Millikin Class of 2022 celebrates the journey, embraces the future
Feelings and moments of excitement, positivity and reflection filled Kirkland Fine Arts Center on two joyous occasions on Sunday, May 22, as graduates of the Millikin University Class of 2022 took center stage to receive their degrees at spring commencement.
In what was the culmination of many years of hard work, more than 370 students were awarded degrees–a symbolic significance capturing the accomplishments of an academic generation. Millikin University hosted two in-person commencement ceremonies on May 22, recognizing undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Graduates in the College of Fine Arts and the College of Professional Studies were honored during the morning ceremony, while graduates in the College of Arts & Sciences and the Tabor School of Business were honored in the afternoon.
"For many of us, we are joyful because of the good things that you have accomplished, and the incredible mark that you have left," said Millikin President Dr. Jim Reynolds. "My wish for each of you today, in a world filled with challenges and strife, is for you to find the wholeness and purpose in your life. I'm thankful for what you have given to Millikin. I speak for all of the faculty and staff of the university and say thanks for giving us the opportunity to be just a small part of your exceptional lives."
Dr. Jim Reynolds
Student speaker Erica Reyes, of Grant Park, Ill., was in the spotlight during the morning ceremony and shared how Millikin opened her eyes "to the different paths" she could take because of the University's Performance Learning opportunities.
"Because of the various internships that we are required to take, I found different areas I planned to explore and never considered in the past," Reyes said. One particular internship she referenced was working with mentally underdeveloped adults at Macon Resources Inc.
Reyes, who graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a major in art therapy and a minor in psychology, said Millikin gave her an opportunity to find her voice and understand her identity. She was instrumental in reestablishing Sigma Lambda Gamma National Sorority Inc. on campus and served as the president for the last two years. She was also a member of the Latin American Student Organization, a Long-Vanderburg Scholar and Mentor, a member of Alpha Lambda Delta Honors Society and was a resident assistant.
"I was a minority student leader in many ways, during some of the hardest times of our lives," Reyes said. "Even a global pandemic didn't stop us from working hard and achieving our dreams. Every single one of you earned this degree today … you never gave up. So when given the chance, I challenge you to be that support for somebody else when it's needed."
Aubrey Staton, of El Paso, Ill., stood among her fellow graduates during the afternoon ceremony to deliver her message on "countless opportunities" and how "the only consistent thing is change."
"There are some very obvious changes that each of us in this room and across the country have dealt with over the past couple of years with the pandemic. But we've also seen a lot of changes on campus," Staton said. "Change is constant. Change is the only thing that we can consistently count on. Whatever Millikin has brought to you will change after today as you step into your role in life as a college graduate. After today, everything changes."
During her four years at Millikin, Staton was a member of the Honors Program and the Big Blue women's basketball team. She also served as a Big Blue Ambassador and a senior resident assistant. She received several awards during her time on campus, including the Scovill Prize during her junior year.
"The goal of life isn't to live forever or in this case be in college forever, but to create something that does Class of 2022," Staton said. "We have created a legacy at Millikin that will last far beyond our years. I am beyond excited to see how each of us are changed by this world and how each of us make a change."
In an emotional reunion, Millikin University welcomed back President Emeritus Dr. Patrick E. White to deliver the keynote address at both ceremonies. White served as the 15th president of Millikin beginning in October 2013 after joining Millikin as interim president in July 2013. He retired as president of Millikin on June 30, 2020.
Under Dr. White's leadership, Millikin was revitalized and reimagined through a commitment to Millikin's signature Performance Learning and a new energy for growth in academic and athletic programs, student body and campus facilities. In 2015, under Dr. White's guidance, Millikin completed its "Transform MU" capital campaign 14 months early, exceeding its $85 million goal by over $10 million. This successful initiative led to the design and construction of innovative, transformative facilities, including the Workman Family Softball Field, the University Commons and the Work Family Baseball Field. During Dr. White's tenure, Millikin's Center for Theatre & Dance was completed in fall 2020, providing the School of Theatre & Dance with a facility equal in quality and potential to its national reputation.
Prior to his speaking engagement, White was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters for his impressive record of leadership.
Dr. Patrick E. White
Addressing the Millikin graduates, White said, "You wanted to study, to learn, to grow stronger, to get better. You wanted to perform your excellence and live what you can do, and you persisted with the help, the support, the encouragement, the high expectations that you are all better than you think you are."
White recalled how the real world left an unforgettable mark on the Class of 2022. "Someone has probably said to you in the last few weeks … you are now ready for the real world. People who say that mean well, but don't take these words at face value. There is no more real world than the one you, the Millikin Class of 2022, have lived through."
White added, "You have lived in the real world. Learning has shaped you and formed you into a person who is engaged, practiced and experienced in performance. Be inspired once again to perform your life … a life in which you will do good, do smart, do justice, do love, do the right thing and carry Millikin forward with you proudly into the larger world."
For Millikin husband-and-wife graduates Brandon and Megan Lockhart, their advice to fellow graduates are don't be scared to face a parting of the ways with your former life and your former comfort zone.
Brandon and Megan are the founders and previous owners of Lockhart's Barber College in Decatur and a chain of barbershops in Macon and Shelby (Ill.) counties. They also oversee more than 100 rental units. Both earned degrees in accounting and will be moving to Denver, Colo., to begin jobs with major accounting firms.
Brandon and Megan Lockhart
"Live in the moment, don't be afraid to try something," Megan said in an interview with the Herald & Review. "It might not work out, but don't wait for opportunity, seize opportunity, even if it's not the right one. It's all experience and it leads you to that next opportunity."
Brandon added, "Sometimes it takes a while to figure out what clicks, and we're still figuring it ourselves. Millikin has been great for us because the idea of Performance Learning really works."
Miss any moments from Millikin University's Spring 2022 Commencement? Watch the ceremonies below.