Commencement: Lifelong Learning, Memorable Achievements

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Graduating from college is a terrific accomplishment, whether you complete your studies in three years or almost 30.

Maranatha’s 2012 Commencement ceremony included a wide spectrum of students among its 157 College and 19 Seminary graduates. The Class of 2012 was the third-largest in College history. Friday’s conferral of degrees was immediately preceded by the awarding of an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree to Baccalaureate speaker (and new Dean of Students) John Davis.

Rachel Downs (above, right) graduated Summa Cum Laude in accounting and was named winner of the Business Student Achievement Award. Rachel’s focus Friday, however, was on her mother, Virginia. She completed a humanities/liberal arts degree 29 years and six children after she began college in 1983.

“I am so proud of her,” Rachel Downs said. “She’s amazing. I know I wouldn’t have been able to do it.”

Virginia Downs said she decided to finish off her degree during the summer of 2010. She is married to science professor Bud Downs and works an overnight shift as a dispatcher for the Watertown Police Department.

“The kids were all a big help to me; they recognize that I have to sleep sometime,” Virginia Downs said. “It was hard, but being able to graduate with Rachel made it even more special.”

Jason Chapman, who works in Facilities Management at Maranatha, finished the degree he began 20 years ago.

“When I decided to try to finish, they didn’t have the online degree completion program like they have now,” said Chapman, who earned a bachelor’s degree in church ministries. “I just took a few courses at a time.

“I was always disappointed in being ‘almost there.’ It was like a book with an unfinished chapter. Now I can finally put ‘The End’ on that chapter.”

Olivia Mueller barely had time to write the lead paragraph before her chapter was finished. She sped through an applied science/pre-medical degree in three years while compiling a 3.9972 grade-point average, second-highest in the senior class.

“I had taken AP (Advanced Placement) classes in high school, so that put me about 20 credits ahead when I got here,” Mueller explained. “I was able to work 20-30 hours per week and still have some fun; I didn’t totally abandon my social life. My sister (Esther Calvino) earned her business degree in three years, so I wanted to follow in her footsteps.”

Leasha Folk (3.9984) was valedictorian, earning a double major in music education and English education while accumulating 204.5 credits over five years.

“I dedicated a lot of hours to my favorite spot in the (northwest) corner of the lower floor of the library,” Folk said. “I also had really good roommates who didn’t distract me while I was studying.”

Folk and Ethan Rosen were named winners of the Founders’ Awards, while David Anderson won the President’s Award.

“I think the memories I will take with me are from the things outside of class—the relationships with people and friendships that go beyond athletics,” said Rosen, captain of the football team and student body president. “It was neat being able to connect with so many people.”

The Commencement service also included a gift from the senior class to establish the International Student Scholarship and an offering to benefit the Service and Security Campaign.

Department award winners included Rachel Downs, Leah Nagel (Nursing/Florence Nightingale Best Bedside Nurse Award), Casey Byers (Seminary/Outstanding Theology Student), Emily Timblin (Outstanding Humanities Student), Joanna Ledgerwood (Outstanding Future Teacher), Emily Mackey (Outstanding Science Student), Austin Hoffman (Outstanding Student in Biblical Languages), Lynnae Lawson (Outstanding Speech Student), and Justin Landers (Outstanding Musician Award).