Live blog: Senior Send-Off 2024!

Commencement Get Involved
May 6, 2024

Free of final exams and underclassmen, the Class of 2024 has Denison all to themselves for much of the week leading up to their Saturday Commencement. 

It’s a time of cheers and tears, of closed chapters and new beginnings. Over the next few days, we’re chronicling their last few days as students on The Hill. Follow along as we update through the week!

Saturday, May 11: The sun rises on Commencement day

Someone had to be first. That was the early morning — or was it late night? — logic of Cary Mauck ’24 as she walked downhill past the Sigma Chi House at 5:36 a.m.

Like Old West pioneers planting a flag, Mauck and her friend Ryan Darragh ’24 unfurled a blanket to become the first Class of 2024 members to arrive for the annual Senior Sunrise gathering.

It was an emotional time.

“We’ve been crying for the last three hours,” Mauck said. “We’ve been up all night at Silverstein Hall, and we figured we might as well come down now.”

Within a minute, other bleary-eyed students materialized in clusters of three and four, spreading their blankets near the one belonging to Mauck and Darragh.

A class that arrived at Denison having to socially distance due to Covid was bunching together for one last shared experience. More than 200 seniors greeted the sun’s arrival at 6:18.

“We know it’s a tradition, so we wanted to be a part of it,” said Misaki Sato ’24, who gathered his group of five friends for a selfie with the sun starting to peek out over the Mitchell Center and Deeds Field.

Some members of the class had danced the night away outside of Silverstein. The party was still raging at 5 a.m. So was the music.

“Let’s just sit here and exist,” said one senior being comforted by a friend. 

Jeff Moore ’24, Billy Gimbel ’24, and Alex Sket ’24, members of the Big Red football team, entertained themselves by doing offensive line drills.

“I love hitting a good pass set in the morning, and I’m not even an offensive lineman,” said Moore, a linebacker who already was hankering for breakfast at Aladdin Restaurant in the village. “I can’t believe none of us remembered to bring a football.”

Jakob Lucas ’24, swaddled in a blanket from his bed, savored his last morning as a senior while pondering his future affiliation with his university.

“I’m the first member of my family to go to Denison, but I might not be the last,” Lucas said. When asked if he had younger siblings potentially coming here, he shook his head. “No, but I will want my kids to at least take a look at Denison. It’s such a special place.”

As dawn broke in the eastern sky, Sara Frances Jones ’24 delivered the highlight of Senior Sunrise. The student known simply as “SF” to friends stood up and addressed the crowd.

“I love you all,” she shouted. “You guys, we made it. Class of 2024, I love you guys. I love Denison. I love Granville, Ohio.”

After receiving a round of applause, Jones walked up the hill to ready herself for Commencement. She had a message for those pondering a nap: “Tell all my fans out there that sleep is for the weak.”

Friday, May 10: Final farewells, forever friendships

On their way to Senior Soiree, Lisa Denstorff and Chris Aiello stopped at Deeds Field to have their picture taken touching the Woody Hayes rock.

For years, their sons, Clay Denstorff ’24 and Josh Aiello ’24, had put their hands on the rock to signify their commitment to the Big Red football program. The parents intend to do the same — even as their kids prepare to graduate.

“Oh, we’ll both be coming back next year to support the players, coaches, and parents,” Chris Aiello said under the giant white canopy at Reese-Shackelford Common.

Sometimes, it’s not just Denison students who make lasting friendships on The Hill. It’s the moms and dads, too. The Aiellos and Denstorffs were among the many proud parents mingling at the soiree.

Despite temperatures more suitable for autumn football tailgates, graduates and their families filled the Common for food, drinks, fireworks and live music.

Some Denison moms and dads sat with parents they first met four years ago. Others made new acquaintances waiting in line to have pictures taken in front of the illuminated “Class of 2024” sign.

It was a night of celebration and congratulations. A night when the parents kept pace with the offspring, elbowing their way onto the dance floor for MojoFlo’s torrid rendition of “Proud Mary.”

“I’ll be very upset if I don’t see you guys at least twice next season,” Rick Denstorff said to the Aiellos.

When Denstorff sent his son off to Denison, he knew Clay would form enduring bonds.

“Turns out, Lisa and I have made friends through Denison that I hope we keep for life,” Denstorff said. “We have a great community here.”

Baccalaureate, a joyous and solemn moment for students and families to pause and reflect over the past four years, opens the stage for Commencement.

Preparations for the event began last fall and continued right up until the processional music flows forth from the recently refurbished organ — which received a last-minute tune-up just four hours before this year’s event.

Secular and non-secular blessings from religions and cultures all over the world are invoked, and Swasey reverberates with music by a special baccalaureate choir, directed by vocal instructor Kevin Wines.

The choir is composed of graduating seniors, and it’s the last time Max Wisnefski will sing at Denison. A hugely talented vocalist, he’s performed in multiple campus productions. “It’s really nice to get one final performance with the people I’ve been singing with for four years,” he said.

Maybe his favorite part of baccalaureate happens before the event. “Every year Kevin and his husband host a rehearsal at their home,” he said. “They grill and make delicious food for us. They also have four dogs — I’m obsessed with them.”

