Carnegie Mellon University
May 17, 2015

Hats off to the Modern Languages Class of 2015

Hats off to the Modern Languages Class of 2015

On Sunday, May 17, students who have been studying languages and cultures in the Department of Modern Languages gathered in the Cohon University Center to receive certificates and diplomas.

Clothed in black caps and gowns, with colorful sashes around their necks, the delighted graduates were joined by family, friends, and Modern Languages faculty and staff to celebrate this special milestone.

Dr. Susan Polansky, head of the Department of Modern Languages, kicked off the ceremony with opening remarks.

Polansky likened the graduates’ studies and experiences on campus and abroad with languages, cultures, and interdisciplinary work to athletic training: “Your cross-training has prepared you with muscles for communicating, working, and networking with skill, thoughtfulness, and sensitivity in our increasingly complex and interconnected world,” she said. “The hope is that you continue to cross-train through life, and to develop your talents and passions, and find health, happiness, and fulfillment.”

Following her remarks, Dr. Polansky invited two students to the lectern to speak about their experiences in the Modern Languages department on behalf of graduating seniors.

Dervla McDonnell, a double major in Fine Arts and Japanese Studies, said her interest in Japanese language and culture stems back to her childhood when, at age three, she became enamored of a Japanese animated film, My Neighbor Totoro, which was given to her as a gift. McDonnell said she watched the film at least once a day, sometimes more often.

“Falling in love with a language or a culture doesn’t have to start out as something you plan or seek out for a specific reason,” McDonnell said. “Sometimes we feel pushed in a certain direction by [a] feeling, and if we just follow that feeling, things simply fall into place.”

After McDonnell’s speech, fellow student Edward Wojciechowski, a double major in French & Francophone Studies and Hispanic Studies, addressed the crowd.

“I’ll be the first to admit that my education at this university has been anything but traditional,” said Wojciechowski, who studied abroad for three consecutive semesters and—with the help of faculty and staff—was able to tailor his education to his specific interests and needs.

“The Modern Languages department has allowed me to grow in ways I didn’t think possible,” he said. “The opportunities to really interact and learn from the faculty outside of class were numerous and enriching.”

After Wojciechowski’s speech, faculty members from each language area celebrated the accomplishments of the undergraduates who majored in Chinese Studies, French & Francophone Studies, European Studies, German Studies, Hispanic Studies, Japanese Studies, and Russian Studies, and presented them with their diplomas and certificates.  Five masters students were in attendance to receive special recognition and their diplomas after successfully completing coursework in the Applied Second Language Acquisition program. Dr. Feng Xiao, the department’s newest Ph.D. in Second Language Acquisition, was also honored at the ceremony.

In addition to earning a degree, two undergraduate students took home an award.

Erin Kiekhaefer received The María Purificación Aguilar Memorial Award, presented each year by the Department of Modern Languages to the student with the highest grade point average completing a major in Hispanic Studies.

Graduate Natalie Giannangeli, a double major in Hispanic Studies and Global Studies, received the G. Richard Tucker Award for Scholarship and Leadership, a new award established to honor the legacy of retiring professor Dr. G. Richard Tucker, Paul Mellon University Professor of Applied Linguistics. The award will be given annually to a student in recognition of scholarly excellence in Modern Languages, and for leadership and dedication to the university.

Dr. Tucker was present on Sunday to participate in the ceremony and deliver closing remarks. Tucker, whose career has taken him to numerous countries around the world, said that his years in Pittsburgh and at Carnegie Mellon have been particularly special. “[But] what’s really, really special is the quality of our students,” Tucker said. “You’ve kept me young.”

Tucker thanked his colleagues, Modern Languages staff, family and friends of the graduates, and of course the students.

“It’s been a pleasure to be here,” he said. “My wife and I will miss you.”

Audience members got on their feet as he stepped away from the lectern, and whistles and rapturous applause filled the room.

Happily, every end is a new beginning. As both Tucker and graduates from the Class of 2015 prepare to move on to the next phase of their lives, they will no doubt carry with them memories of special times shared together, and continue to profit from the many rewarding interactions they’ve had over the years at CMU.