WILKES — Hundreds of students filed into the Arnaud C. Marts Center at Wilkes University on Sunday on their way to becoming college graduates.
The university held its summer commencement, issuing diplomas for bachelor’s and master’s degrees as well as doctorates. More than 400 students received diplomas.
Anne Skleder, the university’s senior vice president and provost, said the graduates hailed from 15 different states and four countries.
“This is an example of how far our Wilkes degrees reach across the country and around the world,” Skleder said in her opening address.
Numerous speakers said prayers and pronounced moments of silence for people suffering through natural disasters, including residents of Texas and Florida.
Graduate Julie Wescott took to the microphone — to the surprise of her family — to give a commencement address on behalf of the graduates.
“It would be a great shock to all of my family to see me up here today and speak,” Wescott said. “I was known as one of those children who was extremely shy and very quiet.”
Wescott told the audience that her family did not know if she could speak when she began attending school, sending her to speech classes. Family members later discovered that Wescott could talk all along, but was just too timid to do so.
“I’ve come a long way since then,” she said, “And learning how to communicate I found was quite pivotal, especially for our success. I also learned many lessons along the way, and I found that education was quite valuable.”
Wilkes University President Patrick Leahy presented Wilkes alumnus and New York resident William A. Perlmuth with an honorary doctorate degree during the ceremony. A 1951 graduate of the university, Perlmuth later obtained his jurist doctorate from the Columbia University School of Law. Afterward he served as a partner with the firm of Stroock & Stroock & Lavan for 35 years.
Leahy recognized Perlmuth for his endless hard work, dedication and volunteerism to the fine arts, particularly in dance creation, presentation, education and medicine in conjunction with the Harkness Foundation’s Partner Program.
Besides being the president and a trustee of the foundation, Perlmuth is a trustee of the New York City Center, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the School of American Ballet, and the Aeroflex and Weininger Foundations.
After receiving the award, Perlmuth rose to the podium, giving graduates his keynote speech about the story of his life, and of his desire to learn and help others. He told the class that when he graduated from a New York high school in 1946, he must have filled out “at least 100 applications” to get into college. However, he said, it was nearly impossible to attend a center for higher education, because all were full due to veterans just arriving home from World War II and making use of their GI bills.
But Perlmuth would find acceptance at a junior college in Pennsylvania, which later became Wilkes as it’s known today, and continue his education for years to come. While quiet, Perlmuth drew laughter from the crowd after explaining why he decided to become an attorney.
“I knew I wanted to be a lawyer after I realized I couldn’t make it as a shortstop for the Yankees,” he said.
Starting with those earning their doctorates, each dean of studies presented Leahy with their group of graduates. After all diplomas were awarded, the university president told the grads that Sunday marked the beginning of the rest of their lives.
Leahy ended the ceremony by reminding students to remain grateful and continue dreaming big.