DWU’s class of 2021 overcomes whirlwind year, as over 200 graduate

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By: Sam Fosness | The Mitchell Republic | May 9, 2021


After enduring through a whirlwind of an academic school year at the behest of the pandemic, the group of 203 graduates, which included fall 2020 and summer 2021 graduates, were challenged to take on a bigger issue that's been at the forefront of American society as of recent: inclusion, diversity and equity. Guest speaker Malcom Chapman, a former U.S. Marine Corps officer and Rapid City City Council member, challenged the students to create "a space for all" in their future endeavors.

"This university has uniquely prepared you to deal with the changes of today and to lead a life public service in the diverse global world that you will enter,” Chapman said to the graduates during the commencement ceremony that was held at the Corn Palace, “My challenge for you today is to lead and find ways to bridge cultures.”

For decades, Chapman has been a civil rights trailblazer for South Dakota's marginalized communities like the Native American and African American populations. He’s currently serving as the coordinator of Rapid City’s Human Relations Commission, which works to form a better relationship between the city and “broken” marginalized communities in the area.

Chapman inspired the graduates to embrace the changing landscape of society by welcoming fresh ideas from people of all ethnic backgrounds.

“You have a seat at the table, your stories are important. … I am going to challenge you today to create that space for all of those around you, as their story and journey is equally important to be listened to,” Chapman said. “Believe in yourself, believe in your dreams, and there is absolutely nothing you can't do.”

DWU President Amy Novak bid her farewell to the class of 2021, commending the students for the ability to persevere through the unprecedented pandemic that altered campus life over the past year.

"Class of 2021, we made it," Novak said. "This academic year and college experience was significantly disrupted by COVID-19. But your compliant behaviors enabled us to complete a year of in-person classes, and now an in-person graduation.”

In what marked her last commencement ceremony as DWU president, Novak — who will be taking on a new role as the president of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa, in a few months — thanked the graduates for making her time as the leader of the local faith-based college a “special one.”

While Sunday’s graduation signaled the end of students’ academic journey, Novak encouraged the group of budding professionals to view it as the “beginning” of a new journey.

“A beginning in a year otherwise filled with unprecedented disruption and change. But a beginning to use your talents and gifts to service God and humanity,” Novak said. "Some of you have already secured employment. Others of you have used the pandemic to begin your first novel. But all of you leave DWU better prepared to become leaders, relationship builders, authentic human beings seeking to better yourself and the community you serve.”

Honorary doctoral degrees awarded

To open the ceremony, three individuals were recognized for receiving honorary doctoral degrees, the highest honor of education at DWU.

Legendary sculptor Dale Lamphere, of Sturgis, was recognized for earning his honorary doctoral degree in fine arts. The South Dakota artist, who designed and created the McGovern statue in front of the McGovern Library on DWU's campus, sculpted his way into the South Dakota Hall of Fame in 1987. Some notable sculptures Lamphere created recently were “Dignity,” which overlooks the Missouri River in Chamberlain, and the “Arch of Dreams” in Sioux Falls.

"Dale (Lamphere) has used art to tell the diverse story of South Dakota and our Great Plains region. His work expresses the beauty, emotion, creativity and innovation,” Novak said of Lamphere. “Through sculpture, he seeks to express the strength and grace of the human spirit using timeless design, contemporary materials and innovative techniques.”

Lesta Turchen, a well-known historian and former DWU history professor, received an honorary doctorate degree of humane letters. From serving as the president of the South Dakota State Library Board to donating money for campus improvements at DWU, Turchen has been a vital asset for the college’s success.

“With her dedicated commitment to academic excellence, extensive knowledge of the state and region’s history, selfless acts of giving, and her welcoming kind heart, Lesta has created a legacy that will remain for years to come,” Novak said of Turchen.

After devoting much of his life to support local organizations and charity groups, the late Sam F. Weller was honored with an honorary doctoral degree of humane letters. The Mitchell High School and DWU graduate poured a lot of money into helping the campus grow and improve over the years.

Weller created the Sam F. Weller Foundation in 2014 to honor his family’s legacy of giving back to the community and DWU campus. Although the successful businessman moved away from Mitchell later in life, Novak said he never stopped “giving back” and “supporting his alma mater.”

“Sam (Weller) left a profound impact on the community and DWU. Sam’s legacy of community support lives on in perpetuity through the endowment of this foundation,” Novak said of the late Weller. “Since the inception of the Sam F. Weller Foundation, it has provided more than half a million dollars to dozens of local agencies.”


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