Winter Commencement 2011

Gannon University’s 2011 Winter Commencement will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday in the Hammermill Center. A Baccalaureate Mass presided by Monsignor Charles Kaza, the vicar general of the diocese of Erie, will take place 11 a.m. at Mary, Seat of Wisdom Chapel.  After the graduation, a reception will be held in the Monsignor Addison R. Yehl Alumni Room, in the Waldron Campus Center, for faculty, administrators, graduates and their families.

Including those who don’t plan to walk at graduation, 215 students will earn degrees, Nick Pronko, Gannon’s media relations officer, said. Gannon will give out two doctoral degrees in organizational learning and leadership, 125 master’s degrees, 86 bachelor’s degrees and two associate degrees.

According to Pronko, two doctoral degrees, 21 master’s degrees, 28 bachelor’s degrees and two associate’s degrees will be awarded from the College of Humanities, Education and Social Sciences. Sixty-two master’s degrees and 25 bachelor’s degrees will be awarded from the College of Engineering and Business. Twenty-three bachelor’s degrees will be awarded from the Morosky College of Health Professions and Sciences.

Six students will graduate summa cum laude, nine will graduate magna cum laude and seven will graduate cum laude.

Every year a person is picked by the Gannon board of trustees to address the students at both the Winter and Spring commencements as the traditional keynote speaker.

The chosen individual – who also receives an honorary degree – is typically a Gannon graduate who is distinguished in his or her chosen profession, in the eyes of the board, Pronko said. They also look for someone who has remained active with Gannon.

Tina M. Donikowski will be this year’s keynote speaker and will receive an honorary degree, according to a press release from Gannon’s office of Public Relations and Communications.

She graduated  magna cum laude from Gannon University in 1985 with a bachelor’s degree in industrial management, and now serves as vice president of Propulsion Systems and Services for GE Transportation in Erie. She has worked at GE since 1977.  Donikowski also serves on the Board of Trustees of Gannon and the board for Boys & Girls Club of Erie. She lives in Erie with her husband, Mike, and two sons, Joe and Thomas, who both attend Gannon. Donikowski could not be reached for comment because she is traveling overseas.

Winter Commencement marks the first graduation that Keith Taylor, Ph.D., will oversee as president. Taylor will be making remarks at the ceremony.

Shellie Walker, a nursing student, who is graduating after four and a half years at Gannon, said he feels bittersweet about his years of college coming to a close.

“I had a great time here at Gannon,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot and grown as a person.”

But Walker said he is also “super-pumped” to become an alumnus in five days.

He said he is excited but scared to transition from being a college student to a “real world person.”

Walker’s postgraduate plans will take him to Arizona, where he hopes to find a job as a nurse. He said after spending a couple of breaks in the desert state, he fell in love.

Audrey Uhler, another nursing student, who is graduating after 4 1/2 years, said she is excited to graduate after working hard during her time at Gannon.

“Along with the other nursing majors who are graduating, we’ve all worked very hard to get to this point,” she said. “We’re all ready to graduate and get out in the real world.”

For Uhler, the real world will start with a position as a graduate nurse in the telemetry heart unit of UPMC Northwest Hospital in Franklin, Pa. There she will work with patients under the supervision of a licensed nurse.

Uhler said her nursing classes have prepared her for career. And she said as she looks back on her four years, she sees good memories and tough times.

She looks forward to symbolizing these experiences at graduation.

“I’m excited to get up there and walk across the stage to get my diploma and have my family be there,” she said.

Less excited about the prospects of walking across the Hammermill stage is Ryan Farrell, a liberal arts major who won’t be attending the graduation.

“I’m not much of a ceremony kind of guy,” he said.  “Going to sit through a bunch of people talking to walk across the stage doesn’t do it for me.”

However, Farrell is excited to graduate after the 4 1/2 years that saw him switch his major from liberal arts to nutrition, and back to liberal arts again.

He said he made the final switch when he realized nutrition wouldn’t mesh with his goals, which now include going to law school.

Farrell said he plans to earn his law degree from John Marshall Law School in Chicago and use it in a career with the military.

Farrell said he is excited to move on to his future, but he is thankful for his Gannon education – though it sort of surprises him.

“I wouldn’t have known it coming in,” he said. “I chose to come here because I was a high school senior and it was an easy application.”

But Farrell said the mentors and experiences he had at Gannon made it the right choice for him.

“I wouldn’t trade those people and experiences for anything,” he said.

Katie Demetriadis, a secondary social studies major, who is graduating after 3 1/2 years at Gannon, said she is more than ready to leave college behind.

“I don’t consider myself a traditional college student right now, because I’ve been out in the field for this entire semester,” she said. “I’ve felt done for a while.”

But Demetriadis thinks her Gannon education helped her prepare for this transition.

She has had three practicum experiences and one student teaching experience in Erie area high schools. She said the variety of teaching experiences has been beneficial to her.

Her first practicum was at East High School, which she said was very different from her high school in Mars, Pa. She said the student population and diversity level made it an eye-opening experience.

Most recently, she student taught at North East High School. In spite of being relatively close in age to the students – she taught high school freshmen – she said she feels like they treated her as an authority figure. Her various experiences have made her less nervous for her future career.

Demetriadis said she will probably receive her actual certification in January and then plans to put herself on area substituting lists until her Erie lease is up in June. Then she plans to look for a full-time job in the Pittsburgh area.

Those may be her plans in the more distant future, but very soon Demetriadis will be walking in the Winter Commencement. And what is her favorite part of the December version of graduation?

Its “quicker nature.”

TESSY PAWLOWSKI

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