May 04, 2016

Commencement ceremonies set for May 13-14

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Southern Illinois University Carbondale commencement ceremonies are set for May 13-14. 

The fourth “Forever SIU: A Commencement Celebration” on Friday, May 13, will celebrate the members of the Class of 2016 and their families.  Festivities are from 7 to 10 p.m. in the Student Center. Interim Chancellor Brad Colwell and other university officials and faculty will welcome graduates and their families.  The festivities will include live band karaoke, bowling, billiards, graduation craft projects to document memories, and the movie, “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens.” 

There are 2,852 candidates for degrees as of April 25, including: 1,943 candidates for bachelor’s degrees, 645 candidates for master’s degrees, 126 candidates for doctoral degrees, 91 law degree candidates, and 47 candidates for associate degrees. 

Three separate commencement ceremonies will be at the SIU Arena on May 14 for undergraduate, graduate and professional students. 

Former SIU Carbondale Chancellor Donald L. Beggs and former astronaut and alumna Joan E. Higginbotham are the featured commencement speakers and each will receive honorary degrees. 

Commencement ceremonies are open to the public, and there is no ticket requirement. Each ceremony will be available via livestream at and will be available on the university’s YouTube channel at

Here is the schedule of the ceremonies, their keynote speaker, and distinguished service award recipient:

  • 9 a.m. – College of Agricultural Sciences, College of Liberal Arts, College of Science, School of Medicine. Higginbotham is the commencement speaker. Charlotte West, a nationally recognized pioneer in women’s collegiate athletics who served as a coach, administrator, sports official, Title IX advocate and mentor to female athletes during a 42-year career at SIU Carbondale, will receive a distinguished service award.
  • 1:30 p.m. -- College of Business, College of Education and Human Services. Beggs is the commencement speaker and he will receive the honorary degree, Doctor of Education Leadership. F. Lynn McPheeters, retired vice president and chief financial officer of Caterpillar Inc., will receive a distinguished service award.
  • 5:30 p.m. -- College of Applied Sciences and Arts, College of Engineering, College of Mass Communication and Media Arts. Higginbotham will again be the keynote speaker and she will receive the honorary degree, Doctor of Aerospace Science. Charles N. Wheeler III, director of the Public Affairs Reporting program at the University of Illinois at Springfield, will receive a distinguished service award.

The SIU School of Law will hold its commencement ceremony at 3 p.m., May 13, in Shryock Auditorium. Kim Foxx, a two-degree SIU graduate who earned a law degree from the SIU School of Law in 1997, is the keynote speaker for that ceremony.

Here is a brief glimpse of the commencement speakers and distinguished service recipients.

Higginbotham earned her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 1987. NASA recruited Higginbotham, a Chicago native, during her senior year at SIU Carbondale. She spent 20 years with NASA, starting as a payload electrical engineer. She served as a mission specialist aboard Space Shuttle Discovery during a 12-day STS-116 mission to the International Space Station in December 2006. She is the first known Saluki and third African-American woman to fly aboard a space shuttle and logged more than 308 hours on Discovery. After leaving NASA, Higginbotham served as vice president of business development and worldwide production with Marathon Oil. In 2011, she started working for Lowe’s Corp., based in North Carolina, where she is now director of supplier diversity. In 1997, she received the university’s Distinguished Service Award, and was the 2007 Homecoming parade grand marshal.

West coached five women’s sports -- basketball, golf, softball, volleyball and badminton during her career at SIU. She served as director of the then-Intercollegiate Athletics for Women from 1960 to 1986, leading a transformation from a largely club-based pre-Title IX system to a nationally recognized program with 11 varsity sports. After the merger of men’s and women’s athletics programs in 1986, West served as interim athletic director and associate athletic director for 10 years until her 1998 retirement. She was a founding member of the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW), serving as the organization’s commissioner of national championships, and later as president from 1978 to 1979; the organization merged with the NCAA in 1982. West was inducted into the Missouri Valley Conference Hall of Fame and the conference created the Charlotte West Award, given annually to one male and one female student-athlete in recognition of their outstanding achievement in academics, athletics, service and leadership. West was inducted into National Association of Collegiate Director of Athletics and the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. The university honored West, also a member of the SIU Hall of Fame, by naming its softball stadium in her honor.

