Commencement: First University class walks the stage

“Challenge conventional wisdom. Ask ‘Why Not?’ After all, the Sisters of Mercy did.”

Gary Hirshberg, president and CEO of Stonyfield Farm

Those words of wisdom were spoken to the first graduating class of Mount Mercy University by keynote speaker Gary Hirshberg during the 2011 Commencement ceremony. Hirshberg, president and CEO of Stonyfield Farm, shared humor and insight with the more than 345 students who participated in Commencement, including 48 graduate candidates, the largest-ever cohort of Mount Mercy students graduating with a master’s degree.

“Be a force for positive change — it will pay off,” said Hirshberg, whose 28-year business career in sustainability and good stewardship of the earth perfectly aligned with Mount Mercy’s continued mission of fostering globally-conscious graduates.

From only seven cows, Hirshberg grew Stonyfield Farm into the world’s largest manufacturer of organic yogurt. And though Mount Mercy and Hirshberg both believe in stewardship of the planet, there was another connection that made his visit all the more noteworthy. “But you and I have something even more fundamental in common,” Hirshberg shared. “Just as the Sisters of Mercy founded your wonderful school, so too did they put Stonyfield on the map.” A local order of Sisters of Mercy took a risk and loaned Hirshberg $35,000 — enough to launch the company and seal the impact it would leave on the rest of the world.

Fast forward several years and Stonyfield was able to reciprocate the gift by making a donation to a retirement facility for the Sisters. “One good turn resulted in another, and we are forever grateful for our founding ‘venture capitalists,’ as are you,” Hirshberg said.

Commencement exercises closed with a fitting tribute to Professor of Biology Will Kirkland, Ph.D., who retired at the end of the Spring semester after more than 30 years in the classroom. President Christopher Blake and the Board of Trustees granted Kirkland the honor of Professor Emeritus, and announced that an endowed scholarship has been established in his name.

Dr. John P. Marsden, provost and vice president for academic affairs, was also recognized for his contributions to the academic life of Mount Mercy. Marsden bid farewell to Mount Mercy in early June to pursue a career at Barton College in North Carolina.

Mount Mercy honors student achievement

Ann Northrup, a 2011 graduate of Mount Mercy’s Adult Accelerated Program with a degree in human resource management, was chosen to speak on behalf of the Class of 2011. Originally from Cedar Rapids, she now resides in Ely, Iowa with her husband, Jesse, and their four children.

“Nothing worthwhile comes easy,” Northrup reminded her fellow graduating seniors. She acknowledged several Mount Mercy faculty members who played an integral role in instilling a drive for life-long learning. “Mount Mercy inspired a passion for knowledge and learning I never knew was possible,” she said.

Mount Mercy’s graduate students were represented by two student-speakers during the Graduate Hooding Ceremony on May 20. Misty Rauch represented Mount Mercy’s MBA program and Francesca Kaiser represented the Master of Arts in Education program.

Mary Catherine McAuley Award

Kelsey Hansen, a nursing major from Alton, Iowa, received the Mary Catherine McAuley Award during Commencement, the highest honor given a student who has attended Mount Mercy all four years.

Mary Frances Warde Award

Elizabeth Drop, a psychology major from Iowa City, Iowa, received the Mary Frances Warde Award during Commencement, the highest honor bestowed on a Mount Mercy student who has transferred into Mount Mercy and acquired a minimum of 30 credit hours at the University.

President’s Award

Ashley Benter, a psychology and sociology major from Mount Vernon, Iowa, received the President’s award during Mount Mercy’s Honors Convocation on May 21. The President’s Award is given to a graduating senior who has demonstrated outstanding perseverance and diligence in pursuing his or her goals.

To read more about these students and their amazing achievements, visit our website at

To see Commencement photo and video highlights, visit Mount Mercy University’s Facebook page.