If Wisnefski’s lucky, he might be invited to another of Wines’ cookouts. He’s relocating to Columbus for a career that will combine his data analytic skills with his love for the performing arts. But before he gets established in Columbus, he’ll pause in Granville, where his parents relocated a few months ago. Turns out they fell in love with the town on their visits to see his performances.

It doesn’t hurt that Wisnefski’s younger brother, Leo, is a Denison student too.     

The Denison Museum was alive with color and movement Friday afternoon. Artwork filled the walls, and proud families wandered the room, taking in the culmination of a four-year artistic journey.

Eight artists revealed themselves on the museum walls. The works were authentic, sometimes raw. Nadeem Jones’ monumental triptych of bold human and graphic forms explored his embrace of human diversity and the interplay between the spiritual and the physical.

Understanding many points of view and incorporating the randomness of life into a cohesive — and beautiful — tapestry is fundamental to Jones as an artist and a person.

Although his family resides in Charleston, West Virginia, an area not known for its demographic range, “My mom is Muslim, my dad is Christian, and my girlfriend (Priyanshi Kanoria ’24) and I are both Hindu,” Jones said. “These are my spiritual realities.”

Jones also majors in chemistry, and the joke among his professors is, “How many Nadeems are on campus?” He’ll continue to explore the complexities of the human body on a more literal level at medical school.

But first, he and his family took his paintings off the museum walls and stowed them in their car, a tangible marker of a remarkable education.

Casey Kim ’24 stood outside Slayter Hall in her cap and gown, a portrait of radiance on the eve of Commencement.

The computer science major was surrounded by family — a mother, father, and older sister who traveled from Seoul, South Korea, for their first trip to America in nearly 20 years.

The words of her mother, Youngin Kim, needed translating, but her feelings of pride did not.

“She says this is meaningful to her because it is meaningful to me,” Kim said. “She has seen me grow up a lot here.”

Commencements are milestone moments for families. They are a time for reflection. Not just about the last four years, but about all the experiences that go into arriving at such a happy place.

“Since I was young, my mother always wanted me to show gratitude in life, to laugh, to find humor in the world,” Kim said.

To see all that she’s accomplished at Denison, winning multiple awards in computer science and the respect of her professors, it’s hard to imagine a time when education wasn’t important to Kim. But she dropped out of high school for several months in her junior year.

She loved tap dancing and wanted to make it her career. Kim competed in events around Seoul and even performed in the streets for money.

She told her parents to forget about college.

“I used to study hard, and then it was, ‘No, I’m not doing this anymore,’” Kim said. “My parents had a hard time raising me because I couldn’t see anything else but becoming a professional dancer.”

Her mother vividly recalls the rebellious streak.  

“She could see through it — she knew I wasn’t happy,” Kim said, translating for her mother. “She was worried about my future. She said I wasn’t showing gratitude in my life.”

Her family gave Kim the space she required. A fellow dancer in her late 20s offered advice that provided a moment of clarity. South Korea is a small country, the dancer said, and the chances of making a good living as a tap dancer were remote.

“I came to realize my parents were right, that I was limiting myself,” Kim said. “Maybe if I go to college, have more experiences and see the broader world, I will find more opportunities.”

Kim went back to school a few months later and began to thrive. Her desire to learn had returned. So had her sense of humor. Asked what prompted her decision to drop out, Kim smiled and said, “bad puberty.”

She spent one year at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, earning an award for excellence in mathematics, before transferring to Denison because the university offered her better financial aid.

“I enrolled in the computer science program here and have grown so much as a person,” Kim said.

The Mitchell Center will be awash in smiles Saturday as parents watch their graduates receive diplomas. There’s a story behind every journey, and Kim’s will continue in Pittsburgh, where she starts work next month for a robotics company.  

She’s grateful for the opportunity.

Taylor Trimble didn’t sleep in during the start of her senior week. At 9:30 Monday morning, she was at the Burton Morgan circle, getting ready to set off on her final tour as an admission docent. 

She’s led more than 100 tours over her four years at Denison, and although it’s a paying gig, it’s also a way for her to give back.

That’s what she’s planning to do, too, in her career as a lawyer. Last week, the President’s Medalist learned she has a full ride from American University Washington School of Law, where she’ll study public interest law — specifically, juvenile justice. “I got the call three days ago, and I was literally sobbing on the phone,” she said. This summer, she’ll continue her internship at the Urban Institute before starting at American in the fall.

But before she heads to Washington, D.C., there are a lot of goodbyes. She’s passed the torch to her friends at the Black Student Union, where she served as chief minister. “I’ve been in BSU since freshman year, and it’s been super impactful to me,” she said. We’re like a big family.” 

On Thursday, after she checked rooms and locked doors for res hall closure for non-graduates, part of her duties as a community advisor, Trimble attended a farewell brunch with the vice president of Student Life, Alex Miller. 

“He’s been such a big part of my life here,” she said. “He helped me plan the Black men’s professional development brunch. We connected our students with Black alumni and Black members of our board of trustees. I’m so proud of that and I hope it can continue.” 

