Nearly 1,400 WSU students graduated on May 14, 1999. One hundred ninety-five years earlier to the day, on perhaps just such a spring afternoon — warm, breezy, with clouds hinting at rain — the explorers Lewis and Clark set out for President Jefferson's "terra incognita." Members of the Class of 1999 have no less incredible journeys stretching away before them.
Before the drab-, blue-, orange-, brown-, pink-, gree-, salmon- and black-tasseled graduates from WSU's colleges made the walk toward their diploma and the rank of alumnus Friday evening in Cessna Stadium, Wichita State's new president welcomed thousands of celebrants to the university's 101st commencement ceremony.
President Don Beggs, who had been inaugurated as WSU's 12th president five hours earlier, also handed out awards and introduced special guests and graduation speakers, including Jeff Turner '73/77, vice president and general manager of Boeing Commercial Airplanes Group, Wichita, who delivered the commencement address.
As a backdrop for his message to the 1999 graduates, Turner used the historic journey of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, who set out from St. Louis to map the trans-Mississippi West 195 years ago. Turner encouraged graduates to emulate five of the attributes displayed by Lewis and Clark, who lived through incredible hardships and saw fantastic sights as they made their way up the Missouri River to the Rocky Mountains, over the mountains, down the Columbus River to the Pacific Ocean — and back.
Those five attributes that everyone should cultivate, Turner said, were being prepare, being flexible, being able to work in a team, taking responsibility for one's actions and serving a greater purpose. The greater purpose, he explained, was to focus on the wider community.
Doing one's part to make the life of the community better for everyone was a theme taken up by two other graduation speakers, Mike Oatman and Max Hubbard '57. Oatman, co-owner of Great Empire Broadcasting, longtime KFDI radio personality and the president of WSU's board of trustees, was recognized as the 1999 WSU President's Medal honoree. During his comments, Oatman stressed the role of compassion in leading a well-rounded, successful and happy life.
"I've learned," he said, "that compassion is one of the most important traits you can have. No matter how far-reaching your accomplishments, if you are not loved you will not be happy. And you cannot be loved unless you love first. And to do that you have to have compassion for all you encounter."
Hubbard, who is co-founder of Kansas-Oklahoma Machine Tools Inc., former co-owner and secretary-treasurer of Milling Precision Tools Inc. and the president of the WSU Alumni Association, delivered greetings to both the new graduates and members of the Class of 1949, who were special guests at the cermonies. Hubbard urged Class of 1999 graduates to follow the outstanding example set by the Class of 1949 in living and working for a greater purpose. He commended the earlier graduates for their singular efforts during World War II and for supporting higher educations by staying connected with their alma mater.
Also recognized during graduation festivities were William Docking, Kansas Board of Regents chair; Anna Kathleen Walsh '28/39, Farimount Founders' Award recipient; and Deborah Hansen Soles from WSU's department of philosophy, who received the John R. Barrier Distinguished Teaching Award.
"One will never know but just a corner of knowledge," Soles once explained about her love of teaching. "It's satisfying to learn just a little bit more. And learning is a never-ending enterprise. That's fun for me."
Lifelong learning was another theme echoed by graduation speakers. Turner, for instance, spoke of the importance of continuous learning — an enjoyment in and of itself, but also solid preparation for life's surprises.
As he told graduates: "Your journey will require modifications to your plan." He added, "The education you've received at WSU is in my estimation preparation that is second to none."
After Beggs and Bobby Patton, WSU vice president for academic affairs, conferred degrees, the 1999 grads watched a sky full of fireworks and left the stadium with diplomas in hand.
NOTABLE SHOCKER GRADUATIONS
The first Fairmount College commencement is held in the Crawford Grand Opera House downtown. Eight seniors — five men and three women — are graduated, one of whom goes to extraordinary measures just to get to his own commencement. While he and other members of the Fairmount crowd are riding a streetcar to the event, the car gains too much speed, jams its brakes and jups the track at the curve at 15th and Fairmount streets. When the motorman goes for help, the senior, not wanting to be late, pulls up a fence post for a lever, sets the car back on the track and drives toward town, picking up the motorman along the way.
Mildred Schuler receives her bachelor's degree in general studies. One of 25 seniors pictured in their mortar boards in the 1914 Parnassus, she is described this way: "Mildred possesses the artistic ability of the senior class. This is her greatest delight, but along with it, she likes birdology, bugology, frogology, zoology and such other ologies as are taught in the biolgocial laboratory." Until her death on June 2, 1999, she was the oldest living graduate. She would have turned 109 this August.
The first four master's degrees are awarded.
Clark D. Ahlberg graduates with a bachelor's degree in political science from the the University of Wichita. He will become the second graduate to serve his alma mater as president, 1968-83.
Harry F. Corbin graduates with a bachelor's degree in political science from WU. He will become the first graduate to lead his alma mater, 1949-63.
The first doctoral degree is awarded, in logopedics. This commencement is the first under emory Lindquist, the university's eighth president.
Degrees are conferred on 2,300 graduates druing the first commencement ceremony presided over by Warren Armstrong, WSU's 10th president. In May 1964, the university had graduated 600 students.
Wichita State celebrates its 100th commencement in newly renovated Cessna Stadium, complete with fireworks and a B-1 flyover. It is the last commencement presided over by WSU's 11th president, Eugene Hughes.