Meadville Tribune

May 12, 2013

Allegheny commencement 'all in the family'

By Lisa Byers
Meadville Tribune

MEADVILLE — Kelley Levis sifted through the crowd. She stood a little uneasy, her body shifting from side to side as she anxiously tried to find her daughter.

“Where is she?” Kelley asked on numerous occasions.

“Do you see her, Kyle?” she asked her soon-to-be son-in-law, who also was anxiously awaiting the recent graduate’s arrival.

Moments later, “There she is,” Kelley exclaimed. From the middle of a crowd of people merged Jocelyn Levis flanked by her grandfather and grandmother, Sam and Linda Harrison.

Kelley couldn’t hold back the tears any longer.

It was the first time she had seen Jocelyn graduate. Jocelyn forewent her senior year at Saegertown High School to attend Allegheny College and was not allowed to walk with her fellow graduates at Saegertown’s 2010 commencement.

Jocelyn also completed a family tradition.

She became the fourth generation to receive a degree from Allegheny College when she walked across the stage on Bentley Lawn to accept her bachelor of arts diploma from President James Mullen during Saturday’s commencement.

Her great-grandfather Paul Harrison received his diploma in 1926. Sam Harrison, who also taught at Allegheny from 1970-89, earned his degree in 1963. Kelley graduated from Allegheny in 1986.

“She bypassed her senior year of high school,” Kelley said. “That was awesome, but I never got to see her graduate. So this was super cool.

“And the fact that we’re four legacies now is just amazing. I loved my time here. I loved that my dad taught here and that he went to school here.

“He wasn’t my adviser (in school) but he was the best adviser I ever had.”

Not only did Jocelyn choose to attend a school rich in family tradition, she also followed in her family’s footsteps with her studies. She wound up majoring in history and minoring in geology and is contemplating a master’s degree in deaf education.

Sam taught geology and environmental science at Allegheny and later left to start his own consulting business, Harrison Hydrosciences. Kelley has taught sign language as an adjunct professor at Allegheny for more than 25 years.

“I found that I also loved those things,” Jocelyn said. “I didn’t come (to Allegheny) intending to do a geology minor at all. I had no interest in rocks. And then I took a class and (Sam) helped me whip through it and I loved it. I actually thought about double majoring in it for a while.

“Then the sign language thing … I grew up around it. I took (Kelley’s) class this year and now I want to go into deaf (education). It just happened that way.”

Either way, she has made her family extremely proud.

“We’re so proud, so proud,” Linda said. “I just get over how well she has done in everything she has. We’re terribly proud.”

Family tradition at Allegheny is quite common, according to Sam.

“I’m sure there are several fourth generations and probably some fifths,” Sam said. “It’s a very strong family college.”

“I grew up hearing about it,” Sam continued. “My older sister came here and my dad and it was just like college equaled Allegheny. I didn’t even consider any place else. I didn’t even visit the campus. I showed up and moved into the dorm. ‘This is the place I’m supposed to be.’”

Jocelyn’s graduation is one of a couple of big events going on this summer for the Levis and Harrison families — both of Saegertown. On June 1, Jocelyn will wed Kyle Windahl at Hotel Conneaut on Sam and Linda’s 50th wedding anniversary.

“It’s a lot for to take in,” Kelley said. “But I’m very proud and very happy.”

She was particulary proud to share such a big day in her daughter’s life on Mother’s Day weekend.

“I don’t think there could be a better weekend for it,” she said. “For Mother’s Day, this was the perfect gift. I don’t need a Mother’s Day (today). This was it right here. I’m very proud.”

Jocelyn, who graduated cum laude, was one of several Crawford County residents to receive a degree from Allegheny on Saturday, including: Max E. Balakoff of Meadville, Jessica Lynn Brown of Meadville, Autumn Ellen Frater of Titusville, Laura Kathleen Mesley of Meadville, April Ann Metzgar of Meadville, Nicholas Anthony Ozorak of Meadville, Ty Kenneth Rhoades of Guys Mills, Blayze D. Schindler of Meadville, Shane A. Schneider of Titusville, Ashley Elaine Balas of Titusville, Vincent Colin LaRochelle of Meadville, Nandha Ramasubramanian and Nivetha Ramasubramanian of Meadville, Zhuoxi Song of Meadville, Trista L. Sykes of Meadville, and Mary Sara Weaver of Conneaut Lake.

Lisa Byers can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at

Each member of the Allegheny College Class of 2013 has something planned in the way of their future.

Some will soon enter the workforce. Others will begin internships either near or far.

There are those who will embark on a master’s degrees either back at Allegheny or another institution of their choice.

Some will simply take a break, enjoy a few months off and then tackle their newest endeavor.

Whatever the case, Eddie Taylor Jr., the chairman of Allegheny College’s board of trustees and a member of the Allegheny College Class of 1987, urged those students to never take a break from learning.

“You clearly value education, as you are about to be graduates from this exceptional undergraduate institution,” Taylor said as he welcomed the graduating class and their families during Saturday’s commencement ceremony on Bentley Lawn. “Don’t stop listening or learning just because class is dismissed. Continue to educate yourselves on those causes, those passions. Be wary, however, of letting those passions polarize you.

“It is by truly understanding the details of issues, keeping your minds open to others’ interests, others’ points of view, the positions others take on a topic, that you will be able to effect the type of positive change that can be widely embraced.”

Allegheny honored 467 students with degrees. The college also presented honorary degrees to Douglas Brinkley, Joan Brown Campbell, Morris Fiorina, James E. Nevels and David Shribman.

Brinkley, who was awarded an honory doctorate of humane letters, delivered the commencement address. He, too, implored the graduates to continue learning, to ask questions and to never settle for something that is “just not right,” using a rousing speech about Rosa Parks.

Parks, the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement, was someone who would always shout out that something wasn’t right, Brinkley said, likening her to Allegheny graduate and muckraking journalist Ida Tarbell, who also was strong about her ways and wasn’t afraid to say “that’s not right.”

“Today you are all in many ways leaving your mothers and fathers in some ways,” Brinkley said, “because you are going to have to be the new generation that calls out injustice when you see it, no matter what your job is.

“You’ve learned integrity here at Allegheny College. Make sure you aren’t afraid in your lives to have your Rosa Parks or Nelson Mandela moment or moments. When you step out be sure to call and ace an ace and a spade a spade. Be honest and you will go far. But also be brave and don’t let injustice have any role in American society.”

Brinkley is a professor of history at Rice University, a bestselling author and presidential historian for CBS News.

Campbell is the first woman director of religion at the Chautauqua Institution and has worked alongside world leaders for peace and social justice.

Fiorina, an Allegheny graduate, is the Wendt Family Professor of Political Science at Stanford University and a Senior Fellow of the Hoover Institution.

Nevels is chairman of the Swarthmore Group, an investment advisory firm which he founded in 1991. He was appointed chair of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission in 2001.

Shribman is the executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and a Pulitzer Prize winner.

Campbell, Fiorina, Nevels and Shribman, like Brinkley, had honorary doctorates of humane letters conferred on them.

The ceremony concluded with the presentation of degrees to the 467 graduates and Allegheny President James H. Mullen Jr.’s charge to the class of 2013.

“I charge you to love this place that has been your home for the last four years,” he said. “As it approaches its third century, help it as it sets the standard of excellence for liberal arts learning in America.”

Allegheny is the 32nd oldest college in the nation. The ceremony concluded its 198th year.