In the “’Berg-cozy” environs of Seiberling Gymnasium, 208 undergraduates and 59 graduate students officially became Heidelberg alumni on Sunday. They leave Heidelberg with the highest four-year graduation rate in the past 30 years, according to President Rob Huntington.
Amid the awesome sounds of the Heidelberg Concert Band and Concert Choir, overjoyed friends and family, and all of the colors and pageantry that comprised Heidelberg’s 166th Commencement, the Class of 2019 was ushered into the next chapter in their lives with inspiring words from someone who has walked the same path.
Heidelberg alumna K.J. Montgomery, ’74, who has served for 25 years as judge of the Shaker Heights Municipal Court, returned to her alma mater to deliver the Commencement address, “The First Paragraph.”
Reflecting on her arrival at Heidelberg through “tall fields of corn on a potato-chip scented campus where on my first night I swore the train to Hades would crash my room on third floor Brown,” Montgomery called upon the lesson from a law school friend who would complete an entire exam and before returning to write the first paragraph.
Like the graduates, Montgomery said, “My first paragraph is not fully written. It pauses at this glorious day.
“Today, you begin the writing of the rest of your life’s journal.”
The Heidelberg page of Montgomery’s life pages begins with a very distinct plan to become a concert pianist, having learned the importance of preparation from the late ’Berg alumnus and Trustee Ted Hieronymus at Mentor High School. Those Heidelberg pages filled quickly, she said.
“I practiced piano, picketed the Vietnam War, had two Phi pledges, cheered the basketball team, accompanied the choir, worked summer days and nights in a factory and at the Dairy Queen,” she recalled.
Senior year arrived and with it came a realization: Heading to practice for her senior recital, she could no longer ignore the fact that she needed to leave her planned path to piano performance. She hated it.
A change in direction
Thus began her next life journey into law.
Through her distinguished judicial career, Montgomery has found innovative ways to enhance and reform the system as she deals with important issues such as access to mental health care services, domestic violence and sexual assault prevention, effective alcohol and drug treatment and more. She does so by listening, learning and understanding their personal stories.
Montgomery provided the graduates with four life lessons, punctuating each with personal examples of learning:
There is no substitute for working hard to be always prepared. “Luck favors the prepared.”
Lead with your heart. “Until you find what you love and who you love, keep looking,” for success will follow happiness (and not vice-versa).
Life will throw you curve balls and you will make errors that cause you to rewrite your life journal. “Curve balls will contribute to your uniqueness. And your perceived mistakes will become the catalyst for profound intervention.”
Reach out to help all people – “those with power and those who have less power than you – for empathy and kindness are the true signs of emotional intelligence.
Glorious first paragraphs
The graduates’ diplomas are the prefaces to their first paragraphs, yet to be written, she told them. “How will your first paragraph read when your life is complete?” Montgomery asked.
“Will it reflect the opportunities gained by preparedness? Will your passion seep out amongst the written words unable to stay flat on the page oozing with the satisfaction of a life and career well lived and loved? Having grown uniquely from your life’s curve balls or mistakes, will you have made an impact through your humanity? Will your life have been glorious?”
Montgomery closed with rapper and songwriter Macklemore:
“I feel glorious, glorious.
“Got a chance to start again
“I was born for this, born for this.
“It’s who I am, how could I forget?”
She ended with this advice: “You have my permission to forget this Commencement speaker. But don’t, for one moment, forget to be glorious.”
Montgomery and the Rev. Ken Daniel, president and CEO of United Church Homes who delivered the baccalaureate sermon on Saturday, received honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degrees. The Class of ‘19 also speeches heard from Nicole Frankart, representing graduate students, and Kaylea Bowers, who was selected to represent undergrads.
In all, 17 states and four countries were represented among the graduating class.