Commencement 2023: Continued Resilience

The Central College Class of 2023 shared one last Hoo-Rah before going their separate ways.

Central College celebrated the Class of 2023 Commencement ceremony Saturday, May 13. Families, friends, faculty, staff and guests were present to honor the 232 graduates and Heather Burr Isaacson ’97 delivered the keynote speech. Isaacson, program director for By Degrees Foundation in Des Moines, Iowa, received an Honorary Doctor of Public Service honoris causa degree.

Due to the threat of severe weather, exercises were moved indoors to P.H. Kuyper Gymnasium from Ron and Joyce Schipper Stadium in the days leading up. Guests and graduates alike were glad for the change in plans but had no idea just how glad they’d be later on.

It started like any other graduation day. The excitement and pride were palpable. Students lined up in H.S. Kuyper Fieldhouse for the culmination of their four years at Central. They processed into the gym along with faculty and administrators. 

Moments after Isaacson began speaking, emergency weather alerts notifying attendees of a tornado warning sounded on every cell phone in the gym. Led by the guidance of first responders and the emergency preparedness team, all took shelter not long after. 

In true Midwest fashion, graduates and guests were light-hearted and not willing to let a storm dampen their spirits on this special day. After receiving the all-clear
notification, everyone was brought back into the gym to resume the ceremony. 

As luck would have it, not long after everyone returned to their seats, a second emergency weather alert sounded. While the emergency crew learned more about the storm, the ceremony proceeded until it couldn’t. To keep everyone safe, the gym was evacuated again as everyone took shelter.

Unsure how long this threat would persist and if the ceremony would be able to continue, graduates had the option to receive their diploma and a photo with the president from the safety of the athletic training room or hold out the storm and have their moment crossing the stage immediately after moving from shelter.

Following the second all-clear notification, most everyone returned to the gym to hear their name called and receive their diploma (as well as closure).

The weather forced the day to take an interesting turn. No stranger to adversity — their first year on campus, this class was sent home over spring break along with the rest of the student body due to the COVID-19 pandemic — the Class of 2023 handled everything with remarkable grace, patience and even a good sense of humor. 

The entire Central family was proud to welcome this cohort as the newest members of the alumni community both before and after the events of the day played out.

Take the world by storm, Dutch, and know that you are always welcome home. Congratulations Central Class of 2023.


(Left to right): Evan Gray ’23, David Bakol ’23, Johnathan Bossou ’23 and Muhumure Nzabakiza ’23 pose for a photo moments before the Commencement ceremony began.


Overheard at Commencement

“As a class, we went through a lot. We were the first-year class that went through COVID. And so, we had to work really hard. It’s sad to have to leave but it took a lot of work to get here.” Erica Van Wyk ’23

Gannon Oberhauser ’23 packed a lot into his accelerated three years at Central. “I was a 2020 grad in high school, so I didn’t really have a graduation so to be able to graduate from Central now is amazing. I’m so excited for it.” — Gannon Oberhauser ’23

“So many people played a part in making the best of a tough situation. This is yet another example of what a special place Central is and how dedicated the faculty and staff are in rising to the occasion when something — planned or unexpected — needs to be done.” — Brian ’80 and Lori Humphrey Fegley ’80

“We’re proud of our graduates every year, but the grace and resilience displayed by this class was moving. To go through all they’ve been through with the pandemic, now bookending with a less than ideal Commencement ceremony due to tornadoes in the area and still come out smiling — that’s tenacious grit if I’ve ever seen it.” — Mark Putnam, Central president


Leticia Francisco Pascual ’23

Hometown: Ottumwa, Iowa

Majors: Sociology and Spanish

Campus Activities: Organization of Latinx American Students, men’s basketball team manager, Dutch Barbell Club and Campus Activities Board

Leticia Francisco Pascual ’23 looks forward to gaining experience in the field of law before going to law school. 

“I will be working as a judicial specialist with the Polk County courthouses,” Pascual says. “I’ll be in the Justice Center working with a juvenile court judge and I’m hoping in the next five years, I will be in law school. I’m super excited — nervous but excited!”

“My Central experience was really good; I got to meet amazing people and professors and create relationships,” she says. “I came to Central for the academics. In my time here, I completed two internships and two service-learning opportunities, so Central really helped me gain skills and real-world experience.”

Faculty like Shawn Wick, associate professor of sociology, made an impact in Pascual’s journey at Central and in her final weeks on campus. “He invited our senior seminar class to his house, we had food there, talked and shared what was next for all of us,” she shares. It was the closure Pascual was looking for to prepare for walking across the stage.

“It feels surreal knowing that I’m going to graduate as a first-generation student, especially as a Latina woman of color,” Pascual says, beaming. “I’m just so thankful to graduate, for the support of my parents and so thankful for Central.”


Keaton Rodgers ’23

Hometown: Peoria, Arizona

Major: Biology

Campus Activities: Men’s basketball, Building a Culture of Inclusion and United Minority Alliance

Keaton Rodgers ’23 is ready for whatever the world has in store for him. For now, it’s entomology research for the USDA Agricultural Research Services. Rodgers will be in Montana researching for the next four and a half months, which will hopefully open doors for more USDA and national forest jobs.

Paul Weihe, associate professor of biology, helped Rodgers tap into his love for trees, nature and the like. 

“Ecology was the first class I had with him,” Rodgers recounts. “As soon as I had that class, I knew I was going to be a biology major and environmental science minor. I have a lot of love for Weihe. He really propelled me forward, so I’m very appreciative of him.”

In his time at Central, Rodgers completed research with Lakeside Labs in Okoboji, Iowa, in Southern Wisconsin and had the opportunity to learn more about the world and that of biology in professor-led trips to Costa Rica and Belize.

“All my professors prepared me well,” he says. “They gave me the right opportunities and the right pathways to take in order to be successful in the future and I have definitely taken advantage of all of them. So, I’m very grateful. Thank you, Central.”


Erin Kamp, content specialist — editorial contributed to this story.

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