DECATUR – Millikin University students have seen many types of commencement speakers in a century of school history, but Sunday may well have been a first: a speech illustrated with dancing.
Professional dance artist Shawn Renee Lent was actually showing off various styles of walking to the 350-strong class of 2014 which they could employ as they crossed the Decatur Civic Center stage to accept their degrees. Set to music, it became a walking dance routine as she demonstrated everything from proud and in-your-face to a country music stroll and the faltering step of the quietly humble.
The audience loved it, laughing out loud and giving Lent, who graudated rom Millikin in 2000 and currently lives and works in Egypt, a standing ovation. She had earlier given the graduates a thorough commencement day workout, ranging from breathing techniques to how to pose for pictures using a cocktail of body poses she called “proud, but a little humble.”
Amid the laughs, there was some grit, too. Lent told students to spend time in other people's shoes, like the bored little sister dragged along with the family for the graduation ceremony, or your doting grandma. “Hold their hand, lay your head on someone's shoulder,” she urged. “I think they will appreciate it.”
She also told them their diploma was not a trophy but a passport. “This degree that you will hold in your hand will allow you new experiences and opportunities,” said Lent. “Apply to them all, even if they seem outside your field or however you decided to label yourself; let your degree be your passport to the world ... and be active in the world, don't visit the world.”
The fee for that passport just hit a new record: nationwide statistics shows the class of 2014 is the most indebted in history, owing an average of $33,000 each in student loans; adjusted for inflation, that is double the cost of a college education in 1994.
And with the job market not that great either, what's a kid to do? In the case of 22-year-old Maddison Harner from Lovington, when the going gets tough, the tough work even harder. She graduated Sunday with a triple major in political science, psychology and philosophy with a minor in criminal justice. Barely pausing for breath, Harner is now weighing whether going to law school or grad school for a higher degree in psychology is in her future and, in the meantime has landed a fellowship that will give her a taste of working in state government in Springfield.
“Gosh, who wants to graduate in this economy?” she explained. “I think that is part of the reason I was so diverse with my majors: I wanted to make sure I always had opportunities or another avenue to go through if something didn't work out for me.”