Beggs, a two-degree alumnus and Harrisburg native, served SIU Carbondale for 32 years in various faculty and administrative positions, including as chancellor from 1996 to 1998. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education, in 1963 and 1964, respectively. He joined SIU’s education department faculty in 1966 and went on to hold positions including college dean before becoming chancellor. Beggs became president at Wichita State University in 1999. He retired in June 2012.  Four generations of Beggs’ family have attended SIU Carbondale. His grandmother attended the university in the late 1880s and his mother is an alumna. Beggs’ wife, Shirley, is a two-degree graduate, and the couple’s two children, Brent and Pam, and a daughter-in-law, Jeri, are alumni. The family established the “Beggs Legacy Scholarship,” a fund benefitting legacy students in the College of Education and Human Services, and the “Beggs Symphony Fund” at SIU Carbondale.

McPheeters, a native of Canton, retired as vice president and chief financial officer of Caterpillar Inc., in 2005 -- just over 40 years after joining the company shortly after earning a bachelor’s degree in accounting from SIU Carbondale in 1964. He held a variety of financial positions within the company in the U.S. and overseas before being named CFO in 1998. He helped build a partnership between the Peoria-based manufacturer of construction and mining equipment and the university, and both he and his wife, Susan, continue their philanthropic efforts. McPheeters joined the SIU Foundation Board in 2002, including serving as board president, and is now an emeritus board member. In 2006, the McPheeters established the F. Lynn and Susan F. McPheeters Charitable Remainder Trust, which will endow a chair in the College of Business. He continues to be a member of the college’s external advisory board formed in 1982 and a 1988 inductee into the college’s Hall of Fame. He is a SIU Distinguished Alumni Award recipient, College of Business Alumni Achievement Award recipient, and a SIU Alumni Association life member. 

Wheeler has actively engaged, recruited and mentored SIU Carbondale journalism graduates throughout his more than two decades leading the prestigious program -- founded in 1972 by former U.S. Senator and Public Policy Institute founder Paul Simon. Dozens of SIU Carbondale alumni have benefited from the program and from Wheeler’s influence in their careers. A native of Joliet, Wheeler came to the University of Illinois at Springfield after a 24-year career at the Chicago Sun-Times. Wheeler covered state government and politics for the newspaper beginning in 1970, when he covered the sixth Illinois Constitutional Convention. Since 1984, Wheeler has written a monthly column for “Illinois Issues” magazine, which has won six Capitolbeat awards for magazine commentary/analysis. In 2006, the Illinois Associated Press Editors Association elected Wheeler to The Lincoln League of Journalists, which honors men and women who have provided exemplary service to other journalists and to daily newspapers in Illinois. 

During the ceremonies, 470 students will wear special medallions and honor cords that reflect significant academic achievement.  Among the 470 students earning recognition, 266 will receive Cum Laude distinction, signifying a cumulative GPA of 3.5 to 3.749; 102 will receive Magna Cum Laude distinction, signifying a cumulative GPA of 3.75 to 3.899, and 90 students will receive Summa Cum Laude distinction, carrying a cumulative GPA of 3.9 to 4.0. Seventeen University Honors Program students will receive an honors diploma for completing seven honors courses and a three-credit thesis while maintaining a minimum 3.3 GPA; another 39 students will receive honors certificates for completing five honors courses and maintaining a minimum 3.3 GPA. A total of 12 SIU Carbondale student-athletes will earn Latin honors, and one student athlete will receive an honors program certificate. 

In addition, graduating student military veterans will wear red, white and blue cords provided by the university in recognition of their sacrifice, commitment and service to our country.