell said.

He noted that the 201st commencement exercises were the first in the Mount's third century of providing Catholic education.

He encouraged the soon-to-be graduates to emulate the example of excellence set by their professors.

Referring to the school as "she," speaker after speaker spoke lovingly of the mountain that is its home.

Senior class President Andrew R. Wassmann reminded his classmates that they would collect their diplomas in the same space where they gathered four years ago for freshman orientation.

"We came to the Mount in good faith ... and she accepted us in good faith," he said.

After Wassmann spoke, Powell asked him back to the stage to chide the class president for wearing a West Virginia University cap on the Emmitsburg campus. Wassmann, who is headed to WVU for graduate work, drew laughs when he removed his mortarboard to don the Mount baseball cap presented by Powell.

Commencement speaker George Weigel, one of the world's leading experts on the Catholic church, talked of spending years following the work of Pope John Paul II. After discussing some of John Paul's significant accomplishments, Weigel guessed that perhaps some graduates were asking, "All of this was done by a great man -- what does this have to do with me?"

Weigel reminded the students that those acts were accomplished by a man who, at their age, had no idea he would become pope -- and a pivotal world figure in the last half of the 20th century.

He told the students that many of them will do great things, and that one of them might even break Jim Phelan's record as university basketball coach.

The Class of 2009 were told repeatedly to return often.

"The Mount brought us together," Wassmann said. "Stay in touch with the Mount."

As the Mount accepted the Class of 2009 in good faith, he said, "she sends us off in good faith."

"As you walk off the mountain, take both faith and reason with you," Weigel said. "Nurture them in your mind, heart and soul.

"And the confessors, the martyrs and all the other saints who once walked here, on Mary's mountain in the Catoctins, will be cheering you on, all the way."

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