USAO News Bureau

Magrath: 'Learn to improvise, encourage, persevere"

Saturday, July 31, 2004

 

Understanding the power of encouragement, perseverance, respect and kindness can change your life and ensure your success, said scientist and ethicist Dr. Larry Magrath on Friday night to summer graduates at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma.

 

While today Magrath is known as one of America’s foremost authorities on native orchids and is curator of one of the largest plant collections in Oklahoma, Magrath recalled a story from childhood in which he gathered pretty leaves he didn’t know were poison ivy. He fondly remembered his teacher taking the time to teach him and his classmates how to identify common poisonous plants.

 

“The moral of my story is that you sometimes have to improvise on the spot in order to keep a small thing from becoming a major disaster. You simply must be prepared in life to think and to improvise,” he said.

 

Magrath, a 32-year member of the USAO science faculty, is professor of biology, director of interdisciplinary studies and curator of the USAO Herbarium.

 

Books have had an immeasurable impact on his life, Magrath said, including simple books that were read to him as a child.

 

“One of the first books I learned to read was entitled, ‘The Little Engine.’ You may remember it. It pulled a great load, and every time it approached a hill, it said, ‘“I think I can; I think I can.’ And when it succeeded, it reminded itself, ‘I knew I could, I knew I could!’ That simple lesson of perseverance is worth remembering.”

 

Growing up in meager circumstances on a farm in eastern Kansas, Magrath said he was poor but never knew it.

 

“My father was a poor share-cropper and my mother a retired elementary school teacher,” Magrath said. “I learned to read by the light of a coal-oil lamp and to help my father with farm chores, especially the care of the horses. Until I was about 7 years old all of our farm work was done by horse drawn machinery. But I never felt like I was poor or deprived because my mother gave me a very precious gift – literacy – the ability to read and further to enjoy reading. That is a precious legacy.”

 

Reading changed his life, encouraged him to pursue education and broadened his small world.

 

“Make time for your children, read to them, spend time with them, even if they act like they don’t want you to,” he pleaded.

 

“I have traveled a long way from that rural Kansas farmhouse, and I feel that I have accomplished a few things along the way,” he said, “but only because I had friends and teachers who were willing to encourage me. While you have been students here at USAO, you have met some of those people. And you will meet still others as you travel the long and sometimes difficult road that will be your life.”

 

Magrath encouraged the 45 graduates and their families to respect the environment, to seek to understand how other cultures work, and to learn from other’s mistakes.

 

“Don’t just repeat the mistakes you’ve observed,” he said. “Can’t we make some new ones?”

 

Magrath defended genetic engineering as morally neutral. “It is not new technology that is either good or bad; it is what we as a society, and we as individuals, choose to do with these new technologies that will be good or bad.”

 

Through every complex issue he faces, Magrath said he embraces the following statement by Albert Einstein as a guiding principle in life: “The ideals which have lighted my way, and time after time have given me new courage to face life cheerfully, have been kindness, beauty, and truth.”

 

Finally, he offered an ancient Egyptian blessing: “May God stand between you and harm in all the empty places you must walk.”

Magrath joined the USAO faculty in 1972. he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in science from Emporia State (Kan.) University, and earned his doctorate in botany at the University of Kansas.

 

Friday night’s event was broadcast live on USAO Channel 18. Copies of the ceremony are available on DVD from the college at 574-1318.

 

President Dr. John Feaver presided at the ceremony, his fourth summertime commencement since being selected by the USAO Board of Regents to serve as the university’s 12th president.

 

The ceremony began with the traditional “Pomp and Circumstance” processional, performed by Dr. Stephen Weber, associate professor of music at USAO. Rev. David Woods, pastor at Parkview Christian Church, gave the invocation. Warren Roach, a senior from Chickasha, sang “Shower the People,” written by James Taylor. Roach accompanied himself on guitar.

 

Faculty selected outstanding graduates, who were introduced at the ceremony. Dominique Suzanne Evans of Chickasha was named outstanding graduate in the Division of Arts and Humanities. Randal Henderson of Anadarko earned the honor in the Division of Business and Social Sciences. In the Division of Education and Speech Language Pathology, Teresa Lynn Piazza of Moore was named outstanding graduate.

 

Dana Manning of Lindsay received the USAO Alumni Association’s Distinguished Graduate award, presented by Alumni President Pate Cave.

 

Manning earned her bachelor of science degree in business administration and graduated cum laude. She is employed with Morgan Stanley of Chickasha. She was named to USAO’s Hypatia Honor Society in 2004, and to the National Dean’s List. She finished her baccalaureate degree in three years, while working two jobs, and maintained a high grade point average.

 

“Dana Manning exemplifies the best traditions of USAO,” said Craig Elder, the faculty member who nominated her. “One of the signs of a truly great leader is not only their performance but the ability to make everyone around them better. Few students approach Dana in this respect.”

 

Dr. Dan Hanson, professor of music, led graduates and guests in singing the "College Hymn," accompanied by Dr. Stephen Weber on the organ. Hanson also performed the recessional, “Triumphal Procession” an original composition, on the organ. Members of the honor societies, Alpha Lambda Delta and Hypatia, served as ushers for the event.

 

Special guests at the ceremony included members of the USAO Board of Regents: Malyne Hilburn and Ed Hicks, of Chickasha, and Teresa Adwan of Tulsa. Other platform guests included State Rep. Ron Langmacher (D-Carnegie).

 

At the commencement ceremony, Feaver issued 25 bachelor of science degrees, 18 bachelor of arts degrees and two bachelors of fine arts degrees.

 

Receiving bachelor of arts degrees were:

 

Apache: Tiffani D. Oswald

Chickasha: Andrew D. Vaughan, Dominique S. Evans, Ron G. Akins, Ronald C. Watt, Tamara M. Hardway, Warren P. Roach

Fort Cobb: Terra Y. Fullbright

Lawton: Brad J. Battaro, Jodie S. Brown

McAlester: John S. Johnson

Newcastle: Charles B. McClain

Ninnekah: Scott D. Palesano

Oklahoma City: Lydia Franco, Shawn Nathaniel Clewis, Lindsay N. Webb

Tulsa: John H. Hardway

Receiving bachelor of fine arts degrees were:

Duncan: Adam P. Heilman

Oklahoma City: Matthew D. Meason

Receiving bachelor of science degrees were:

Anadarko: Jeremy A. Von Noaker, Randal G. Henderson

Ardmore: Jon A. Collings

Blanchard: Tiffany A. Hood, Charles N. Rogers

Chickasha: David N. Woods, Holly D. Sanders, Melissa K. Lightner,

Rachel Nicole Miller

Dibble: Jeremy D. McGaha

Guthrie: Heidi M. Leach

Lindsay: Dana L. Manning

Marlow: Tamra D. Cook

Minco: Alan Mock

Moore: Hollie B. Gauntt, Teresa L. Piazza

Newcastle: Russell S. Daily

Ninnekah: Chrystal M. Egbert, Julie A. Mellinger

Oklahoma City: Amy C. Barber, Michelle R. Freeze, Nataya M. Jones,

Amanda D. Moxley

Verden: Matthew C. Wray

 

OUT OF STATE:

Grandview, Montana: Elliot V. Magee