A downpour briefly delayed the procession of Western Maryland College graduates yesterday, but did nothing to dampen the spirit of the occasion.
"May you learn to love the rain against your back," baccalaureate candidate Kristine A. Holland said in an address to her classmates. "May it make you strong."
Hundreds of the graduates' families and friends filled the Gill Physical Education Center yesterday. Cameras flashed from every corner as parents snapped marching offspring clad in the green and gold hoods marking their new stature.
WMC President Robert H. Chambers called himself privileged to welcome "such a grand host" to the 193rd graduation ceremony. He told the students they had earned the right to "celebrate pompously the successful conclusion of their academic course."
"Well done; we are proud of you stepping forth into the great world beyond our midsts," he said.
The college's traditional green and gold also decorated the stage, as clusters of golden spring flowers filled containers.
The college decided against having a keynote speaker, in order to keep attention focused on the graduates. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, was awarded an honorary degree.
As nearly 300 robed students filed into the gymnasium, Jeffrey Johnson, 3 1/2 , watched intently for his "Aunt Shell." If Kevin Mitchell hadn't held Jeffrey on his shoulders, the child might have missed his chance to give a cheer for his aunt.
Jeffrey's family had traveled from Turnersville, Pa., to see Michelle Johnson receive a bachelor's degree in psychology. Ms. Johnson had international guests, too: an 82-year-old aunt and several cousins from England.
"We came to see Michelle's sister married last Saturday and stayed for the graduation," said Pauline Gibson.
In his invocation, the Rev. Mark Lancaster prayed that graduates would seek "a lifelong commitment to make good use of what you now understand."
Eric Byrd, a member of the Class of 1993, composed the words and music to the choral presentation, "Good Morning." His composition sounded the class theme.
"I'll say hello to a new hope-filled day," the presentation began, with the young composer accompanying the choir.
Choral voices continued with "For now my future has begun," and "Today I'll start to live out my ideas."
Mr. Byrd earned loud cheers and thunderous applause as he walked from the piano back to sit among his classmates. "Beautifully done, Eric," Mr. Chambers said as he began his welcoming remarks.
The president asked for a moment of silent meditation in honor of Peter D. Yedinak, WMC professor of physics for 25 years. Mr. Yedinak died Monday "after a long, heroic struggle with a devastating disease."
Mr. Chambers followed the silence with words of tribute to the entire faculty at the liberal arts college. He said he was sure many of the teachers were concealing stop watches in their robes and timing the ceremony.
"There are traditional wagers on the length of graduation," he said.
The college also conferred 95 master's degrees yesterday. Eileen C. Shields, a master's candidate, spoke for her class.
"We are the students with spouses, children and cars that run," ** said Ms. Shields. "I want to acknowledge the contributions of partners, children and the auto industry."
Ms. Shields' poem won the most laughs of the day with rhyming tributes to the master's candidates.
"In truth, though, all I wanted from a graduate degree
Was a night out of the house alone and a better score on Jeopardy."
Roger W. Titus spoke for the parents of the graduating class and offered thanks to the school "where everyone knows your name."