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Trailblazing Educator Addresses Susquehanna University Graduates

Published on May 16, 2010

SELINSGROVE—More than 4,500 graduating students, parents and guests attended Susquehanna University’s 152nd Commencement ceremony May 16, where 423 students were awarded bachelor’s degrees. The event took place at 2:30 p.m. in the field house of the James W. Garrett Sports Complex.

Guest speaker Marie V. McDemmond, interim dean of Florida International University’s College of Education, chair of the Lumina Foundation for Education and president emeritus of Norfolk State University, said the purpose of education is not only to ignite intellectual curiosity, but also to give back. “Education requires that we share with others so that they, too, may achieve,” she said. “Commitment to the betterment of our families, our fellow man and our communities is required. For to touch souls and to teach minds is the educated person’s commitment to the future.”

She said the skills they have acquired as undergraduates will enhance the quality of their world. “As you cross the stage today, the knowledge you have obtained and the additional educational credentials I know you will acquire, will mean that you will not only be able to contribute to your family and society, but to the global society as well.”

McDemmond urged the graduates to use their knowledge to exercise their rights of citizenship by voting, staying informed and working for the causes they believe in.

McDemmond was the first female president of Norfolk State. She also was the first African American woman to lead a four-year college in Virginia, to be named chief financial officer in the Florida State University System, and to be president of the Southern Association of College and University Business Officers.

At Norfolk State, McDemmond arrived to a daunting fiscal deficit, which she eliminated by the time she stepped down. While there, she also drew higher-achieving students, elevated academics, and increased state funding and the school’s endowment. The American Association of State Colleges and Universities' Millennium Leadership Institute named its leadership lecture for McDemmond and established a $32 million state-funded research center, named in her honor, on Norfolk State's campus.

University President L. Jay Lemons also addressed the graduates and their guests. “What has been planted here in these four years has been a mere seed of knowledge, and the cultivation of habits of heart and mind that create the potential for each of you to live a life of achievement, leadership and service,” he said.

Susquehanna conferred two honorary degrees--a Doctor of Education degree for McDemmond and a Doctor of Humane Letters for both Paul R. John, chairman of the Ritz-Craft Corporation, and his wife, Mildred D. John, a former member of Susquehanna’s board of trustees.

Paul and three other Ritz-Craft managers bought the company from Wickes Corporation in 1976 and consolidated company operations to a centralized headquarters and manufacturing plant in Mifflinburg. Paul also served on the board of directors of the former Sun Bancorp Inc. in Selinsgrove, and was a director of Inter-Industry Reinsurance Co. Ltd. He has been active with the Sigmund Weis Partners and Business and Industry Campaign.

Mildred was an integral partner in the early days of Ritz-Craft and in recent years has served on the board of KeLa Energy. The Johns established the Paul and Mildred John Scholarship program at SU in 1991, which supports students who otherwise might not be able to complete their studies at Susquehanna University. They also have established a family foundation that supports churches, higher education, children and youth, health organizations and human services in central Pennsylvania.

Founded in 1858, Susquehanna University is a national liberal arts college that prepares students for achievement, leadership and service in a diverse, interconnected world. Academic excellence, study away and service learning, student-faculty collaboration, and rich opportunities for creative and personal growth are hallmarks of a Susquehanna University education. Susquehanna students come from 30 states and 12 countries, and more than 90 percent of them find jobs or pursue graduate study within six months of graduation. The university is located in central Pennsylvania, in the town of Selinsgrove, along the banks of the scenic Susquehanna River and about three hours from major East Coast cultural, financial and recreational centers. For more information, visit www.susqu.edu.

Karen M. Jones

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