179th Commencement Highlights

May 7th, 2016 | SMWC

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Melody Birmingham-Byrd
President Dottie King, Ph.D., presented commencement speaker Melody Birmingham-Byrd with an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters Honoris Causa from SMWC.

The Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (SMWC) 179th commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 7, 2016, represented the culmination of students’ academic achievement and personal growth. SMWC President Dottie King, Ph.D., presented 92 traditional, online and graduate students with their degrees. The graduates represent eight states.

President of Duke Energy’s Indiana operations, Melody Birmingham-Byrd, delivered the commencement address and received an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters Honoris Causa from SMWC. Byrd encouraged students to be lifelong learners, to demonstrate everyday courage, to lead through influence not authority and to step outside of their comfort zones.

“Be not afraid of change,” she said during her address. “Few leaders stay in their comfort zone. Success is a result of learning from your failures – and you will fail, sometimes in spectacular fashion. But you will survive your failure if you use it as an opportunity to take the time to learn from it.”

Erin Harnett
Erin Harnett with grandmother Jane Harnett

Now alumni of The Woods, the graduates exited the Hamilton Arena with proud, smiling faces, ready for the next step.

For Woods Online psychology major, Brianna Spierenburg, that next step may include furthering her education at SMWC.

“It’s been a long road but it feels awesome to complete this journey,” she stated. “Eventually I’d like to go onto the Master of Arts in Art Therapy program here.”

For campus education major Erin Harnett, this day was a chance to not only look to the future but also pay homage to the past. Her grandmother, Jane Harnett, gave her the SMWC Excellence pin of Erin’s great-great-grandmother, Jane Mullreed, who graduated in 1903, to wear on her robe for graduation. Although Jane Harnett didn’t attend SMWC, her grandmother, her mother, her daughter and now her granddaughter are all graduates of The Woods. Jane Harnett wanted to honor that legacy and pass the pin onto her granddaughter.

“It’s part of the history of this college,” stated Erin Harnett. “I get to show off that my great-great-grandma went here.”


Awards were presented during commencement for service, leadership and academic achievement. The Maud Helm Rockwell Medals for Academic Excellence were presented to the graduate of the campus program and the graduate of the Woods Online program with the highest academic grade point average. Amanda LeeAnn Perry received the campus award, and Amy D. Wilson received the Woods Online award.

The St. Catherine of Alexandria Medal, sponsored by Kappa Gamma Pi, the National Catholic College Graduate Honor Society, was awarded to campus student, Mikayla Joann Metheny, and Woods Online student, B.J. Riley. They received the award for demonstrating both academic excellence and exemplary service and leadership on and off campus.

The Alumni Award for Leadership and Service recognizes outstanding students who have demonstrated exceptional service and responsible leadership during their time at The Woods. The undergraduate recipients were Woods Online student, B.J. Riley, and campus student, Haylie Davenport.

Distinguished Alumni Awards

During the ceremony, the College honored two SMWC alums with Distinguished Alumni Awards: Sister Marie Brendan Harvey, 1951 SMWC graduate and founder of the Chorale and Madrigals; and Mary Barrett, 1965 SMWC graduates and former member of the SMWC Board of Trustees.

Sister Marie Brendan Harvey holds a master’s degree in music from Catholic University of America. Harvey began teaching at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in
 1954, where she taught voice, chorale and chant. In 1958, she 
founded the Chorale and Madrigals. From 1972 to 1982, she managed the SMWC Alumnae Office, while continuing to direct the Chorale and Madrigals. Harvey spent a year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison working at the Newman Center. She also worked with the liturgy at St. Mary’s Parish in Champaign, Ill., and at St. Michael’s Parish in Duluth, Minn. During the 1970s, she was one of five who launched a liturgical music summer program for pastoral musicians at St. Joseph’s College. Later, Harvey taught voice and assisted with development work at Wayne State University. There, she was introduced to an AIDS Ministry and visited with patients helping them to understand God.

Mary Barrett graduated from SMWC with a degree in journalism. An entrepreneur with business savvy, Barrett launched two companies during her professional career: Mary Barrett & Associates, a manufacturers representative firm, in 1979, and Glick & Associates, a firm specializing in mail order home furnishing sales and marketing, in 1995. She has volunteered for the House of the Good Shepherd in Chicago, Ill., mentoring troubled teenage girls, and was nominated as Volunteer of the Year by that organization. Barrett also volunteered at Family Shelter Service in DuPage County, Ill., working with victims of domestic violence. Barrett served on the SMWC Board of Trustees from 1999-2009, acting as Board Chair from 2005-2009. 

B.J. Riley, recipient of Alumni Award for Leadership and Service and St. Catherine Alexandria Medal

Mikayla Metheny, recipient of St. Catherine of Alexandria Medal

Haylie Davenport, recipient of Alumni Award for Leadership and Service