As the newly minted graduates hugged family members and grabbed friends for one more photograph, it was hard not to be thankful for the big smile on full display across Natasha Didytch’s face.
See, Didytch almost didn’t make it to Marietta College’s 186th Commencement ceremony on a picturesque Saturday afternoon. She didn’t attend the Parma Community High School graduation in 2019 and almost never went to college.
“I was undergoing hospitalization for depression so severe that I was in the early stages of psychosis,” said Didytch as she delivered the first-place Jewett Oration inside the Dyson Baudo Recreation Center. “Back then, everyone always told me that things would get better once I got to college, but I was doubtful. As someone who loves winning arguments, part of me resents everyone for being right all these years later. However, as someone who loves being alive, I’m glad that I stuck around long enough for them to tell me ‘I told you so,” as much as it annoys me.”
Didytch was one of 276 Marietta College students who received their diplomas from President Bill Ruud and Interim Provost Chuck Stinemetz as approximately 1,500 family and friends celebrated the accomplishment.
“If you had told me back in 2019 that Marietta College was one of the biggest reasons I was alive today, I would have broken out of my paranoid delusions long enough to laugh at you,” Didytch said.
Her journey to earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and Communication involved persuasive mentors and understanding friends.
“I am thankful for all of you for making the past four years the most unique, wonderful, and occasionally terrifying journey. While it hurts to say goodbye to lives we’ve built here, and the people we once were, in the words of Winne the Pooh, ‘how lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard,’ ” Didytch said. “And for that, I thank you from the bottom of my heart, for being the right people, at the right place, at the right time.”
Most of the graduates were in the second semester of their freshmen year when the COVID-19 pandemic started. Commencement speaker Vicky Wood, President of Washington State Community College, reminded the graduates how their adaptability skills helped them navigate the drastic changes.
“Consider the COVID-19 pandemic and the disruption it had on your college experience when overnight you had to shift your learning to a virtual environment,” she said. “You adapted and succeeded, and that resiliency helped you get here today.”
Marissa Jerina (Warren, Ohio), who finished second in the Jewett Oration, made an interesting connection between the trek forged by the famous movie ogre, Shrek, and the journey of four years at Marietta.
“Shrek taught us the value of friendship. Despite his gruff exterior, he formed deep connections with Donkey, Fiona, and the rest of his companions. He showed us that we can’t go through life alone and that having a support system is essential,” said Jerina, who earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Organizational Communication & Public Relations. “Think about that first interaction you made as you moved in freshman year. Whether it was your roommate who will be in your wedding now or your teammate who let you sleep those extra five minutes, or your best friend who lived in a different hall, they all contributed to your success today. Yes, those late-night Taco Bell runs and pulling all-nighters can be a part of your support system too.”
Lillian Daneshmand (Chardon, Ohio), who earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Physics, was the class valedictorian. Daneshmand will enroll in a Ph.D. program for physics at the University of Iowa this fall. Tyler Hartline (Marietta, Ohio), who graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Music Education, was the class salutatorian.
The College’s Student Government Association (SGA) recognized Natalie Chase (Richfield, Ohio) with the William Bay Irvine Medal, which is awarded annually to the outstanding student of the senior class. The recipient is selected on the basis of the degree and extent of involvement in student-participating activities, loyalty and service to Marietta College, and scholarship.
The Class of 2023 honored one faculty member — Dr. Alexandra Perry, Associate Professor of Leadership and Ethics — with the Outstanding Faculty Award. This award is presented each year to the faculty member who demonstrates excellence in teaching and college involvement as determined by a selection process administered by the SGA.
Earlier in the day, the College welcomed six members — Micaela Bradley (Greenup, Illinois), Emily Callam (Greenville, Indiana), Maddy Jones (Laurel, Maryland), Sarah Keating (Wadsworth, Ohio), Haylee Mott (Kinsman, Ohio), and Taylor Watts (Galloway, Ohio) — of the softball team into The Long Blue Line. The Pioneers played a doubleheader at Capital, and the graduates were unable to attend the official ceremony.