Against a backdrop of bright blue skies and regal brass fanfare, Elmhurst College held its 146th Commencement exercises on Saturday, May 27.
That morning on the Mall, 737 seniors graduated from the College. Later that afternoon in Hammerschmidt Memorial Chapel, 215 graduate students received their degrees.
During the morning ceremony, honorary doctoral degrees were awarded to former Tonight Show bandleader and trumpet player Doc Severinsen, and Chicago radio icon Terri Hemmert ’70.
As he accepted his Doctor of Music degree, Severinsen, who will turn 90 this summer, urged the graduates “to be able to say that you can have, do or be anything that you desire. You have to want it, you have to think about it, you have to fall in love with it, and you have to work like hell to get it.”
Hemmert drew the title for her Commencement address, A Revolution of Tenderness, from a TED talk given by Pope Francis. An alumna who would join WXRT-FM and become Chicago’s first female morning drive personality, Hemmert spoke fondly about how her time at Elmhurst influenced her outlook on life and her role in the world.
“I didn’t need a college degree to be a deejay, but I know that if it wasn’t for the four years I lived here at Elmhurst, I would not have succeeded. And not just in my career. And not just as a person with the opportunity to help tear down barriers for women in our culture. But as a person who has faith that we can make the world a better place,” she said.
Hemmert, who received a Doctor of Humane Letters, infused her remarks with song lyrics by The Beatles, Lou Reed, Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin.
“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. There. I quoted a Beatle,” she said. “But it’s true. The career stuff will work itself out, but beginning now, it’s your job to figure out what you can do with your education and tenderness.
“Some in my generation wanted to change the world, and found out it was really hard. And gave up. I have found that you change the things you can; you look at the people you love and admire, and see how they’ve made their world a better place. Now you figure out what you’re going to do. Trial and error. Hit and miss. But don’t give up. Try stuff. Get out of your house. Do something. Be present.”
President Troy D. VanAken reminded the graduates that, although Commencement ends one phase of their time at Elmhurst, it shouldn’t mark the end of their connection to the College.
“No matter what your future brings, after this morning, you all are alumni of this great institution, and are joining a community that has existed through the lives of tens of thousands of people over 146 years.
“Every one of those people stood where you do today—about to leave one phase of their life and embark on the next—more mature, more knowledgeable, more independent and better prepared for careers, and for life, than they were when they first came here.
“So stay close to the College in the years ahead. Let us be a resource for your future and a touchstone to your past. As for today, it belongs to you and your families. Enjoy every minute. And a hearty congratulations to you, the Class of 2017!”