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Accomplishment, Gratitude, Relief Among Prevailing Emotions at Commencement

Story By:
Paul Miller | Director of Strategic Communications and Community Relations
Sharon Barry '24 Commencement 2024
In all, 564 undergraduate and graduate students walked across the stage to receive their scrolls, including Sharon Barry '24.

Some days, it is said, are better than others. At Keene State College, no day surpasses Commencement. It is a day to acknowledge students’ academic success, bestow special degrees, award and draw inspiration and laughter from difference-makers, and celebrate full-family style.

Beneath partly sunny skies and amid coolish temperatures, thousands of people flooded Fiske Quad in the center of campus Saturday to participate in the always-anticipated and culminating tradition.

Nothing disappointed.

In all, 564 undergraduate and graduate students walked across the stage to receive their diploma scrolls.

They, and everyone in attendance, were implored by the Alumni Association Distinguished Teacher of the Year, Dr. Chris Parsons, to channel the teacher that lies within us all as the simplest way to make the world a better place.

Not everyone is a teacher in the literal sense, the popular professor of education and English noted, but we all can teach. “To grow a friendship, to support someone who’s grieving.”

His support case was toddler wagons often seen on campus and used by students and staff who work in the Child Development Center on campus. They stroll past on Appian Way and the actions and words of those they come across, students mostly, change. “The music goes down, the skateboards stop, F-bombs become ‘bye-byes,’ ” he animated.

“Why? Because you’re teaching these toddlers that the world is a friendly one. Imagine a world full of people committed to teaching. … I am asking (graduates) today to take on one of the most important responsibilities you have in this world – teach!”

On Friday, in separate events, 26 graduating nursing students were recognized during a Pinning Ceremony, an Honors Convocation was held to acknowledge and congratulate graduates who performed with academic distinction, and 28 students who earned master’s degrees were presented and feted.

Keene State, part of the University System of New Hampshire, offers undergraduate degrees across more than 40 areas of study, master’s degree programs, and post-master’s certification programs – all in the liberal arts.

In her keynote remarks, President Melinda Treadwell ‘90 encouraged graduates to lean on their already demonstrated resiliency amid times of challenge and to dare to change course.

“Know that you have permission to reinvent yourself. Not only is this possible, but it is also likely. Changing course to do something different, to become something more today than yesterday is a natural part of living, and more the rule than the exception. … Life is not static, it is not neatly linear, nor should it be.

“Pivoting is not so much about summoning courage … it is trusting your instincts. Stay true to yourself. Listen to your voice. If you do this, you can stay on that growing edge … feeling that perfect mix of scary and comfortable, challenged and confident.”

Senior Class President Emma Wheeler ‘24, who earned dual degrees in elementary education and women’s & gender studies, spoke to her classmates about the power of connection and once new but now enduring friendships.

“We have made lifelong friendships at Keene State, from those who have been with us since the first day of freshman year to those we have met. As it is May 4th, Luke Skywalker said, ‘We’ll always be with you. No one’s ever really gone.’ Above all else, Keene State has given us our people. We are a culmination of all the bonds we have made here.”

From Stratham, N.H., Emma will return to the Seacoast area she calls home to teach elementary school.

Two female students smile for the camera
Gabriela Cardona ‘24, left, and Smriti Gurung ‘24, were two of many first-generation students to graduate on Saturday

A first-generation student, Smriti Gurung ‘24 said her emotions were hard to articulate but her sense of accomplishment was most perceptible. The Hooksett, N.H. resident leaves with degrees in two majors, communications and safety & occupational health applied sciences (SOHAS).

“There’s a lot to go through, for anyone going to college,” she said, surrounded by her immediate family. “The Aspire program made a big difference and helped me settle in. I feel ready to go out and build a career, and maybe sometime soon buy a house.”

Smriti is a past president of the Global Cultural Club and past treasurer of the College’s American Society of Safety Professionals chapter.

She was beyond excited to return to a traditional graduation. Four years ago, when the COVID-19 pandemic was raging, graduation at her high school, Pinkerton Academy, consisted of presenting degrees to 800 students in groups of 10.

Graduates Caden Hedquist ‘24 and Eva Nick ‘24 earned bachelor’s degrees in nursing and echoed sentiments about personal pride in handling the academic rigor of that major.

“My mom’s a nurse, and she told me going in that it was the hardest major in college,” said Caden, a Nashua, N.H. native and student-athlete. “I recall saying, ‘We’ll see.’ My mom was right. It pushed my limits and I’m glad I made it.”

Eva, of Suffield, CT., described the relief she felt at Friday’s Pinning Ceremony. “I think I cried at least four times; it has been a long, strenuous process. Me and all my classmates worked so hard, we passed all the tests. I can’t wait to do the job.”

