Ready to transform society: celebrating Newman graduates of 2022

May 06, 2022
Two Newman graduates hug outside of Hartman Arena during Commencement May 6.

A grand total of 401 graduates of Newman University earned their associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees during the spring commencement ceremony Friday, May 6. 

Setting the stage

The traditional tune of “Pomp and Circumstance” filled Hartman Arena as graduates filed into chairs surrounded by excited, cheering guests in stadium-style seating.

Vice President of Academic Affairs Alden Stout opened the ceremony and invited Director of Mission Effectiveness Sister Therese Wetta, ASC, to the podium to lead in a prayerful reflection.

“We gather this afternoon to celebrate and rejoice with these Newman alumni of the class of 2022,” she said. “They have wrestled with change, dealt with a global pandemic and they have grown more fully into the persons God created them to be.”

Following Stout’s introduction of the platform guests on stage, Director of Music Deanne Zogleman led the Newman Chorale, accompanied by Carole Pracht, in a performance of “Soulspeak” by Z. Randall Stroope.

Newman University Chorale performs
The Newman University Chorale performs “Soulspeak” by Z. Randall Stroope for a live audience at commencement.

A memorable commencement address

As per tradition, the previous year’s Newman faculty excellence award winner presents the commencement address to the graduating class. Larry Straub, DBA, associate professor of the school of business, was the 2021 winner. His commencement speech was titled “Confessions of a Reformed Trophy Husband.”

Despite its unique title, Straub’s hope is that graduates picked up on the four takeaway lessons.

“This day is about your opportunity to show gratitude for all those who helped get you to this point: parents, family, teachers, coaches, music and acting instructors,” Straub said. “If not today, someday soon be sure to reach out and show some gratitude for their contributions and influence on your life.”

He also encouraged graduates to view life’s upcoming challenges as formational moments that will help shape them for the better. 

Larry Straub
Larry Straub, associate professor of the school of business, gives his commencement address to 2022 graduates.

“Own up and tell your stories,” he continued. “Understand and look at these past four years for the incredible journey they have been.”

Finally, Straub reminded graduates that no matter how high they may climb educationally or organizationally, “don’t take yourself too seriously.”

“My parting hope and wish for all of you,” he said, “is that you’ll leave here today to transform society and transform all of those around you. But while you’re packing in the coming weeks and getting ready for that next stage in your lives, don’t forget to pack your humility, your gratitude and most importantly, don’t forget to pack your sense of humor. God bless.”

Straub then left his memorable mark by donning a dinosaur head and dropping an inflatable microphone to the ground — ending his on-stage segment with a smiling Newman President Kathleen S. Jagger.

The presentation of the prestigious Ablah Awards

Each year, Newman University selects one male and one female recipient for the prestigious Ablah Awards

The Ablah Awards were established by Fran and Geri (Ablah) Jabara to honor the memory of Geri’s parents, Harvey J. and Leona J. Ablah, and to perpetuate their vision of entrepreneurism and the American dream. Award recipients must graduate with a minimum grade point average of 3.0 or higher, and each student receives a $2,500 award.

“It’s never easy for the selection committee to identify a single winner of the Ablah Awards, and I have to tell you this year was unusually difficult,” Stout said. “Each of the nominees exemplifies the mission of Newman University.”

The winner of the Leona J. Ablah Award was Kelly Mai, a first-generation college student with a double major in criminal justice and psychology and a minor in art.

Kelly Mai
Kelly Mai, winner of the 2022 Leona J. Ablah Award.

Mai has not only been actively involved in several student organizations on campus but also completes service work off-campus for Footprints ICT and Friends of Friends, two organizations that serve the basic needs of Wichita’s homeless community. She also serves as a VITA volunteer taxpayer for the United Way of the Plains, HumanKind Ministries, serves in leadership roles for Pi Gamma Mu and was named to the Dean’s List every year at Newman. 

Mai’s nominator wrote that “the most important contribution Kelly makes to campus is living her own words: ‘The purpose of life is just to love. Love itself is spectacular; it is always there.’”

