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''Senior'' Senior, Noted Fiddler, Harvard Prof. Highlight Commencement

Two-hundred forty-five individuals passed a major milestone in their lives Sunday, May 27, as they became graduates during Berea College's 135th Commencement. These are accomplishments for which they should be especially proud, according to commencement speaker Henry Louis Gates Jr., who said, “Berea College has been a model to the rest of America for over a century and a half… America needs to catch up to Berea College.” Read the news release.

- Watch the highlight video (Flash movie)
- View the photo gallery
- Listen to Commencement Address (mp3)
- Listen to Jake Krack Fiddling (mp3)
- Listen to "All the Nations" (mp3)


Gates, a Harvard University professor and renowned writer, critic and activist was given an honorary degree of doctor of humane letters just prior to his address along with Jean Fairfax, a nationally known education, civil rights and philanthropy leader. The speaker challenged the graduates to continue the fight for justice. “We need equality as a fact, not just an ideal. Will you have the will to insist that the Berea ideal becomes the American ideal?”

Seabury Center overflowed with graduates, professors, staff and hundreds of proud family members and friends anxious to witness the moment when the hard-earned bachelor degrees were awarded and five prestigious awards were granted to students and staff.

The Seabury Award for Excellence in Teaching was given to Dr. Gary Mahoney, '82, a technology and industrial arts professor and department chair who has taught at Berea since 1989. A student said of Mahoney, “He is like a conductor of an orchestra as he moves about the lab, responding to complex questions, offering solutions and gently directing someone who is not following a safety rule.”

Ni Ji, a native of Nanjing, China, was given the Hilda Welch Wood Award for outstanding achievement by a graduating female student. Ji, majoring in biology and physics, will receive her diploma in September after finishing requirements this summer. This fall she will enter a doctorate program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in brain and cognitive science, fulfilling her lifelong dream of becoming a scientist.

The T.J. Wood Award for outstanding achievement by a graduating male student was given to Taylor Ballinger. The Richmond, Ky., native pulled a double major in speech communication and history and will be teaching secondary special education students in New Orleans this fall as part of the Teach for America program. “Berea has instilled in me a new perspective in life,” says Ballinger. “It is my hope that the rest of my life will exhibit the values Berea has instilled in me and pay an appropriate tribute to this institution.”

Dr. David Porter won the Paul C. Hager Award for excellence in advising. Porter is a psychology and general studies professor. Born in Berea and the son of a Berea College graduate, he holds a doctorate in experimental cognitive psychology from Oxford University and had a distinguished career in the U.S. Air Force before joining Berea in 2001.

The Elizabeth Perry Miles Award for contributions to campus and community was given to Dr. Nancy Ryan. She has been a physician with Health Services since 2000 and from 1989 to 1991 and puts in many hours of volunteer work in the Berea community as a General Education Diploma tutor and a volunteer helping with rent and utility relief work and the Berea Health Ministry.

Receiving his degree in technology and industrial arts was 79-year-old Billy Cass who enrolled at Berea College in 1957 but withdrew one class short of obtaining his degree in 1965. After successfully completing an accounting course, Cass was awarded his diploma before a standing ovation.

A highlight of the commencement included a lively rendition of the Bluegrass classic "Sally Goodin’" (mp3) by graduate Jacob Krack, a nationally renowned fiddler who received his degree in Appalachian Studies. He was accompanied on guitar by his mother, Dara Krack.

Also, the college’s Concert Choir sang "All the Nations," a song written for them by Earlene Rentz, a composer from Lancaster, Ky. Rentz, who was at commencement services, wrote the piece because she was moved by Berea College’s motto, “God hath made of one blood all peoples of the earth.” It was the inaugural performance of the song and it and her composition, “The Presence of the Lord,” which was performed by the choir at the Baccalaureate service, will soon be published.

Earlier in the day the nursing majors received special recognition during the annual pinning service, which took place at Union Church. That was followed by the Baccalaureate Service at Phelps Stokes Chapel. The speaker was the Rev. Dr. Alison Boden, dean of Rockefeller Memorial Chapel at The University of Chicago. She has written numerous articles on religion, human rights and justice.

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