Student marshals embody rich tradition of Rio Grande

Melissa M. Morris, left, and Taryn Strawser served
as student marshals for Rio's 137th Commencement.

RIO GRANDE, Ohio – The very essence of higher education is one steeped in tradition and pageantry, with the annual commencement ceremony the pinnacle showcase of accomplishment.

Commencement celebrates all that higher education is: life enrichment through enlightenment to be shared with friends and family for the betterment of a global society.

While each individual graduate’s story conveys that very message in their own unique way, the University of Rio Grande / Rio Grande Community College showcases that personal transformation through the annual tradition of Student Marshals.

“The two students with the highest grade-point-averages who have completed at least 100 credit hours are chosen to lead in all the graduates,” Rio Professor and Commencement Grand Marshal Dr. Raymond C. Matura said. “I’ve been doing this for well over 30 years, and I know this is the way its been done at least 50 years talking with other folks.

“It speaks to the reason we’re all here,” Matura continued. “Its all about education. The tradition of our Student Marshals allows us to honor outstanding people and showcase the cycle that perpetuates every year throughout our Rio Grande campus, and the countless communities our graduates positively impact for the rest of their lives.”

Saturday’s 137th Commencement featured Taryn Strawser and and Melissa M. Morris as student marshals.

Strawser, who boasts a 3.96 GPA, is pursuing Bachelor’s Degrees in English and Adolesent Young Adults Language Arts. The Jackson native was the 2010 Jackson County Apple Festival Queen, attends and is active in two churches, sits on the Ohio Valley Bank GenX Advisory Board and is a member of the English honor society Sigma Tau Delta.

“It’s a lot sometimes, but I love it,” Stawser said. “I wanted to be a teacher from the beginning, and I knew I wanted to do language arts.”

Strawser just completed a 19-credit hour spring semester after a 20-credit fall. And she is schedule for 21 credits next fall.

“I like academic challenges anyways,” Strawser said. “I’d rather sit down and write a paper than watch TV. I’m not just saying, it’s the truth; that’s why I went into English.”

Equally impressive is Morris, who carries a 3.82 GPA while pursing a Bachelor’s Degree in Education, Intervention Specialist K-12. The 42-year-old mother of two also has run a home daycare the past 18 years on top of her course load and junior-year field placement.

“I was a student usher for two years, but I didn’t even know what the marshals stood for until they told me,” Morris said. “It’s a great honor. My goal was to get valedictorian or salutatorian, so that was pretty cool to know I’m on track to accomplish that goal.”

The two outstanding ladies are poised to represent Rio Grande’s Class of 2014 and join the more than 10,000-strong alumni who contribute to our global society each and every day.

“I’m proud of her, but not just for her academics,” said Terri Renee McMurray, Strawser’s mother. “She’s a good role model in the community for all the activities she’s in and her strong Christian faith.”

English Professor Elizabeth Brown echoed that sentiment, and praised Strawser’s work ethic and passion for education.

“She’s the sort of student who will hand in a draft of a paper well before its due, ask for feedback and take the suggestions to heart,” Professor Brown said. “I wouldn’t say she’s the most talkative, but very enthusiastic and incredibly hard working. Honestly, I don’t know how she does it.”

Determination and impeccable time management skills are two traits Strawser and Morris share. But each also possesses a tremendous drive to help others, and give back to their communities.

For Morris, that means giving up a profitable daycare to pursue a traditionally less-profitable career path in public education.

“She’s making that decision because of her passion for it,” Rio Assistant Special Education Professor Monica Hummons said. “Teaching is less of a vocation and more of an avocation. You don’t do it because it’s a job and how it pays; you do it because it’s part of who you are.”

Professor Hummons said Morris has received one exceptional evaluation after another throughout her junior-year field work, and insists she will make a difference from Day One as a teacher.

A member of the student chapter of the Council for Exceptional Children, a national organization, Morris has an unusually extensive history working with developmentally diverse children from her daycare background.

Another trait Strawser and Morris seem to share is humility, and a general lack of desire to brag of their numerous accomplishments. But that’s what makes family and friends such an important part of the commencement process.

“She is proud of it, but she’s not the type of person to tell everybody about it,” said Shirley Wells, Morris’ mother. “She tells me and her family. … I’m the big mouth who get to tell everybody, because I’m so proud of her.”

The Rio Grande tradition of selecting the annual student marshals was spawned from that same maternal pride. The success of each student means so much to every faculty and staff member at Rio Grande, as well as to the next generation of students within cycle.

Perhaps it is fitting to close with a small portion of another Rio Grande tradition – the class poem, written by President Barbara Gellman-Danley and delivered during Saturday’s commencement:

Hold onto the traditions – the sounds, the scents, the sighs.
Memories create character; stories bring them to new heights.
Yes, this place is different – the values, the family, the size.
You mean so much to all of us; commencement is our prize.

There will always be the burning flames, then the fading of each ember.
As the hourglass of time turns, passionately remember.
The matchstick of your memories borne in southeastern Ohio.
Will light the path that leads you home – to your dear ole Rio.