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Posted May 18, 2008

Updated May 21, 2008


Umbrellas dressed the Academic Quad before a storm warning forced commencement indoors at Gerhard Fieldhouse Sunday.

New! Commencement photo gallery

LEWISBURG, Pa. -- A steady rain could not deter Bucknell University's 158th commencement from being held at least in part outside on the Academic Quadrangle, where Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize-winner Charles Simic urged the Class of 2008 to keep their intellectual curiosity and sense of humor.

More than an hour into the ceremony, a forecast for lightning delayed the proceedings for 45 minutes while thousands of graduates, guests, faculty and staff moved inside the Gerhard Fieldhouse to continue. Many other guests watched live telecasts inside Trout Auditorium and the WeisCenter for the Performing Arts. In all, significantly more than 9,000 people attended the ceremony.

It was the first time since 1976 that a graduation ceremony was halted mid-stride because of weather conditions and continued indoors for the safety of all involved.


Poet Laureate Charles Simic.

Rainy and cold day
It was Simic, who after being presented with the Award of Merit by Bucknell President Brian C. Mitchell, quipped, "I congratulate you and your parents on this memorable rainy and cold day. Global warming? Whatever happened to it?" || Audio: Charles Simic in his own words || Complete text of commencement address

He said to have an independent mind has always been the advice given to anyone who wants to live a life of integrity. "The problem is that our society, despite pretending otherwise, doesn't really want to encourage individuals to think for themselves," he said.

Citing a Ralph Waldo Emerson lecture given in 1841, Simic said that the poet was "telling us the way our society is constituted, independent thinkers are not welcome, only conformists. Anyone among us who objects, who claims Emerson is exaggerating, may not be telling himself or herself the full truth about how they have lived and continue to live their lives."

Big lesson
He told graduates, who join more than 48,000 living Bucknell alumni, that "the world is not what it pretends to be is the big lesson you are going to learn as you go on with your life. We are regularly lied to by institutions and persons we tend to hold in high regard."

Seemingly, the Poet Laureate said, the United States no longer has the ability to set its own house in order.

"None of the problems that confront us in education, unemployment, healthcare, environment, illegal immigration, national debt, the cost of two wars we are fighting, are seriously debated even in time of presidential elections," he said, directing the audience to help change all of that.

Reverse trend
"I hope you will be the generation to reverse that trend and save us from our pettiness, our blindness and our self-destructive ways."

Bucknell awarded more than 786 undergraduate degrees from the College of Arts and Sciences and 141 undergraduate degrees from the College of Engineering. Nearly 40 graduate degrees also were awarded at the Sunday morning ceremony.


Novelist Philip Roth '54.

President Mitchell awarded honorary degrees to internationally renowned sculptor Agnes Denes and leading stem cell researcher Dr. David Scadden, Class of 1975. In addition, the acclaimed American novelist Philip Roth, himself a 1954 Bucknell graduate, became the 16th recipient of the Stephen W. Taylor Medal, the University's highest honor.

Preeminent novelist
Introducing Roth, John Wheatcroft, professor emeritus of English, called the author "America's preeminent living novelist."

"The formal innovations he's introduced to the (fiction) genre mark an epoch in literary history," said Wheatcroft. "Roth's novels compel readers to assess the nation and the world she or he finds the self in, to see the tangles of family, lovers, friends, to confront the self who is reading, a process that stings while it illuminates and hurts while it heals."

Lauren Berninger, president of the Class of 2008, delivered the class response and underscored the "world-class education" that she and her classmates have received at Bucknell.

Amazing journey
"The decisions we make from here on carry more weight than ever before, laying the foundation for the amazing journey on which we are about to embark," said the Hyde Parke, N.Y., graduate. "But I have confidence that Bucknell has prepared each of us adequately for the road ahead."

Saying they are "richer and far more sophisticated" for their experience at Bucknell, Berninger said, "Fellow classmates, we leave the Bucknell campus to be the next generation … The expectations are high and the challenges fierce, but it is with four years' worth of confidence that I envision each of you conquering the perceived limits and succeeding in the world such that our children might have the same opportunity we did."

At the ceremony, Bucknell's annual teacher awards also were announced:

  • Michael Prince, professor of chemical engineering, was awarded the Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching.
  • Sue Ellen Henry, associate professor of education, was presented with the Class of 1956 Lectureship for Inspirational Teaching.
  • Elisabeth Guerrero, associate professor of Spanish, and Karl Voss, associate professor of mathematics, were each awarded the Presidential Award for Teaching Excellence.
  • Eric Tillman, assistant professor of chemistry, was the recipient of the William Pierce Boger Award for Excellence in Teaching in the Natural Sciences.

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