Trimble’s also saying goodbye to her favorite faculty at the politics and public affairs department. “Anthony Ives’ class is where I decided to go to law school. I completely fell in love with reading 80 pages of case law every night,” she said. “Andy Katz has been like a second dad to me. Heather Pool has been amazing — they both wrote my recommendations.”

Amid all this, she’s had plenty of time for festivities with friends. Trimble’s birthday happens to fall on the day after Commencement. Last week, she and her friends spent a day at Kings Island amusement park, went to dinner in Columbus, and had brunch at the Big Apple Cafe in Newark.

This week has been a heart-wrenching and heart-warming combination of small moments with friends and faculty and big moments with her class — and it’s not over yet. Baccalaureate and Senior Soirée are up next.

“It’s been a great four years,” she said. “Denison has given me so much.”

The start of Senior Send-Off is all about hanging out with classmates. The end is welcoming family to campus one last time for the joy of witnessing Commencement.

So it’s fitting that the mothers of Kate Griffin ’24 and Jacob Brown ’24 are on The Hill together this weekend. Parents play a significant role in their children’s education, and Lisa Voight (Griffin) and Naomi Kushin (Brown) helped set the course for a friendship that’s been beneficial to the Denison athletic and academic programs.

“When I was getting ready to transfer after my first year at Colorado State University, our moms connected online,” Griffin recalled. “My mother was looking for information about Denison and King Hall, and Jacob’s mom reached out. When I got to campus, Jacob was one of the first people I met.”

There’s a decent chance Griffin and Brown would have become friends without their mothers’ assistance. They were highly competitive athletes living in the same residence hall, sharing many interests. Both are docents.

As seniors, they decided to move in together with two other students in Lower Elm Hall — and became each other’s biggest supporters.

Griffin, a President’s Medalist and health, exercise, and sports study major, is a standout member of the women’s golf team that’s won three consecutive NCAC titles since her arrival. The Big Red are headed to the Division III NCAA Championships in Kentucky on May 21-23.

“I’ve gone to watch her play, and I don’t really know that much about golf,” Brown said. “I’m not even sure when it’s appropriate to clap, but she’s having a great season.”

Brown, a data analytics major, has been as dominant as any Big Red male athlete this year. He qualified for the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships, winning his second consecutive heptathlon. He’s also poised to earn his first NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships invite after winning his third straight NCAC decathlon and being named conference Field Athlete of the Year.  

“We hype up each other a lot,” said Griffin, a member of Denison’s Student-Athlete Advisory Council. “We’ve been that way since we met.”

While many of their classmates have few responsibilities this week, Griffin and Brown remain in training for national competitions. That doesn’t mean they aren’t savoring the spoils of Senior Send-Off. They went to Club Sizzle, participated in Senior Olympics, and rang the Swasey Chapel bells as part of the bucket list tour.

Griffin said the decision to transfer from CSU — she’s a native of Colorado Springs, Colorado — was the biggest and best move of her young life. She frequently mentions it to prospective students and their parents on guided tours of campus.

“I tell them that Denison is a welcoming and kind environment,” Griffin said, “And that everyone will find their people here.”

Griffin and Brown found each other — with a little help from their moms. 

Thursday, May 9: Decisions and last chances

Which senior would die first in the zombie apocalypse? Who carried the flag at the Class of 24 first-year Induction? Can you identify the song “Karma” by Jojo Siwa in just the first second?

These aren’t the types of questions that come up on a normal class syllabus, but they’re on the final exam at the last senior trivia of the year.

Jack and Ron’s trivia, founded by Jack Woolcott ‘21 and Ronald Tran ‘21, has become a Denison senior staple — a weekly Thursday night trivia game held in the Slivy’s cafe. The role of host has been passed down from class to class. This year, Meghan McManus, Colleen Boyle, and Oliver Chairs served as question masters.

“I found out about trivia my freshman year because I was friends with the hosts from the club baseball team,” Boyle said. “I’m still in touch with all the old hosts, and I’ll definitely stay in touch with the future hosts.”

For the final trivia of the year, the theme was the Class of 2024. The categories included “senior babies,” “superlatives,” and “freshman sizzle.”

This week’s champion was Team Rizzlers on the Roof. Their strong performance in the “family feud” category, with crowd-sourced answers from the senior class, brought them to an early lead that no other team was able to match.

Additional points were awarded for wearing Denison merch or bringing family members. A row of parents, in town early for graduation, looked on. A few grandparents even took part in the fun.

“It was so much fun to be a host this year,” Boyle said, “but I can’t wait to pass it on and see what next year’s hosts can bring to it.”

Sitting outside Swasey Chapel, watching her fellow seniors queue for the chance to ring the iconic bells, Allyson Schaaf ’24 vividly described the room where they were being led.

“It’s dark, spooky, and cob-webby,” said Schaaf, a former chapel bell ringer. “It feels like a place where you’re not supposed to be.”

Which only adds to the intrigue and makes it one of the top attractions on the annual bucket list tour during Senior Send-Off.

With its ancient brick interior and bell-ringer signatures scrawled on the slanted ceiling, the room has a very Scooby-Doo vibe. All that’s missing is a revolving wall triggered by a note struck on the small mechanical keyboard.  

