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May 10, 2014

Allegheny College graduates class of nearly 500

MEADVILLE — Grace Lemon Beah greeted President James Mullen with a special handshake.

Emily Susan Cherry went a different route, performing a little dance routine as she made her way across the stage.

Each of the 400-plus students receiving degrees at Allegheny College’s commencement ceremony Saturday on the lawn of historic Bentley Hall had his or her own approach to accepting a hard-earned diploma.

Meadville resident Victoria Pless did an Irish jig. Paige Arlene Missel bolted onto the stage. Then there was Aurora Arop, who was admittedly a ball of emotion even before the processional.

“The experience was overwhelming,” Arop said. “I finished my degree in three years. So all day I kept asking myself, ‘Should I have stayed another year? Am I making the right decision?’”

Arop, who moved to the United States from Egypt five years ago, realized as she approached the stage to accept her bachelor of arts degree that she had made the right decision and tears began to fall.

“When I saw President Mullen … I’ve known him since I started here and he’s a great president,” Arop said. “When I saw him standing there with my diploma it made it so real and I just couldn’t hold it in.”

Arop majored in political science with a minor in values, ethics and social action, and is an Alden Scholar, meaning she achieved an average of at least 3.2 for the academic year. But she has even bigger plans for herself, beginning with the unique experience working for Teach for America, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to “eliminate educational inequity by enlisting high-achieving recent college graduates and professionals to teach.”

Arop is one of a handful of recent Allegheny College graduates getting set to begin work with Teach for America. She is headed to Chicago, while the class of 2014 valedictorian Kelly Morris Williams of Vienna, Va., is headed to the Mississipp Delta.

“It’s an opportunity to make an impact and to do something incredibly personally challenging as well,” Williams said. “That was the one thing that I looked at when I was deciding what to do next and what direction I wanted to go. This was the thing I thought was going to push me the most as well as teach me the most.”

As corps members, Arop and Williams will teach at least two years in urban and rural public schools. Arop said she is open to the possibility of continuing her work beyond the two years. Williams isn’t sure she will stay, but does she herself staying in education afterward in some capacity, preferably in a science institution or museum, she said.

For now, though, the focus is making a difference at Teach for America.

“I had a fabulous education. I had fabulous teachers,” Williams said. “I was a lucky one. Now I can help make sure others get an opportunity to have what I had.”

Arop and Williams were among 487 students and three distinguished leaders to be honored with degrees at Allegheny College’s 199th commencement ceremony.

Honorary doctorates were bestowed to mental health advocate and former first lady of Massachusetts Kitty Dukakis; professor of philosophy and of Africana and Diaspora studies at Vanderbilt University Lucius T. Outlaw; and co-anchor and managing editor of the “PBS NewsHour,” Judy Woodruff.

Woodruff delivered the commencement address and focused a great deal on what had Arop so emotional earlier in the day: the uncertainties.

“What you’ve learned (at Allegheny College) provides you with the compass to navigate the uncertainties that lie ahead,” Woodruff said. “Today is one ‘mission accomplished’ for you and your families. This is a moment to reflect on the world you enter.”

In preparing her  address, Woodruff took time to learn not only about Allegheny College, but its students. According to Williams, some of her classmates said Woodruff sought them out for a phone conversation. She used excerpts from those conversations in her speech. She also made sure the graduates left with a great appreciation for their education and experiences at Allegheny.

“This week a national survey of college graduates of all ages reported hat the most accurate yard stick for measuring the difference a college made in a person’s life is how engaged that person was as a student, with the faculty, with classwork and in the college community,” Woodruff said. “Does that sound familiar?

“This school has given you so much, the ‘Allegheny Advantage.’ You in turn each one of you has added real value to Allegheny. Your alma mater is now a stronger institution because of you.”

 

Lisa Byers can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at lbyers@meadvilletribune.com.

 

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