Hundreds of McDaniel College graduates ended the journey the way they began it as freshmen -- by the bell.
Before the start of yesterday's 137th commencement on the Westminster campus, more than 600 undergraduates and graduate students filed past the Old Main Bell on the school's Memorial Plaza in a procession that stretched past dozens of applauding professors and past the darkened buildings, where many of them have spent countless hours.
In keeping with a tradition dating to 1867, when the university was founded as Western Maryland College, the school's president, Joan Develin Coley, continued ringing the bell until the last student passed her on a route that wound from Baker Memorial Chapel, through the center of campus to Gill Center gymnasium.
As freshmen, the students rang the bell during their orientation week.
Mabilia Eunice Reyes, a 21-year-old who was inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa honor society, said yesterday's bell-ringing ceremony left her with a twinge of nostalgia.
"Four years ago, it was exciting and new," said Reyes, who earned a bachelor's degree in social work and political science. "Now it's kind of sad that it all went by so fast."
McDaniel's graduation was one of several held yesterday, including Loyola College's 155th commencement, which was held at 1st Marina Arena in downtown Baltimore. More than 1,600 Loyola students heard from speaker Jon Meacham, editor of Newsweek magazine, about the complementary functions of faith and reason.
At McDaniel, graduates were greeted in a standing-room-only gymnasium by a crowd of family, friends and faculty who had come to celebrate their accomplishments.
David Gergen, editor-at-large for U.S. News & World Report and professor of public service at Harvard University, implored the graduates to add value to society by seizing even the smallest of opportunities to improve it.
The political analyst -- who served in the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan, Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford, and was a counselor to President Bill Clinton -- illustrated his point with a story about someone who sees a woman on a beach pick up a starfish and throw it into the ocean. The woman, he said, refuses to be deterred by the daunting task of saving countless starfish and contents herself with rescuing as many as she can.
"You can't save the world, but you can save one," he said. "And then another."
Reisterstown resident Martin Camper, who earned his bachelor's degree with majors in English and Spanish, said his experience at the tight-knit McDaniel community had given him the resources he'll need to do something meaningful with his life.
"It has taught me to think critically and have compassion," said Camper, 21, who plans to pursue a master's degree this fall at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. "It has also given me confidence."
Standing outside the Gill Center gymnasium, Linda Henderson, 27, of Elkridge in Howard County, shied away as her family fussed over her and bragged about the hard work, long days and late nights that it took her to earn a master's degree in education.
But her mother, Melinda Francisco of Crownsville, persisted.
"This young lady finished her degree in 15 months and took her last class just three weeks before her daughter was born," Francisco said.
Henderson's grandparents, Mel and Linda Utz of Kent Island, beamed as they boasted that she was the first of their nine grandchildren to earn a master's degree.
Henderson, a third-grade teacher at Riverdale Elementary in Prince George's County, graduated with a 3.9 grade-point average without ever setting foot on the campus until yesterday. All of her classes, she said, were taught by McDaniel professors who traveled to the Laurel area to teach.
In downtown Baltimore, Meacham urged Loyola's graduates to maintain their long-standing principles of faith but not be close-minded.
"At Loyola, you have learned to be anchored in belief but not blinded by self-righteousness; resolute in principle but respectful of dissent and difference; firm in conviction but always open to the force of fact and reason," said Meacham, author of American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers and the Making of a Nation.
"Bridging religious, cultural and economic divides merits the work of our whole hearts," he said. "Bringing such unity about is not elective. It is essential."