“Some people have asked if we tug on chords up there to make the bells chime,” Schaaf said. (No. It’s a keyboard.)

The bell ringers can play 16 notes on the keyboard, which in the 1970s replaced a system of levers that were operated by hand and foot.

The bells of Swasey — which is celebrating its 100-year anniversary in 2024 — normally sound at 9:20 a.m., 11:20 a.m., and 4:20 p.m. On Thursday, they rang throughout the morning and early afternoon as seniors took turns on the keyboard.

“Will I be able to hear what I’m playing?” asked Jacob Brown ’24, before delivering a credible version of the Star Wars theme.

The keyboard sits on an old table that includes a binder filled with sheet music of songs. The national anthem of India is not in that collection, but that didn’t stop Anish Gurjar ’24 from trying to play it.

“I couldn’t quite get the tempo right,” Gurjar said.

One of the room’s highlights is the ceiling collage of signatures from previous bell ringers, dating to 1938. The identities of the keyboard players are supposed to remain anonymous until they graduate, cultivating the notion of a semi-secret society.

Over the years, some visitors to the tower have unscrupulously scribbled their names on the ceiling, upsetting the bell ringers who auditioned for the right to play. Respecting tradition, Jakob Lucas ’24 resisted temptation.

“Putting your name up there would be the most random flex at Denison,” Lucas said.

Several seniors said they were surprised the keyboard was on a much lower level than the bells, which are near the top of the 140-foot chapel. Most who made the bucket-list trek up four flights of stairs were happy to see how the operation works.

“Swasey Chapel is such a special place on this campus,” said Kate Griffin ’24. “I’ve been listening to those bells for four years, and when I found out this was one of the options on the tour, I knew I wanted to come.” 

An overcast afternoon is the perfect time to pack your room — especially when your sister flies in from Zurich to help. Worth Hinshaw and his sister Emily enjoyed a little quiet and productive packing time together on Thursday before the rest of the Hinshaw family arrived on The Hill.

Saturday will be a very special day for the Hinshaw clan: They’re celebrating the double graduation of Worth and his cousin Kate. Hinshaw moms and dads, aunts and uncles, brothers, sisters, and cousins are arriving, mostly from Charlotte, North Carolina.

“It will be a mini family reunion,” he said. “What’s really funny is that even though we grew up down the road from one another, Kate and I didn’t realize we had both applied to Denison.”

Once on campus, the Charlotte cousins rarely interacted. They were on different athletic teams — Worth on track and field, Kate on field hockey —  took different majors, and had different friend groups. “It wasn’t until the second half of this semester that we started hanging out together,” Worth said. “I think we both wish that we’d started that earlier.”

After Saturday’s festivities, the families will head home, but Worth won’t be with them. He’ll spend Saturday night in Columbus before flying to Chicago to assist with the organizational studies summer session, a monthlong sojourn for rising juniors. They’ll visit industry leaders and Denison alums in cities across the country to learn about behavior in the workplace.

Professor Sarah Hutson-Comeaux leads the program. Worth, a psychology major, found out about it when visiting her during office hours. “She slid the paper about the program across her desk and said, ‘You should do this.’”

Hinshaw went and was hooked. “I knew I wanted to help people one way or the other, and I discovered that behavior is my favorite part of psychology.” He took more classes to supplement his org studies learning and may be looking at a career in human resources. He’s already had a taste of that during a summer internship.

When Hutson-Comeaux approached him to be the program’s student leader, Hinshaw was all in.

“You get a glimpse of adulthood and work life,” he said, “and you make all these Denison connections.”

Weeks in advance, Kwaku Akuffo ’23 thought of how he wanted to show his gratitude to President Adam Weinberg as he walked across the stage to receive his diploma.

The handshake is the most popular greeting at Commencement ceremonies. The old grip and grin. Weinberg also has been on the receiving end of fist bumps, elbow bumps, and high-fives.

Akuffo, a data analytics major, opted for the bear hug. Not the kind NFL first-round draft picks often apply to Commissioner Roger Goodell that resemble submission holds. It was quick, painless, and respectful.

“I wanted Adam to know how much I appreciate everything he does for the student body,” said Akuffo, a data analyst for Northrop Grumman in Maryland. “That his small acts of kindness and gratitude don’t go unnoticed on campus.”

Weinberg said he’s never sure what greeting awaits him as students approach on stage. Years of practice have made him flexible in that moment.

“For me, it’s all about the students,” he said. “It’s their day, their celebration, and I’m happy to do whatever they want to do. I’m happy to shake hands, happy to hug, happy to high-five, happy to do elbows.”

The only exception came at the 2022 Commencement as Weinberg had just recovered from Covid. Even though he had been medically cleared to participate, the president didn’t want to risk anyone’s health. He recommended students limit body contact to fist bumps, elbow bumps, and even foot bumps.

“Head bumps are probably outside my area of expertise,” he told the graduates.

Weinberg understands it’s an emotional day for students. The culmination of a four-year journey.

Seeing the emotion on their faces, he said, “reminds me why I love our students at this college so much.”

So what will it be Saturday inside Mitchell Center for the Class of 2024?

