Rio to host 138th commencement; Justice French to address students

Ohio Supreme Court Justice Judi French
Justice Judi French

RIO GRANDE, Ohio – From environmental lawyer to assistant attorney general and Ohio State Supreme Court, Justice Judi French has never allowed the perceptions of others to alter her chosen path.

Justice French will challenge the 2014 Class of the University of Rio Grande and Rio Grande Community College to do the same as the guest speaker for the 138th Commencement at 1 p.m. on Saturday, May 10.

“I’m pretty excited,” Justice French said. “I’m going to approach it from the perspective of what I would want to hear if I were in the audience. I wouldn’t want to hear anything heavy or overly simplistic.

“I hope to offer a couple lessons from my own life, with the overlying message of don’t be afraid to take chances. You have to accept change. You have to always be ready for change. I think the more that you can define your own message or path, the happier and more successful you will be in life.”

Those guiding principles served Justice French well throughout her diverse career. She began her state service in 1993 as deputy director for legal affairs at the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. She also served as an associate counsel at Steelcase Inc. in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and an associate at the Columbus law firm of Porter, Wright, Morris & Arthur, where she practiced environmental law.

Justice French also served as an assistant attorney general and then chief counsel in the office of Attorney General Betty Montgomery from 1997 to 2001. She also served as chief legal counsel to Governor Bob Taft.

In 2004 Justice French was elected to the appellate court and served at the Tenth District Court of Appeals until her appointment as the 155th Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court on Jan. 1, 2013.

Among the many accomplishments in her career, Justice French twice argued in the United States Supreme Court.

“I never felt like I was inhibited in any way,” she said. “No one ever said to me you can’t do this or that because you’re a woman, or anything else. So if there are any graduates in the audience who have doubts, by seeing me, they will not see a barrier.”

The 138th Commencement will honor 391 graduates that have earned 413 degrees – 219 Associate’s Degrees, 158 Bachelor’s Degrees and 36 Master’s Degrees.

Two graduates – Mark Anthony Bentley and Cody J. McNeely – each will receive four degrees. Each earned their Bachelor of Science in Industrial Technology, Associate in Technical Science in Industrial Automation and Associate of Applied Science in Plant Maintenance Technology. Bentley also earned an Associate of Technical Science in Power Plant Mechanical Maintenance, while McNeely earned an Associate in Technical Science in Welding.

The graduates also will feature award-winning artist Kayla Malone, published author Jordan Pickens and Mayo Clinic-bound Emily Burnham.

Malone was one of six Ohio seniors honored at the seventh annual Awards for Excellence in the Visual Arts hosted by the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Ohio (AICUO). It was the second consecutive year a Rio art student was honored.

Malone’s work will be featured in a walking exhibition as part of Gallery Hop on May 3 in the Short North District in Columbus.

Pickens is another accomplished senior who will walk across the stage at commencement. The Integrated Social Studies Education senior co-authored “Meigs County” with professor emeritus Ivan Tribe, Ph.D. The book is among Arcadia Publishing’s popular Images of America series and brings the rich history of Meigs County to life through more than 200 vintage images and captions.

“I transferred to Rio Grande because of the outstanding Education program, but I never imagined I’d be a published author before I earned my cap and gown,” Pickens said.

Burnham also credits Rio for helping her to realize, and attain her dream. The Radiologic Technology student from Montana was accepted to the prestigious Radiologic Therapy program at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota beginning this fall.

“I don’t think I would’ve ended up at Mayo if I didn’t come to Rio,” Burnham said. “The faculty got to know me and what I would be good at. At a bigger school I probably would’ve just settled.”

The 2014 Class is filled with similar stories throughout each of Rio’s academic programs. With friends and family there to share in the celebration, May 10 promises to be another day filled with rich tradition and Rio pride.

“We are always proud of our graduates, and everyone looks forward to a wonderful day,” said President Barbara Gellman-Danley, Ph.D. “I approach this commencement with mixed emotions, as it will be my last at Rio Grande. Just as our graduates, I close one door and walk through to a new journey. It’s been a great honor to serve Rio.”

President Gellman-Danley has been appointed president of the Higher Learning Commission, effective July 7. The HLC is a nonprofit regional accrediting agency that accredits more than 1,000 colleges and universities with a home base in one of 19 states stretching from West Virginia to Arizona.

Rio Grande has hired AGB Search to coordinate a national search for its 22nd president. Founded by the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges in 2010, AGB Search has assisted more than 215 searches at more than 157 institutions.