Eva and Caden still need to pass the difficult NCLEX test, the licensure exam for registered nurse certification. Eva aspires to work in pediatrics, and Caden in emergency care.

“I always wanted to be in the medical field, and working in emergency care has always appealed to me. I haven’t ruled out possibly continuing my education.”

A clinical rotation in pediatrics at Dartmouth-Hitchcock in Lebanon cemented Eva’s desired nursing specialty.

Besides relief, Eva and her parents, Pamela and Brian, said they were grateful.

“Keene State has been such a great fit,” Eva said, her mom nodding in agreement and smiling. “I remember the tour guides I had when I visited and how hilarious they were. It has felt right in so many ways from the beginning.”

Eric Brodie of Pelham, N.H. walked the stage Saturday and will walk straight into a full-time job on campus with Keene State’s Information Technology (IT) department.

“It’s exciting,” he said, “even if it still hasn’t hit me fully.”

Eric arrived on campus four years ago determined to get the most out of college: “You are not only committing to an institution and a degree, but you are committing to yourself. You are pushing yourself to be the best person you can be.”

Molly Edmark and Hannah Olmstead came to Kene State from Plymouth, N.H., a package deal one might say. Both were standout students and athletes, and that didn’t change. They were members of the College’s field hockey team, Hannah graduated summa cum laude, and Molly, a secondary education and history double major, was one of six honorees of the College’s Outstanding Women of New Hampshire awards. This year’s recognition theme was Women Who Advocate for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.

“I’m proud and excited,” Molly said. “I’m going through all the emotions and right now I’m just letting my curiosity guide me. I love to teach and coach and it’s what I plan to do.”

President of the College’s Student Athletic Advisory Committee, Molly has accepted an assistant coaching position with the Plymouth State University field hockey team. A business management major specializing in marketing, Hannah is in her second round of interviews with the Enterprise Management Training Program.

“Honestly,” Hannah said on the eve of Commencement, “it does not feel real. I feel like I’m going to graduation, not in graduation. I’m proud of the success I’ve had academically. I’ve worked my butt off.”

Molly’s mother, Rochelle Edmark, may have been the proudest person on campus Saturday.

For Molly, Keene State turned out to be the best experience possible,” Rochelle, a Plymouth State graduate, said. “Molly has had all the support one could get and has made relationships that will last a lifetime. I could sell Keene State. I could sell everything about it. I’m so happy for how this experience played out for Molly.”

Besides Dr. Parsons, three other individuals received special honors during the ceremony. College leaders:

  • Conferred Marcus Soutra ’06 with an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree. Soutra is a leader in the learning differences field and recipient of the College’s 2016 Alumni Inspiration Award.

  • Awarded Rich Wallace and Sandra Neil Wallace, authors and founders of the Daily Good, a nonprofit that provides free, culturally responsive Global Foods Pantries at Keene State and elsewhere, with the Granite State Award.

  • Surprised graduate Grace Hardaker ‘24 with the Leo F. Redfern Outstanding Citizenship Award, the highest honor bestowed to a Keene State College student.

College leaders also:

  • Awarded a posthumous bachelor of science degree to Kevin Richardson Johnson, a senior majoring in business management with a concentration in entrepreneurship when he passed from complications of diabetes in October. Janice Morin Johnson and Arthur Johnson, Kevin’s parents, were among the family members in attendance to accept the degree in honor of their son, to a standing ovation.

Using his story of being neurodivergent as a young person, and overcoming that stigma, Soutra challenged graduates to face the future with strength and courage.

“Eighteen years ago to the day, I walked this stage,” Soutra said, “nervous and brimming with excitement. I stand before you to affirm that you are ready. Everyone on this Quad is counting on you to lead with bravery, empathy, and purpose.”

Grace, whose involvement at Keene State was described as extensive, diverse, and difference-making, and whose efforts to support all people fiercely and tirelessly, made her mark from the first day she set foot on campus. “Grace should stand as a model for us all,” Treadwell said.

In her parting advice to fellow graduates, Emma Wheeler ‘24 said, “Be fearless in the pursuit of whatever sets your soul on fire. We entered to learn, and we did, and now it is our time, as the graduating Keene State College class of 2024, to go forth to lead and serve.”

Congratulations to all the graduates and best wishes for future success.

About Keene State College Keene State College is a preeminent public liberal arts college that ensures student access to world-class academic programs. Integrating academics with real-world application and active community and civic engagement, Keene State College prepares graduates to meet society’s challenges by thinking critically, acting creatively, and serving the greater good. To learn more about Keene State College, visit

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