A sampling of students said they are leaning toward handshakes but understand why Akuffo and others have gone for hugs.

“Adam seems like a handshake guy,” said Jack Nimesheim ’24. “I’m thinking handshake, but if other guys are hugging, I wouldn’t be against it. He’s worthy of one.”

Students appreciate Weinberg’s willingness to talk with them on their level.

“It’s crazy that I feel like I know him as well as I do,” said Kate Griffin ’24. “I’m not quite sure what I will do Saturday, but I truly want to thank him for having such a great institution and helping me become my best self. That’s a tribute to the environment he’s created here.”  

Wednesday, May 8: Rivalries, natty suits, and never enough time

Roommates, teammates, fraternity brothers — none of that mattered during Wednesday’s Senior Olympics. Everyone was competition.

The field of play? Inflatable obstacle courses. The competitors? Beta Theta Pi brothers Mike Maynard, Worth Hinshaw, Jacob Brown, and Parker Smith.

“Jacob and Worth have the advantage since they’re on the track team, but I have the determination and heart,” said Maynard, before challenging them in the bungee run. Two competitors attempted to sprint as far as they could before a bungee cord snapped them backward.

Maynard may have lost, but that didn’t stop him from having a good time.

The beautiful sunny spring day was the perfect environment for some friendly competition. A climbing wall race, an American Ninja Warrior course, and a golf skee ball course covered A-Quad.

What were once friendships turned into harsh rivalries within the laser tag maze. Screams from within could be heard from across the quad.

Before seniors take their next steps into the world of adulting, they relished the opportunity to play like kids again.

Nattily attired in a robin’s egg blue suit with a multicolor tie and matching pocket square, vice president of student life Alex Miller gave the question some thought.

How many suits does the university’s best-dressed administrator own?

“I’d say 30,” Miller said Wednesday at the senior brunch on Reese-Shackelford Common.

Holly Breymaier, executive assistant of student life, wasn’t having it. She said Miller’s collection could put most Savile Row haberdashers to shame.

“It’s double that, at least 60 suits,” Breymaier said. “There was a time when several students asked if they could start an Instagram account that showed all his different suits.”

Miller is taking his sartorial splendor to Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, next school year as its new vice president of student affairs.

So it’s fitting he offered a toast to the Class of 2024 under the large white canopy on the Common. Miller arrived at Denison in the fall of 2020 with students who, like himself, are preparing to depart.

He shared memories of their first semester on campus — Denison was returning to in-person classes amid the pandemic — that brought laughs and applause from the seniors.

“We’re leaving together, but I’m not getting a degree,” Miller said. “Maybe I should lobby for one.”

As he mingled with faculty and students, Miller chatted with fellow clotheshorse Alex Pan ’24. “Dr. Miller’s drip is serious,” Pan said.

Asked if Breymaier’s estimate of 60 suits was an exaggeration, Miller said: “I just know it’s not triple figures.” 

For at least two decades, Denison biology professors and graduating seniors have said their goodbyes over frozen confections.

Assistant professor Susan Villarreal, having just finished an orange cream bar, engaged in some playful banter with Mallory Hallwirth ’24 on Wednesday inside Talbot Hall during the department’s annual ice cream social.

“I have no more power over you.”

“You can’t quiz me anymore on what we’ve learned.”

“I could.”

“That would be really mean.”

Professor and pupil shared a laugh. Hallwirth, who had Villarreal for two classes, enjoyed the casual atmosphere as classmates and instructors mingled inside and outside the building.

“This is fun,” Hallwirth said. “You get to come back and talk to them as people as opposed to a student trying to ask all kinds of academic questions.”

It’s a scene being repeated across campus this week as departments host parties for their graduates — a chance for students to express their appreciation and get to know their professors on a personal level.

“The conversations are very relaxed,” said Lina Yoo, an associate professor and biology chair. “The seniors are relieved at this point. We’re just interacting as humans, talking about where life is taking them next.”

But these being Denison students — lifelong learners — it wasn’t surprising to hear some still discussing research ideas.

“Because they’re seniors, we haven’t had some in class for a while,” said Heather Rhodes, an associate professor and neuroscience chair. “So events like these give us an opportunity to catch up.”

For the past two years, Tahkeese Brown has been creating a sense of belonging for students as a residence hall community advisor. On Wednesday morning, he faced his final assignment, accompanying a group of fellow CAs to check rooms after students left The Hill.

But before he could go, Grayson Blythe, an assistant director in Residential Communities and Housing, handed out framed shadow boxes with an honorary key to Denison. She made one for each CA graduate as a thank you for all they did for their communities, something senior director Josh Kusch expressed as well: “What you do matters. The Res Life team shows up the earliest and stays the latest. You sacrifice a lot. I appreciate you.”

Brown’s students have shown him their gratitude, too. “A first-year student told me how impactful I was to them,” he said. “I wanted to leave a legacy of love and happiness. Denison does so much for us, and I want to do something for Denison.”

He’s already packed his own room, a bittersweet process of sorting clothes and mementos to keep or donate. “I’m looking at all the things I collected during my time and remembering so much — but my mom would kill me if she saw all this,” he said.

