AURORA - The wisdom and hard work of 85 people will be rewarded Saturday when Wells College holds its 139th commencement.
It's a historic day for the liberal arts college on the eastern shore of Cayuga Lake because for the first time in its history, Wells will graduate two men. Both are from central New York.
The two men who are soon to become Wells College's first male graduates, Jason Atwell and Shea Hagstrom, have impressive personal and academic resumes. Both are transfer students.
Hagstrom is a graduate of Lansing High School and Tompkins-Cortland Community College in Dryden. At Wells he is a math and physical science major with a concentration in computer science.
He was inducted into the national honor society for colleges and universities, Phi Beta Kappa, and he also worked as a teaching assistant at the pottery studio on campus.
At a the college's Honor Convocation earlier this month, Hagstrom was given a special prize for his “outstanding performance” in computer science. The award was presented for his thesis entitled “Simulation of a Multidirectional Digital Image Sensor,” a study on how to create special cameras that could allow a digital photo to be altered in unique ways.
According to Hagstrom's academic advisor, his complex ideas could possibly be patented.
His fellow historic graduate is Jason Atwell of Baldwinsville.
Atwell transferred to Wells from the West Point Military Academy last year, and last Friday he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the military intelligence corps at a ceremony held on the Wells campus.
He was the captain of the men's soccer team the past two years, and at the Honor Convocation he was awarded the student library prize for the senior with the best collection of books for his impressive library of military history and literature works.
Neither student was available for comment earlier this week, but both will be attending a press conference scheduled for Friday morning in Aurora to talk of their experience at Wells.
In October 2004, the college's board of trustees voted to allow men to matriculate. The following fall, 33 men enrolled at Wells as either first-year students or transfers.
The move was not without significant controversy. A handful of students transferred to other schools in protest; in an online survey, in which 25 percent of Wells' 1,455 alumni responded, just 17 percent supported the board of trustees' decision; there was a one-week “takeover” of the administration building, along with a lengthy sit-in and a well-attended demonstration during Parents' Weekend.
But Lisa Marsh Ryerson, a college alum and its president since 1995, was adamant that the school would not survive unless enrollment increased.
And with an all-women's college automatically negating half of the eligible pool, and research showing that upwards of 80 percent of women would never consider attending a one-gender college, the change was made.
Back in the early 1970s, enrollment at Wells often topped the 600 mark. But by the fall of 2004, there was a little less than 400 students.
This year, enrollment had increased to approximately 475 students, and Wells' officials have stated their goal is to average 550 a semester.
Saturday's commencement ceremony will take place on the back lawn of the Aurora Inn. Dr. Veryl V. Miles, a Wells alum and the dean of the Columbus School of Law at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., will be the speaker.
A 1977 graduate, Miles went on to earn her law degree from Columbus and then became a faculty member in 1988.
“I am delighted that Veryl has accepted our invitation to give the 2007 Commencement address,” said Ryerson in a statement. “Veryl is a dynamic leader in American higher education today. She has a deep commitment to the liberal arts and extensive experience educating generations of students.”
Ten area students are graduating from Wells College Saturday
€ Arryn Panarisi, psychology
€ Anne Trojnor, environmental policy
€ Allison Dodge, visual arts
€ Aimee Nelson, public affairs
€ Amanda Goodnough, psychology
€ Cassandra Newkirk, awarded the 2007 Ruth Dunlap Prize in Chemistry; 2007 Wood Prize in Physics, Phi Beta Kappa; Dean's List seven semesters.
€ Valerie Piascik, visual arts
€ Marquette Bennett, Women in Lifelong Learning program, psychology - 2007 Margaret Schwartz Prize in Psychology; Phi Beta Kappa.
€ Rene Jordan, psychology
€ Kathryn Downing, women's studies, 2007 Dorothy Allison Razor's Edge Prize for Women's Studies
Wells College has numerous traditions that make it unique
Along with students and their families traveling to the ceremony in a Wells Fargo stagecoach, and the kissing the feet of Minerva, here are a few more:
€ 100 Days: Signifying 100 days until the last day of classes, first-year students make a calendar counting down the 100 days and each day has something specific for the seniors to do or wear. If a plebe catches a senior not participating, they could be asked to sing atop the senior table at a future meal.
€ Caps and Gowns: Seniors wear academic gowns on the first and last day of classes each semester, at champagne breakfasts, and many other events.
€ Junior Mugs: At the end of their sophomore year, students order Junior Mugs - they depict the famous Wells' stagecoach and graduation year on once side, and the student's favorite quotes on the other. Used at champagne brunches during senior year.
€ Senior Sale: At the end of the spring semester, seniors gather unwanted items and sell them to students, faculty, and staff.
€ Sycamore Tree: On the last day of classes, seniors don their robes and dance around the old Sycamore tree. The sophomores present the seniors with roses.