Sunday, May 19, 2002

Xavier graduates hear plea for 'irrelevance'

Ex-UC leader speaks up for liberal arts

By Jenny Callison
Enquirer contributor

        The goals scored Saturday in the Cintas Center were academic, not athletic, as Xavier University celebrated the achievements of its 164th graduating class. At a 9 a.m. ceremony, 1,006 undergraduates heard a call to lifelong learning from the former president of Xavier's crosstown rival, the University of Cincinnati.

        Noting the national trend toward “relevance” and job-specific education, Dr. Henry R. Winkler offered his own vision.

        “I make a special plea for irrelevance in undergraduate education,” he said, adding that a grounding in the liberal arts “is a method of studying ourselves and the world we inhabit.”

        Dr. Winkler counseled the graduates to use what they have learned to make that world a better place.

        “A liberal arts education enables us to be more effective in the community at large,” he said. “It gives us the mental tools that will serve us no matter what field of endeavor we enter. To trade this sort of education only for a marketable skill would be tragic.”

        Before serving as UC's president from 1977 to 1984, Dr. Winkler had a distinguished 30-year career as a historian at Rutgers University. He received XU's Leadership Medallion.

        Among Saturday's graduates were two mothers and their children.

        Both Kathy Boutiere and her son Joel majored in communications, she specializing in public relations and he in electronic media.

        “I promised I'd never take any classes with him,” Ms. Boutiere said with a laugh.

        Kay Ohradzansky's daughter Sara was in eighth grade when she came to work at Xavier and enrolled in her first college class. On Saturday, Sara received a bachelor's degree in political science while her mother got an associate's degree in organizational communications.

        “I figured that since I'm such a gabby person it would be a good place for me to start,” Ms. Ohradzansky said of her degree.

        At Xavier's 2 p.m. commencement ceremony, Rhonda Gilliam-Smith of Avondale was among 970 recipients of graduate degrees. Ms. Gilliam-Smith, a former pipefitter, earned her executive master of education degree in human resource development.

        The new graduate earned first a bachelor's and then a master's degree to address the need she saw for more holistic training of workers in the construction industry. She plans to become a consultant, providing education and coaching for workers and management.

        “I want to bring out the full potential of the work force through training and organizational development,” said Ms. Gilliam-Smith.

        “My mission was inspired by a saying of Martin Luther King Jr., given to me by my pastor when I became an apprentice pipefitter. He said, "You are a mighty acorn that will flourish into a powerful oak tree.' ”

        National Public Radio news anchor Scott Simon spoke at the afternoon ceremony and received an honorary doctor of humane letters degree.


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