“I was completely in shock,” Mai said of winning the award. “I was just so humbled and grateful. I couldn’t be here without all of my mentors, bosses, my family, friends and the University Relations team. I’m so grateful for all of it.”

The recipient of the Harvey J. Ablah Award was English and secondary education graduate Steven Nguyen.

Steven Nguyen, winner of the Harvey J. Ablah Award.
Steven Nguyen, winner of the Harvey J. Ablah Award.

One of Nguyen’s nominators wrote that “Steven is one of the best humans I have ever had the pleasure of meeting.” 

Nguyen is the son of two Vietnamese immigrants and the first of his family to graduate from college. He’s a member of the Newman triathlon team, several student organizations and spearheaded the Disc Golf Club and the implementation of a disc golf course on campus. He also serves as a para-educator at a local school and Vagabond Missions, which gives intercity children support and a safe environment.

“There were plenty of really good candidates, and I had the pleasure to know the majority of them, both on the male and female side,” Nguyen said. “To be honored is surreal. For the longest time, I just felt like I was going through day by day, just trying my best. Hearing my name called, it solidified that I made a positive change.”

The 2022 Newman Commencement marked year two for President Jagger, who said this year’s Ablah Award winners left a significant impact on her. 

“All of the individuals that were nominated for that award could have won it,” Jagger said. “They are just a phenomenal group of leaders, compassionate companions of people who are going to go out and make a difference in this world.” 

President Kathleen Jagger
President Kathleen Jagger congratulates the graduating class of 2022.

The awarding of the degrees

Many graduates managed to juggle working, raising families and navigating a global pandemic all while completing their studies. 

Alisha Ruiz, who completed her master’s in nurse anesthesia, said that finally walking across the stage made the past 24 months of challenges worth it. 

“It’s been a lot of stress and pressure working in the medical field during COVID, and we’re really just glad to take this next step,” Ruiz said.

Graduates Alisha Ruiz and Tracie Vogts
(From left to right) Graduates Alisha Ruiz and Tracie Vogts earned their master’s degrees in nurse anesthesia practice.

For David Overton, a nontraditional interdisciplinary studies major, commencement day was a “surreal experience.”

“Knowing that I’m about to graduate, I’m still in shock right now,” he said. “I just can’t believe it, and right now I just want to take all this in.”

Whether they chose to walk across the stage in person or tune into the live ceremony from locations all around the world, undergraduate and graduate students rejoiced in closing this chapter of their lives and making way for a new beginning.

Hartman Arena was filled with graduates, their families and friends.

An end and a beginning

Cindy Miles, president of the National Alumni Board of Directors, closed the ceremony by welcoming the graduates into the Newman University Alumni Association. 

“I would like to congratulate all of you on this momentous achievement and formally welcome you into our family of more than 15,000 alumni worldwide,” Miles said.

She encouraged the graduates to take the generosity they’ve received and pay it forward for the generation of future Newman Jets. 

Volunteer on campus, serve as a mentor, come to campus events,” she said. “This is our university and the future is in our hands.”

Jagger is hopeful that the hard work and dedication of Newman faculty, staff and the support of generous donors has helped prepare the students for whatever they may encounter in the future. 

Alden Stout experienced his first Newman Commencement ceremony as vice president of academic affairs.
Alden Stout experienced his first Newman Commencement ceremony as vice president of academic affairs.

“But I also hope that they’re going to remain connected to Newman,” she said. “We want to hear about the next chapters of their stories as they go on and serve others and become leaders in their professions. I really hope that we can have a continuing relationship with these graduates.” 

Though Friday marked Stout’s first official Newman graduation ceremony, he determined it was his “absolute favorite day.”

“It’s the day that we celebrate the students and it’s the day we celebrate our mission: to empower graduates to transform society,” Stout said. “This is when the graduates who are empowered go off and do that. I can’t think of a more exciting time as an academic vice president to see all the work that everybody’s done in one place and at one event.”

The complete ceremony can be viewed on the Newman University website.

Photos from commencement can be viewed on the Newman University Flickr page.