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Wilson awards first master's degrees

May 17, 2009|By JENNIFER FITCH

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- Wilson College on Sunday honored 102 graduates, nine of whom were the first recipients of master's degrees from the 140-year-old liberal arts college.

Rachael Cline, Barbara S. Eadie, Polly Grove and Amber Rhyne all received master's of education degrees during commencement. They said the program's first class formed a special bond in two to three years of studies, many of which occurred in the summer for the full-time teachers.

Asked what they were most proud of, the four women responded "that we did it."

"The program was designed to make us better teachers," Eadie said.

Commencement speaker Gretchen Van Ness shared her continued pride for the school and said she feels a deep connection to it. Van Ness graduated in 1980, during a tumultuous period in the school's history.

Wilson College's board of trustees announced in February 1979 that it planned to close the school. As president of the student government association, Van Ness met in dormitories and talked to students about whether they wanted to fight the decision.

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The overwhelming support for the "Save Wilson" campaign prompted demonstrations and petitions. Students manned phones to talk to alumni living around the world.

"We rented a bus and sang and picketed outside a special meeting of the board of trustees in New York," said Van Ness, who described each morning as starting with phone calls from the media.

The matter ended up in court, with a judge agreeing on May 25, 1979, to grant an injunction in favor of the "Save Wilson" committee.

"No college before or since has reversed the decision to close," Van Ness said.

The experience prompted Van Ness to enter law school. She is a staff attorney with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit and, in an earlier private practice, argued several cases affecting equal rights for women.

She praised Wilson College's honor principle and for being a place where many have "studied and daydreamed and created and laughed."

"This place has power," she said.

"Only on the banks of the Conococheague would you learn dining hall trays could be used as sleds," Samantha May said to laughter during her senior class address.

May described the class of 2009 as a catalyst for change, bringing back several traditions like the garden party. She said students "lived off Mountain Dew and Easy Mac" for four years while reading assigned text and soaking up lessons inside and outside the classroom, all of which she said will be beneficial in the future.

Amanda Woodruff Grant's voice cracked with emotion as she ended her address on behalf of the adult degree programs. Grant, a wife and mother, recalled visiting the school as a potential student and being impressed by the personal attention from staff.

"I quickly realized there was something special about this college, from the beauty of the campus to the range of course work available," she said.

Rhyne appreciated that the school created a program for her needs as she sought a master's degree. Rhyne teaches dance to elementary school children in Washington County (Md.) Public Schools, and she said she needed to balance dance education and classroom education in master's studies.

Cline completed her master's thesis on student behaviors like those exhibited by one child in her classroom. The girl speaks at home, but refuses to communicate at school.

Grove described the thesis process as grueling, yet rewarding.

"We're glad we went through it," she said.

In addition to master's, bachelor's and associate degrees, Wilson College conferred teaching certificates to 57 people.

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