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BLOOMINGTON — Makenna Merritt had no intention of walking through Illinois Wesleyan University’s graduation on Sunday with a plain cap. She needed something different, something special.

Ideas were hard to come by, but then taking some inspiration from squirrels on the Wesleyan quad and even a Facebook page dedicated to the creatures, she designed her hat to include a stuffed animal squirrel, holding a walnut. The art major from Clayton wrote, “I start my journey today and I walnut fail,” in the empty space.

“That sums up today for me,” she said. “Today is the beginning of a journey. I’m so glad I made it.”

Merritt was one of more than 400 graduates at Sunday’s ceremony on the Eckley Quad.

“As the infamous thinker Ferris Bueller once said, ‘Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it,’” said Class President Marissa Cozzi. “I know he is no Aristotle, but that doesn’t mean this quote doesn’t ring some truth. So, let’s take it in because this is the kind of moment that only happens once.”

Prior to receiving their nursing diplomas, Aga Knych, NuBari Kanee and Amanda Kaiser spent their nervous energy taking selfies.

“We’ve been through this together, and so it’s a really special day,” Knych said. “I’m going to miss all of this.”

As the three reminisced about the past, they also took the opportunity to look to the future.

“For me, today means that anything is possible,” Kanee said. “This is just the beginning.”

For Kaiser, she had a mixture of feelings on graduation day.

“Excitement, and nervousness and kind of shocked that today finally got here in a way,” she said. “We’ve been through this together and it’s been a long process but it is definitely worth it.”

Freedom was on the mind of political science major Sam Lundquist.

“It’s a different kind of freedom, now,” he said. “I am going to take a gap year and I will actually to an apprenticeship with an organic farm and then I will go into grad school.”

Psychology major Chengliang Luo, from Chicago, is also continuing his education. He will be going to medical school at Loyola.

“This is a great day,” he said. “I still have a long way to go, but this feels good.”

Kathleen Murray, the 14th president of Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash., and its first female leader since it was founded in 1882, received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree prior to delivering the commencement speech. She graduated from Wesleyan in 1979.

“I wasn’t a big dreamer when I was here,” she said, “But I was a big believer.”

Murray said she graduated on a day much like Sunday’s commencement day, with plenty of sunshine.

“Back on that day in 1979, I was a nervous and shy 22-year-old, excited to be receiving my degree and scared to death about what the future may hold for me. But to quote Eleanor Roosevelt, ‘The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.’”

Carolyn Jarvis, a professor of nursing at IWU, told the graduates that they can now begin their careers that could last nearly half a century.

“Your first job will be important and exciting, but it will not be your last,” she said. “You will learn from it and move on. So relax. … Your career is founded in your education here at Wesleyan and your work experiences once you leave, but you can never control for opportunity. When opportunities come up, take the risk and grab them. You may worry that you are not good enough, but you are good enough.”

Wesleyan’s graduation was the 167th in the school’s history.

​Follow Kevin Barlow on Twitter: @pg_barlow

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Agriculture Reporter

Agriculture reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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