On Saturday, May 13, 2023, Blackburn College in Carlinville, IL, held commencement ceremonies on the campus’ Hudson Quad, honoring 68 graduates from the class of 2023. These events marked the 154th Commencement exercise for the College.
In his opening remarks, Dr. Gregory J. Meyer, president of Blackburn, welcomed families and friends to the event and shared his thoughts on the meaning of commencement. “Commencement is seen as an ending to your college years, the conclusion to a phase of life unlike any other,” he shared. “We refer to this culmination as a ‘commencement!’ The beginning, the first step, the initiation of whatever it is you have been preparing for your whole lives. Today initiates the start of something new. Drink in this moment. Something brand new is commencing.”
He concluded, ”Congratulations to the class of 2023. You’re not done, finished, or through — you’re just getting started.”
The ceremony also featured remarks from keynote speaker U.S. Representative Nikki Budzinski, a Member of Congress representing the 13th district in Illinois. Budzinski was elected to the House in 2022. “As someone who recently began an exciting new chapter of their life and career, it’s wonderful to stand before so many bright and hardworking young people who are about to do the same. My advice as you take these next steps is to follow your passion wherever it leads you, take risks when opportunity presents itself, and never stop learning.”
Budzinski spoke highly of Blackburn’s student-led Work Program, the only one of its kind in the United States, and the experiential learning opportunities and sense of community the model provides. She shared that while her collegiate studies in History and Political Science gave her helpful tools, hands-on learning and the ability to get involved really shaped her career trajectory. “Two things that a Blackburn education does uniquely well.”
“I have no doubt that your time here at Blackburn, and the unique experience gained at this institution has prepared you well to succeed in your next ventures,” Budzinski said. ”I encourage you to dig deep into what drives you, give everything your best effort even if there is a risk of failure, and continue to learn and grow from the wisdom of those you admire. If you do, there’s no limit to what you can achieve in the days, months and years ahead.”
During Commencement, academic and leadership awards were presented to the graduating class, including naming Elizabeth Bowyer, a justice administration and political science major from Shelbyville, IL, and Lexi Snow, a psychology and history major from Coal City, IL, as class valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively. The Blackburn Alumni Association also presented its Outstanding Graduate Award to Dade Bradley, an environmental biology major from Braidwood, IL.
Two faculty members also were recognized during the ceremony, as Dr. Annah Browning and Dr. Cindy Rice were presented with the Hudson Prize, which awards scholarly and creative accomplishments. A teacher and poet, Dr. Browning is the author of the poetry collection “Witch Doctrine,” who has published her work in publications with less than one percent acceptance rates and has been invited to read her work in various venues regularly. Dr. Browning has also been innovative in her teaching, particularly by helping our students prepare themselves for the work of being a writer. Dr. Rice has led the development of three new programs in her department: the Teacher Licensure Program, the Early Childhood Workforce Education Program, and Blackburn and Beyond – a program for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Her vision for all these programs has been to meet urgent educational needs in our community and region by providing high-quality educational programs that are supported in ways that make them affordable for families.
President Meyer concluded the ceremony with a charge to the class of 2023. “As you journey forward, be you – be who you are, as you you were here. You are accepted and you are the greatest gift you have to offer. Be present, be kind, be generous, and be you.”
The prior evening, graduating students and families enjoyed a senior banquet hosted by the Blackburn Alumni Association, followed by Baccalaureate. The Baccalaureate event featured reflections from several members of the Class of 2023.
Student Marshal Monte Thomas, a mathematics and political science major from Peoria, IL, shared how thankful he was for the ongoing support of faculty and staff at Blackburn. “I was never ignored or brushed aside by the people here. In fact, just my freshman year, I had faculty swarming me to work different jobs around campus.” He added, “During my entire time at Blackburn, no matter where I turned, someone was always willing to help me. I can honestly say that without the faculty and staff here, I wouldn’t know what I would be doing with my life after tomorrow and I will be eternally grateful.”
Sam Sumrow, a graphic design major from New Lenox, IL, spoke of the many opportunities he experienced while attending Blackburn. “I have been presented with a plethora of opportunities throughout my years at Blackburn, which I believe I wouldn’t have experienced anywhere else.” His Blackburn experiences included the opportunity to work in the Campus Maintenance department. “I had the typical first-year mindset of doing only what I needed and graduating within four years… the easy track. But I soon found out that doing the bare minimum was actually quite boring.” Sumrow chose to take the opportunity to go into a leadership position through the College’s student-led Work Program. He then advanced through the department serving as assistant manager and then served as manager of Campus Maintenance during his senior year. He added, “My journey within this landscape of opportunity called Blackburn will end tomorrow, but for others, it will continue to provide all sorts of opportunities.”
Blackburn’s commencement ceremony was live-streamed for those unable to make it to campus. The event and a digital commencement program are available on the website.