As Brown and his team, including good friend Adonte Mays ’25, made their rounds, they talked about their plans for the coming year. Mays is interning with JPMorgan Chase this summer before returning to The Hill, while Brown is moving home to Boston, where he’s looking forward to a career in marketing and PR and “maybe some journalism on the side.”

The first person in his family to go to college, Brown began as a remote student during Covid. “It was insane,” he said. “Coming in my sophomore year, I was really nervous about getting a feel for a classroom setting.”

Once he came to campus, he joined the First Generation Network, a student organization program that provides resources and a sense of family — “a huge help,” he said. “It’s been a crazy ride, but I definitely have a new family.”

After giving a final presentation of his Black studies research Wednesday afternoon, Brown will be able to fully relax. His whole family is coming to celebrate his graduation. More than he probably realizes. “Every time I call back home,” he said, “I hear from someone else they’re coming.”


Tuesday, May 7: Yearbooks, campus cleaning, and volleyball

Bad weather couldn’t stop the dance party at the Senior Sizzle.

The soon-to-be-graduates danced the night away while lightning flashed outside at the Newark Station.

“Club Sizzle,” as it was deemed this year, took the senior class off campus for a night of joy markedly different from their first-year sizzle, which was heavily impacted by Covid.

“It was nice to see everyone’s faces this time,” said Emily Walker ’24. “No masks makes a huge difference.”

A DJ played in the main room, and side games of trash can cup pong, cornhole, and beach volleyball raged on throughout the venue. A photo booth, goofy props included, helped make memories that would last forever.

Late Tuesday afternoon, surrounded by packing boxes and facemasks hanging from the ceiling (a remnant from last week’s “first-year” themed party) Denison sweethearts Colleen Boyle and Thomas Berry spruced up for the Senior Sizzle. Boyle and Berry joined their 500+ classmates for a sweaty and sandy night of dancing, volleyball, food, and fun at the Newark Station, the first time Denison has hosted the annual party off campus.

The couple met during a spring break Habitat for Humanity trip in Marion, South Carolina. The first night at their site, Boyle rescued a stray cat she named Pecan, but she wasn’t allowed to bring it into their accommodations. Berry gallantly volunteered to keep her and Pecan company during an uncomfortable night in the group van.

Pecan didn’t make back to Ohio, but the relationship did.

This fall, Berry will attend Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law in Columbus. Boyle will be just 143.2 miles away in Cleveland, where she’ll join a rotational management program with the e-commerce company McMaster-Carr.  

They’re already negotiating who’ll be making the trip back and forth, but one thing’s for sure: Berry will be on hand when Boyle moves into her new apartment. “The best thing about having a boyfriend is he’ll carry all the heavy stuff up the stairs!” she said. 

Berry just smiled and rolled his eyes.

At the midpoint of the week, Berry, a history major and former Big Red football player, has already said most of his Denison farewells. Last week’s history department banquet was the launching point for the leave-taking process with his favorite professors, including Adrian Young and Joanna Tague.

Now, with all his finals done, Berry is relaxed. “I’ve had a lot of time to hang out with my buddies,” he said.

Denison goodbyes are more like see-you-laters for Boyle, who was selected as Denison’s recent student trustee. She’ll keep in touch with current students and travel back on campus several times a year.

One goodbye that was hard for both of them was with their Red Corps mentor Steve Krak.

“Steve’s so awesome,” Berry said. “He’s a great boss — you work hard but enjoy what you’re doing.” Boyle chimed in: “You want to impress Steve.” They both wrote thank you notes to him and several others on The Hill.

Those adieus are behind them, but there are still plenty ahead — and the toughest might be the relationships that simply ran out of time.

One of the people Boyle wishes she had discovered earlier is economics professor Jessica Bean, “one of the first professors I sought office hours for not because I needed help, but because I wanted to talk to her.

“I think it’s the hardest to say goodbye to the things you just discovered,” she said.

Berry agrees. Even after four years on The Hill, he said, “I just wish I had more time.”

Perched atop a 60-foot boom lift, Andrew Barrick expertly maneuvered a 30-foot carbon-fiber pole to clean one of the tall, skinny windows of the Burton D. Morgan Center.

In the weeks leading up to Commencement, the term “hard to reach” does not enter the university’s lexicon. Denison brings in power washers like Barrick, owner of Power Clean, to make the glass gleam nearly 100 feet above Ridge Road.

“Our filtration system gets the minerals out of the water so there are no spots,” Barrick said. “Think of it as a spot-free car wash for your building.”

Beyond windows, Denison’s Facilities Services go to great lengths — and heights — to ensure the campus sparkles. The sound of Swasey Chapel’s bells are temporarily drowned out by the whirring, whining, bleating, and beeping of machinery tasked with beautifying the grounds.

“It’s like a four- to five-week process to get ready for the weekend,” said Jake Preston, director of the physical plant and capital projects.

Some facilities staff members refer to this as their “Super Bowl week.” Streets are swept. Crosswalks are touched up. Flowers are added. The Mitchell Center, home of Commencement, is inspected for chips in the paint and nicks on the walls.

“We’ve got all eyes on Commencement,” Preston said.

