Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper columnist Connie Schultz and her husband, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, were on hand Friday night to help students, faculty and staff of BGSU Firelands celebrate the college's 23rd annual commencement.
An eclectic mix of students from all walks of life donned their caps and gowns for the ceremony at the Cedar Point Center on campus. A total of 172 total associate degrees were given out this year by Firelands. Thirty-eight of those receiving associate degrees participated in the ceremony. There were 32 bachelor's degree awarded Friday night to students who attended main campus.
Schultz, who won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, was the commencement speaker.
"I have a real soft spot for state universities because I graduated from one," she said, referring to her degree from Kent State University.
Schultz proudly touted the education students receive at state colleges and told the new graduates not to fear having to compete against Ivy League graduates. Sharing a conversation she had with colleagues, she said some Ivy Leaguers had questioned the educational standards at a state college.
"You went to the Ivy League and paid tens of thousands of dollars to get your college education," she recalled saying. "I went to a state school and paid a fraction of your tuition. Here we are now working at the same place and making the same amount of money. State school people, we are scrappers aren't we?"
Her response drew rousing applause.
Schultz talked about her father and how he worked for 36 years in maintenance for the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Co. in Ashtabula.
"I can remember playing catch in the front yard with my brother and my dad came home from work one day and was shaking his head," she reminisced. "I thought I had thrown the ball wrong, but I asked him 'What is wrong?' He said, 'you could teach a monkey to do what I do at work.'"
She said her father taught his children that they were going to go to college and never carry a lunch pail.
"I am a child of working class parents, like many of you," said Schultz, a nationally syndicated columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "I went to college and now the heaviest piece of equipment I carry is my laptop. I am a writer and that is what I do."
Schultz' message also touched the non-traditional students, well represented at Firelands.
"I was a late bloomer," she said. "I was 36 when I took my first and only newspaper job at The Plain Dealer. I was older than some of the editors on the news desk. I wanted to just pat them on the back and burp them."
She told the grads that "the time to start being who you are meant to be is right now. You are greater than you know. Don't wait to be invited."
Schultz encouraged the graduates to get to know everybody from the maintenance personnel to top executives in the buildings in which they work. She urged them to be advocates for societal change.
Brown mingled with guests after the event and said there is plenty of hope for the class of 2007.
"These men and women have earned a college degree," he said. "This country and this state holds many opportunities for them to pursue, and now they have the education that will allow them to pursue their dreams."
Huron Township Trustee Ed Enderle was one of the graduates last night, receiving his degree in business electronics.
"I am very happy and plan to use the education I received here," he said.
Dean James M. Smith conferred the degrees on the graduates and presented a gift, a BGSU sweatshirt, to Schultz. He read passages from two of his favorite authors, Kurt Vonnegut Jr. and David Halberstam., both of whom died in the last month.
The BGSU Symphonic Brass Quintet performed the musical selections at the ceremony.