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SU hands out diplomas to 260

Graduates urged to keep high aspirations

By Garren Shipley - gshipley@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- Black robes with long hoods usually aren't the most comfortable attire for an outdoor event in August.

But Shenandoah University's graduating class of 2009 didn't seem to mind the heat at all.

Some 260 students received their graduate and undergraduate degrees at a ceremony on Saturday morning, wrapping up their college careers at the conclusion of the summer semester.

It was a scene of awesome potential, according to guest speak Mark H. Merrill, the new chief executive officer of Valley Health System.

"As I look out among the class of 2009, I realize I may be seeing a woman who discovers a vaccine for cancer," he said. "I may be seeing a future chief justice, I may be seeing an entrepreneur who will rival Bill Gates or Steve Jobs."

Graduates are entering a world filled with enormous problems, he said.

"We face climate change, an energy crisis with the potential to cripple economies around the world, and closer to home we face an epidemic of childhood obesity and a demographic shift that is unparalleled," he said.

Graduates should enter the new chapter in their lives taking a lesson from a flea circus, of all things, he said.

Flea circus trainers keep fleas in boxes, and "as you watch them jump and hit the lid, something very interesting happens," he said.

"Hitting the lid a thousand times, they learn not to jump so high," Merrill said.

"They have conditioned themselves to not jump so high. So many times I see individuals in our society do the same thing," he said.

"Graduates, jump," Merrill said. "Continue to jump high, and keep your aspirations high."

In addition to the hundreds of other degrees, University President Tracy Fitzsimmons also presented an honorary doctoral degree to Carl Tanner, an internationally known tenor who took his undergraduate training at Shenandoah.

Tanner graduated in 1985 and wound up driving a truck until he was discovered in 1990 by the director of the Santa Fe Opera, who heard him singing in a New York City eatery.

Since then, he has performed in opera houses around the world and was most recently performing in a new production for "Il Trovatore" in Germany.

"I'm a better singer than a speaker," he said, before giving graduates a very brief word of encouragement.

"Not to sound too humble, but if I can do it, anyone can do it," he said.

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