Proud families, friends cheer on graduates at Wichita State’s 117th commencement

Wichita State University graduates line up Sunday for the fall commencement at Koch Arena. (Dec. 14, 2014)
Wichita State University graduates line up Sunday for the fall commencement at Koch Arena. (Dec. 14, 2014) The Wichita Eagle

Chance are, if you were at Sunday’s Wichita State University commencement, you heard ShaQiyla Fennel Banks’ family whooping and cheering.

She was among the nearly 1,100 students graduating Sunday afternoon at Wichita State’s 117th commencement. The ceremony was held at a packed Charles Koch Arena.

“We are celebrating our sister’s graduation,” said Destiny Banks, who was among 25 to 30 relatives who gathered to watch as ShaQiyla Banks walked onto the arena’s floor. As soon as their graduate was spotted, the Banks family waved, cheered, stood and ululated cries of pride. “She is graduating cum laude; she has a lot of honors. She does a lot of community service. We support her in everything she does – she is the youngest of the cousins. What she is doing is really an honor.”

“That’s my little sister,” a grinning William Banks said. “She came a long, long way.”

Zoe Newton, a member of the Kansas Board of Regents, told the audience she was proud of the students for their hard work.

She said she hoped they would “continue to grow and prosper professionally and personally.”

Anthony Vizzini, WSU’s provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, told the audience and graduates that the goal of the university is to provide validation for a lifetime of learning, a foundation for a career.

Vizzini told the graduates: “You will always be a part of Shocker family” and then quickly donned a yellow WSU Santa hat and a pair of sunglasses amid the roar of the crowd.

During the ceremony, WSU president John Bardo presented Ruth A. David with the 2014 President’s Medal.

David received her bachelor’s degree from WSU in electrical engineering in 1975. She earned master’s and doctoral degrees from Stanford University. She was deputy director of science and technology for the CIA before becoming president and chief executive officer of Analytic Services, a nonprofit corporation that provides national and homeland security.

“I’m deeply honored,” David told the audience.

She said she would offer three pieces of advice: “Seize the opportunity. The second is focus on doing, not on being. And the third is define success as it means to you. Don’t let your plans define you when opportunity presents itself.”

On Sunday, there were bouquets of flowers that some carried into the arena. But mostly, there was an arena full of pride that emulated from grandparents, parents, siblings and cousins as diplomas were handed out.

“My son is graduating,” Hilarie Tolstoi said of her son Wesley, who received his bachelor’s degree in anthropology.

She, too, came to cheer, she said.

Reach Beccy Tanner at 316-268-6336 or Follow her on Twitter: @beccytanner.