The view is spotless from the top windows of Burton Morgan. 

In the fall of 2023, Serkan Tan ’26  was the newly elected president of a campus photography club flush with ideas but no cash.

“I had a dead organization on my hands, and I don’t like having dead organizations on my hands,” he recalled.

So Tan took his love for picture-making and decided to make memories for the Class of 2024. The politics and public affairs major pitched the idea of reviving the Denison senior yearbook, which hadn’t been published since the onset of Covid in 2020.

Student government approved his plan in January 2024, giving him $7,000 for 600 copies. The 55-page book — a gift to seniors — was designed, created, and filled by a handful of underclassmen led by Tan, Emmett Anderson ’25, and Eli Lishack ’26, with the help of Ben Wedepohl ’26 and Gabby Palmowska ’26.

The group managed a year’s worth of work in three months, getting the material to the printer in early April. Tan estimates he spent 140 hours of his spring semester taking photos, lobbying clubs and organizations for submissions, and putting out fires of varying intensity. He borrowed backdrops and lighting for portraits shot in Slayter Hall.

Neither Tan nor his staff were paid. Their reward came in the form of gratitude from the Class of 2024. On Monday, as Tan and Anderson began distributing the yearbooks at tables in Slayter, seniors could be seen leafing through the pages, some asking classmates to sign their books.

Even in the digital age, yearbooks hold a special meaning. Especially to the Class of 2024, which had many of its high school graduation traditions eliminated by the pandemic. Some got yearbooks mailed to them along with their diplomas. Others picked them up in the parking lots of their schools. Few had the opportunity to have books signed by classmates.  

The group plans to submit the yearbook to University Archives, which has digitized all editions dating to 1881.

“I’m a photographer by nature,” Tan said. “I don’t do yearbooks or graphic design. This was us doing our best. The seniors are generally pretty happy with the end product. That’s the gratifying part of this.” 

The first tears were shed hours before the final show. Lily Anderson ’24 thought of all the good times co-hosting a weekly two-hour music program with her twin sister, Claire Anderson ’24, on Doobie Radio.

There were the morning dance parties with friends inside the glass-enclosed studio at Slayter Hall. The time the phone malfunctioned and it sounded like a fire alarm, forcing Claire to utter something rarely heard by DJs: “If you’re calling in, please stop.” The live in-studio performances by local bands — some good, others simply memorable.

“One friend had just learned the guitar two weeks earlier,” Claire said, “and could play only one note.”

Seated across a studio desk from each other, Lily and Claire laughed as they livestreamed the playlist for their final show, “Twinnem,” a few weeks ago. Their good friends and fellow Doobie DJs, Brin Glass ’25 and Caroline Lopez ’25, sat in for parts of the last show. It was a bittersweet occasion — one of many playing out across campus for seniors in the semester’s waning weeks.

A last performance. A final game. A curtain call.

“We have been attending a lot of our friends’ final moments within their organizations,” Lily said. “We’re seeing the end of our labor of love, I guess. It’s a weird feeling passing it down to different, but very capable hands.”

The twins moved 659 miles from their home in Mystic, Connecticut, made a conscious decision not to live together, and somehow grew closer.

One of their first acts on campus was to inquire about hosting a show on Doobie Radio, which began their sophomore year after an apprenticeship. Lily and Claire share not only the same blood but also a passion for music. Faye Webster, Weyes Blood, Jockstrap, Wednesday, Beach House. Their favorite songwriters became part of the soundtrack of their four years on The Hill.

Seventy-five shows later, Claire sat in the studio wearing a Dobbie Palooza shirt that appears to be signed by everyone at Denison. She recalled having trouble making friends her first month on campus as everyone’s expressions were walled behind Covid masks. Gradually, she began to meet people through work at the station, The Bullsheet, and the Bandersnatch. Claire got invited to play alto sax for local band The Cuties.

“The last four years have been the best four years of my life so far,” she says. “We feel very good about what we did here.”

The last song was a remix Claire made of “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!” by ABBA. When it ended, the Doobie Sisters embraced. More tears.

They talked about meeting Doobie alums, the ones who walk into Slayter, press their noses to the glass, and tell the sisters how they once worked at the station.

Claire said: “I’m sure I’ll come back to the Doobie and be like, ‘Hey.’” Right on cue, Lily finished her sister’s thought: “‘I did this once.’”

Monday, May 6: The week begins

Every graduating class is special in its own way to President Adam Weinberg. The Class of 2024 earned his respect before its first year was even complete.

The students did it by “showing up.”

In the grip of a global pandemic, Denison chose to hold on-campus classes in the fall semester of 2020 when other universities and colleges opted to wait. Addressing the seniors Monday night at a reception in Reese-Shackelford Common, Weinberg expressed his gratitude for their resilience during a “crazy” first year.  

“You showed up,” he said. “You leaned into it and you found a way to make it work, and you did it with a remarkable amount of humility and humor.”

Students also made the best of a rainy Monday night, gathering under a large white canopy for food and drinks. Weinberg mingled with members of the Class of 2024, walking from one high-top table to the next before addressing them formally.

