More Than 300 BVU Master’s Degrees Awarded in Commencement Exercise

Mother’s Day coincided with the second of three graduation ceremonies held during an historic weekend on the BVU campus in Storm Lake.

Master’s degrees totaling 309 were conferred during a Buena Vista University Commencement exercise on Peterson Field at J. Leslie Rollins Stadium on Sunday, the second of three graduation ceremonies during an historic Mother’s Day weekend on campus.

It was also an historic Mother’s Day in another sense as graduate Rachel Pettigrew celebrated her achievement with newborn son, Benaiah, who celebrates his first birthday on Wednesday.

“It’s a great way to spend my first Mother’s Day,” said Rachel Pettigrew, who was joined by husband, Tierre Pettigrew, and their son in a ceremony long on sunshine and accomplishments.

Pettigrew, for example, earned her master’s degree in educational leadership, curriculum, and instruction in 2020. The educator who serves Fort Dodge High School and Fort Dodge Middle School kept teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic while working to raise an infant with her husband.

“Many of you have taken care of your kids, or your parents, and kept teaching, or kept working with patients and serving others during a pandemic. What you’ve done is inspiring.”

Dr. Brian Lenzmeier

“It’s amazing what we’ve done in the past couple of years,” she said. “We got married, we had a baby last May, and we made it to this day,” she said. “I was so happy to celebrate today with four other Fort Dodge teachers who have earned their master’s degrees through BVU.”

“We all chose to keep going in a pandemic,” said Alaina Ellington, of Birmingham, the student speaker for the Commencement exercise. “Everything we do is a choice…We are not finished. Today can be one day, or ‘Day One,’ it’s your choice.”

Keynote speaker Adrienne B. Haynes, an attorney/entrepreneur and the founder of three nonprofit entities in Kansas City, Mo., challenged graduates to continue serving others while growing as BVU alumni.

“Use your degree and the privileges that come with it to engage beyond the workplace and to positively influence your neighborhoods and communities,” she said. “‘Education for Service’ is not just a motto, it is all of our continued pledge.”

BVU President Brian Lenzmeier, who helped guide BVU through the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic, noted that the vast majority of BVU Graduate School students work fulltime in addition to their academic load. Many are parents of children as well, working hard to juggle coursework with jobs and the demands of raising a family.

“Many of you have taken care of your kids, or your parents, and kept teaching, or kept working with patients and serving others during a pandemic,” he said. “What you’ve done is inspiring.”

Commencement procession
Graduate students walked through Victory Arch, part of the traditional procession before the commencement ceremony.

Lenzmeier noted that the Classes of 2020 and 2021 now join just 13 percent of the population in having earned a master’s degree.

“It’s a huge accomplishment,” said Kara (Schubert) Nielsen, of Alta, who lauded her family members for helping her care for their children while she tackled additional coursework in adding a master’s degree to the BVU Bachelor of Arts she earned three years ago.

Whitney (Van Scoy) Cue, of Coon Rapids, paused while speaking about the graduation sign her daughter, Brooklyn, 11, made with her dad, Justin Cue, to honor Whitney as she processed through the Victory Arch on her way to the ceremony. The sign, which also came from sons Ryder, 9, and Devin, 6, who were at home in Coon Rapids, said, “We Love You Mom!”

“This was always a dream of hers, to get a master’s degree in licensed mental health counseling,” Justin said. “We’re all very proud of her.”

“This was the first time I’ve been able to walk for my graduation,” Whitney said while brushing away tears. “I walked through the Arch when I first came to campus, but I didn’t get this when I earned my bachelor’s degree in 2019. Going through the Arch, coming down the steps and seeing that sign, it’s just an awesome feeling, a culmination, and a feeling that I’m even more a part of the BVU family.”