Graduates Pause to Give Thanks

University of Central Arkansas graduates had to complete one last assignment before receiving their degrees during commencement Saturday in the Farris Center.

UCA President Tom Courtway asked the graduates to take a moment to write a thank you note to those who helped them get to this point in their lives. The university provided note cards, pens, envelopes and postage to mail the notes.

“Never forget the power of saying thank you to someone who has helped you,” Courtway said.

Angela Davis, of Little Rock, received a master of science degree on Saturday. She wrote a note to her parents who are deceased.

“They are not here today, but I am very grateful for everything that they did for me and the support that they gave me prior to graduating,” she said.

Erica Gray, of Mountain Home, wrote a thank you note to her grandmother. Gray graduated with a bachelor of science in early childhood education.

“I wrote the note to her because all four of my grandparents played an important part in my life and she is the only surviving one,” said Gray. ”I wanted her to know that I am thankful that she was able to experience this with me and to let her know how important she is in my life.”

University officials conferred 1,066 degrees during the three ceremonies Saturday. Several individuals received special recognition during the commencement.

Raymond Simon was given an honorary Doctor of Public Service degree for his contributions to education. Simon served in administrative roles in Arkansas public education including superintendent of the Conway Public School. He also served as director of education and later as commissioner of education for the Arkansas Department of Education.

Simon was a member of the Cabinet for the Governor of Arkansas and led initiatives in the state focusing on the preparation of students in the early grades. On a national level, Simon served as assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education and then as deputy secretary for the United States Department of Education.

Simon received a bachelor of science degree in 1966 and a master of science in education degree in 1969 from UCA. In 2006, he was recognized as a University of Central Arkansas Distinguished Alumnus.

Two UCA professors were recognized as a Distinguished Professor Emeritus. Dr. Joseph Anderson, the former chair of the Department of Mass Communication and Theatre, and Dr. Norbert Schedler, professor of philosophy and founder of the Honors College, received the honor for their contributions to the university.

Anderson is credited with helping to transform the Department of Mass Communication and Theatre. An Arkansas native, he joined UCA in July 2002 from Georgia State University and served seven years as the department chair before his retirement in 2009. Anderson established the undergraduate degree program in digital filmmaking and developed the master of fine arts degree program in digital filmmaking, the only programs of their kind in the state. He is an internationally renowned scholar in the field of film studies.

Schedler envisioned and created the Honors College in 1982 with the idea of developing a comprehensive program for gifted students. Since its inception, the Honors College has seen nearly 1,300 students complete its curriculum. More than 80 percent of Honors graduates pursued post-baccalaureate education.

The university awarded posthumous associate degrees to Ryan Henderson and Chavares Block. Ryan and Chavares died following a shooting outside a campus dorm on Oct. 26, 2008. Ryan, 18, of Little Rock, was a freshman at the time of the shooting. Chavares, 19, of Dermott, was a sophomore pre-engineering major.

The Block and Henderson families accepted the degrees on behalf of their sons.

“This is a joyous and sad occasion,” said Ricardo Henderson, Ryan’s father. “I know he is looking down and smiling. It is an honor and a blessing to receive this acknowledgment. We are so grateful to the university.”