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Lakeland College marked its 144th academic year by awarding master's and bachelor's degrees to 756 students on Sunday, May 7.
A total of 394 students participated in the commencement ceremony, held at the Todd Wehr Center. The college awarded 636 bachelor's degrees, 465 to students taking classes through the Kellett School of Adult Education and 171 taking classes through the college's traditional day program at its main campus. The college also awarded 120 master's degrees.
The graduates heard from Jackie Spinner, a staff reporter from The Washington Post who spent 13 months in Iraq covering the war and chronicled that experience in her book "Tell Them I Didn't Cry," which was written last summer and published this past February.
Spinner survived a kidnap attempt outside Abu Ghraib prison just a few weeks after she arrived, she dodged car bombs and covered the battle for Fallujah alongside U.S. Marines and soldiers.
She told graduates about her tough transition from war-torn Iraq to returning to daily life working in Washington D.C., and urged them to embrace their own transition armed with their degree.
"I was home with out really being home, lost in a familiar place after finding something so engaging and familiar in a foreign one," Spinner said. "War is messy, and sometimes it takes a while to dust yourself off. I'm still dusting.
"But as my 94-year-old grandmother Spinner always says, it's a good life if it doesn't kill you and so you embrace it, all of it, the ups and downs, the decisions you made to get here and the ones you will make as you walk out that door.
"Actually, don't walk out, run!"
Lakeland President Stephen Gould announced that retiring campus minister David Lauer, the Marjorie and Richard D. Leach Professor of Christian Theology and Ethics, had been granted professor emeritus status, the college's highest honor.
A fixture of the Lakeland community since 1968, Lauer served Lakeland for the ninth longest tenure in the college's history.
He was named the winner of the Underkofler Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching in 1995, the Sears-Roebuck Foundation Teaching Excellence Award in 1990 and has served as chair of Lakeland's Humanities Division since 1992.
Lauer was Lakeland's men's tennis coach from 1968-2005, and was inducted into the Lakeland Athletic Hall of Fame in 1993.
He delivered the baccalaureate address earlier in the day, a fitting conclusion to his memorable career at Lakeland. Lauer's wife, Lynne, a member of Lakeland's science faculty, is also retiring this spring.
A number of Lakeland graduates who served as musicians during Lauer's chapel services returned to campus Sunday to sing in the choir as part of the baccalaureate service. As a surprise, they performed "Day by Day" from the popular 1970s musical "Godspell."
The college also announced the winners of two major Lakeland awards this weekend.
Elaine Bablitch was named the winner of the Robert W. Lope Award, which goes to the Kellett School graduate who has shown unusual persistence, dedication and commitment in the courses of earning their bachelor's degree.
Bablitch received a bachelor's in business administration this weekend, graduating summa cum laude, to complete an almost 19-year journey to earn her degree. She has worked at Kohler Co. for nearly 25 years, and is currently an engineering analyst for Kohler's Energy Management Group. She serves Lakeland as an English language tutor with the college's international students.
Ross Fale was named the winner of the Clarence H. Koehler Campus Senior Award, given annually to the graduate who best exemplifies the "Lakeland Spirit" through academic achievement, service to the college and fellow students and participation in college and student programs and activities.
Fale, who graduated with a bachelor's in writing, was also the winner of the Student Employee of the Year this year. Fale worked in Lakeland's admissions department where he was admissions tour coordinator, served as a campus ambassador and orientation leader. He also assisted with the Great Lakes Writers Festival.