Elon holds 115th Commencement exercises
Elon University awarded 953 degrees during its 115th Commencement exercises, held under the oaks on campus May 21.

What began as a cool, cloudy day turned bright and clear as the excited seniors walked onto the stage in front of West Hall before taking their seats. Assistant Chaplain Kate Colussy-Estes gave the invocation.

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“This is a joyous day,” Colussy-Estes said. “Hard work and hard choices have brought us all here today.”

Senior class president Kimberly O’Neil congratulated the Class of 2005 and offered words of appreciation to professors and parents on behalf of all graduating seniors.

“Thank you for challenging us and being incredibly active in our Elon careers,” she said to the faculty.

Elon trustee Jeanne Swanner Robertson, a nationally known professional speaker and humorist, delivered the Commencement address.

“Each of you in your own way has inspired us for the past four years,” said Robertson, an avid supporter of the university and the parent of a 1989 Elon graduate. “Today, you deserve to be inspired.”

A former Miss North Carolina and Miss Congeniality in the Miss America pageant, Robertson is the author of three books on humor. She encouraged graduates to look for humor wherever they could find it -- in the airport, at a football game or on the job.

As Robertson was sharing Elon stories with the crowd, a train blew its horn and briefly interrupted her as it came down the railroad tracks near campus. She paused and smiled.

“Is that the train coming through during my speech?” she said. She then walked over to the podium, grabbed her camera and began taking pictures of the cheering graduates until the train passed.

Robertson said that finding humor in everyday situations brings many benefits, such as friendship, improved health, career advancement and even an improved attitude during stressful situations. “In the big world, you’re gonna get so inundated with stuff that you may think there’s no humor happening. Oh, it’s happening,” she said.

Family members started arriving on campus early Saturday morning to get a good view of their graduates. Danny and Debbie Dowell of Winston-Salem brought a crowd of 14 extended family and friends with them to celebrate the graduation of their only child, Michelle, who majored in elementary education with a minor in Spanish. Michelle, who is trying to choose between three job offers, will be teaching for the Alamance County school system.

“She’ll be number 137 (in the line of graduates),” reported her father. “She called us early this morning to tell us.” Both parents sported “I’m the proud parent of an Elon graduate” buttons. “We’re so excited for her,” said her mother.

Tony and Margaret O’Sullivan and their son, Jerry, drove from Queens, N.Y., through Friday’s stormy weather to see their daughter, Jaclyn, graduate with a degree in communications.

“It’s very, very exciting,” said her mother. They planned to help Jaclyn pack up her last few belongings and start the 10-hour drive back to New York early Sunday morning. This summer, Jaclyn will be completing a public relations internship with actor/musician Sean “P. Diddy” Combs before looking for a permanent job.

Photos by Tom Conally


Jeanne Robertson goes around the country preaching to thousands every year that they should
look for the humor in every situation. And she practices what she preaches.
     Take last week’s graduation at Elon University. You know, with more than 900 graduates getting
diplomas. Where’s the humor in that?
     There was plenty. Jeanne, you see, was a replacement speaker. The Crown Prince of Jordan
was scheduled, but at the last minute, he canceled. No problem. Elon has one of the nation’s
most popular — and successful — public speakers on its board of trustees — Jeanne. She accepted
the invitation to sub for the prince.
     She was excited. So much so that she went on the Internet and did a search, typing in her name,
Elon and graduation. Much to her surprise there appeared a blog written by an Elon senior. She said
the headline was "What were they thinking!" "Is this the best we can do?" Comments compared the
choice to going from the president of the United States to the mayor of Burlington. The writer was
just not happy with the choice.
     Jeanne didn’t react until graduation day. It’s tradition that President Leo Lambert and the speaker
meet graduates in the gym before the ceremony. After Dr. Lambert made his remarks, Jeanne had
her turn. She made the writer of the blog stand up. Travis Lusk was reluctant at first, putting up his
hand. Other students made him stand. Jeanne said she did this because "I wanted the people around
Travis in line to remind him right after he went on stage that he should walk toward the edge. I’m not
above sticking my foot out and tripping a graduate."
     Then she gave the mike back to Dr. Lambert and walked in front of the group looking for Travis.
The place erupted. Travis stood again and climbed over an entire row and he and Jeanne met in
the aisle — with a big hug.
     In the middle of Jeanne’s speech at graduation, a train came by. She had to stop. So she pulled
out a camera and shot pictures of the crowd. She said, "Maybe we can put these pictures on Travis
Lusk’s Web site." That might have been her biggest laugh.
     When Travis came by to get his diploma, she did not trip him. Instead he pointed to her and said
"I love you Jeanne," as he passed.
     Later, there was a new message on his Web site, which by the way, is a very good one, and the
headline read "I stand corrected … I love you Jeanne." He told about his blog remarks and being called
out by Jeanne in front of 1,000 people. Was he upset by that? No way. "It was all in good fun."
     And then he added, "Jeanne, I STAND CORRECTED. You were way more entertaining than the prince
ever would have been. You were definitely everything you were slated to be. By far you were definitely
cooler than the Prince. We really did get the Queen!"
     And everyone had a good laugh. Oh, those pictures Jeanne shot at graduation? She did not know
how to work the camera too well, and every shot was exposed over another, making one blank, brown

Reprinted with permission of the Times-News.
Don Bolden is editor emeritus of the Times-News. His column appears each Sunday. 
Write to Don Bolden at