The president told the seniors to savor the week, cherish their Denison friendships, and stay connected to the college.

“You are the only class I know of that, for almost all of you, you were robbed of your high school graduation,” Weinberg said. “I want this to be a week that’s so good that it’s not just a great culmination of Denison, but it makes up for what you didn’t get to do in your last week of high school. I want this to be a week of celebration, fun, and friendship.” 

Taking a quick break from her last final — a project for her lighting and scenic design class — student stage manager Khushi Mohapatra comes out of Eisner’s computer room to chat with one of her mentors, Elizabeth Dauterman, the production manager at Eisner Center. 

Dauterman has brought her dog Blair for a visit, and Mohapatra has a penchant for four-legged furballs. In the last few days before Commencement, a few moments of pet therapy are good for the soul.

This will be the second Denison Commencement ceremony Mohapatra attends. Last May she was on hand when her boyfriend, Cordero Estremera ’23, graduated. This Saturday, he’ll be there for her, along with her family from India. 

Although Mohapatra hails from India, she came to Denison from Hungary, where she had moved to pursue a promising career in tennis. “I’m actually the first person from Hungary to come to Denison,” she says. 

Physical demands of the game eventually curtailed her career on the court, but Mohapatra, an econ major with a concentration in financial economics, has another ace to serve. She parlayed a summer internship with SkillArc, a career-planning service to match employers with non-traditional workers, into a full-time job offer. After graduation, she’ll move to Columbus to start her new life.

As Mohapatra negotiates the finer points of buying a car and renting her first apartment, she says Dauterman has been “great friend and mentor. She helped me understand how to demonstrate my skills as a stage manager translate to the work world. I want to do product management and business development — streamline processes to create something better.

“And,” she says, “I’m trying really hard to be her dog-sitter!”

“You’ve got the job!” Dauterman laughs.

For a first-time player, Stephen Young ’24 wasn’t getting cheated on his strokes. No underhand serves or lobs just to get the ball over the net. 

Young was launching balls all over the tennis court outside of Mitchell Center with his girlfriend, Sophia Sobota ’24. The couple offered running commentary with each shot, Sobota unable to stifle her laughter. It didn’t matter if balls double bounced or sailed out of bounds. They returned everything they could reach to keep rallies going.

“We’re playing by our own rules,” Sobota said.

Isn’t that what Senior Send-Off is all about? 

After four years of adhering to strict schedules, the Class of 2024 is clearing its Google calendars for the week. Many students are taking the opportunity to either do something they’ve never done on campus or doing it with greater frequency between now and Commencement. 

“I’ve got this week and maybe two months before it’s ‘go time’ for the next 40 years of my life,” said Young, who’s landed a job as an underwriting analyst for AIG. “I’ve never played tennis, so I thought I’d try it.”

Sobota, who works as a research assistant for Ohio State University’s College of Public Health, just relished the chance to be outdoors on a beautiful day. 

“There’s been so many times when the sun is shining and you’re in the library doing work,” she said. “I just want to hang out with friends this week.”

Alex Pan ’24 wanted to give classmates the opportunity to ride out of town the same way they rode in — on the back of a mechanical bull.

Four years ago, the Class of 2024 had a welcome week like no other in Denison history due to the global pandemic. It was a time of buffer zones and spaces made safe for everyone’s health. But in the days after Induction, first-years still found ways to share joy, especially astride a simulated bucking bronco in Mitchell Center.

“The mechanical bull was one of the most memorable parts of that week for a lot of students, and Alex wanted to bring it back,” says Zora Whitfield ’24, who, along with Pan, is a co-governor of the Denison Campus Governance Association, or DCGA.

Planning a Senior Send-Off Week is no easy task, as Pan and Whitfield have discovered. The mechanical bull proposal for this year’s Sizzle didn’t work out, but the co-governors of the pandemic class understand the value of resourcefulness. 

“There’s no point in being territorial,” Pan says. “Our class wants to have a great experience, and it’s our job to bring it to them on a platter.”

Pan and Whitfield have brought innovative ideas to the traditional Senior Send-Off calendar, which begins Monday with a reception with President Adam Weinberg.

They have taken Sizzle — a party for first-years as they enter and seniors as they depart — off campus for the first time. “Club Sizzle” features sand volleyball, a DJ, food, drinks, and free transportation to and from the venue.

On the intramural fields, the Senior Olympics includes a bungee run, climbing wall, laser maze, obstacle course, and foam pit.

DCGA continues to partner with the Alford Community Leadership and Involvement Center, while contributions from Denison’s Alumni and Family Engagement have allowed Pan and Whitfield to go bigger and bolder with input from classmates.

After Commencement, Whitfield is headed to Boston University to pursue a master’s in translation and implementation science. Pan is interning with the House Committee on Small Business in Washington, D.C.,  before enrolling in Brooklyn Law School in his native New York.

The former student government president is proud to represent the Class of 2024. Pan has many great Denison memories, and barely a week into his time on campus, he wrote about one of his early favorites — one that came to define the spirit of his resilient classmates: “In terms of pure fun and adrenaline, it was Mitchell Night, because of that mechanical bull. I would get thrown off and I would get back on it!”

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