Simpson College held two historic commencement ceremonies Saturday, May 1 on the Indianola campus as three classes of graduates totaling 527 students received their undergraduate and graduate diplomas at a breezy Buxton Stadium.
Traditionally an indoor event, the 2021 commencement ceremonies were held outdoors due to safety precautions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. The graduates continued the tradition of passing through the gates in front of College Hall before processing to a socially distanced Buxton Stadium.
The first ceremony honored May and December 2020 graduates. The 302 students participating in the morning ceremony were unable to celebrate in person in 2020 due to the pandemic. The afternoon ceremony honored 225 students.
The various degrees conferred by the College included Master of Arts in Criminal Justice, Master of Arts in Teaching, Bachelor of Music and Bachelor of Arts. Every year, Simpson hosts a December commencement ceremony for mid-year graduates and a Spring commencement for students completing their studies at the end of the academic year.
Sam Adeniyi ’20 delivered the traditional undergraduate address at the 10 a.m. ceremony. The Roseville, Minnesota native double-majored in computer science and computer information systems and participated in multiple activities, including track and field, football, Black Student Union and TRIO.
Adeniyi’s family encouraged him to attend the nearby University of Minnesota, but his application was denied. He flourished at Simpson, graduating Magna Cum Laude. He is currently pursuing his doctorate degree in computer science from the same school that denied him five years ago – the University of Minnesota.
“Simpson provided me with exactly what I needed,” he said, “to reach heights of success I never imagined possible.”
Elizabeth Castillo ’20 delivered the continuing and graduate address at the 10 a.m. ceremony. Originally from Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, Castillo moved to Iowa in 2000 and earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Simpson in 2020.
A first-generation college student, Castillo didn’t speak English when she came to the United States at age 18. She graduated from Des Moines North High School and earned an associate’s degree from Des Moines Area Community College before enrolling at Simpson.
“As soon as I walked inside the building, it felt like home,” she said. “The staff and faculty have always been like family to me.”
David Robinson ’21 delivered the traditional undergraduate address at the 2 p.m. ceremony. The Amarillo, Texas native double-majored in music and English and participated in Simpson Productions, Black Student Union, Kappa Theta Psi and Student Government Association.
Robinson described his transformative journey at Simpson. At the start, he was unsure of himself and relied on the approval of others. By the end, he found comfort in doing what he loved and being with people he cared about.
“I have been an educator, an activist, a writer, an athlete, and a brother,” he said, “but most importantly, a dedicated member of my community.”
Lyra Halsten ’21 delivered the continuing and graduate address at the 2 p.m. ceremony. The Des Moines, Iowa native majored in interdisciplinary studies in arts management and participated in Simpson Productions. She is a member of Alpha Sigma Lambda and the 2020-21 Andrea Biklen Memorial Scholarship recipient.
Halsten didn’t go to college right away, unable to find a program in her area of interest – theatre – that was a good fit. When others doubted her, she used that lack of faith as added motivation to achieve her goals. She graduated from Des Moines Area Community College, then helped design a custom program at Simpson.
“Knowing people didn’t think I could be a successful college student angered me,” she said, “and a faint ember of determination to prove them wrong turned into a fire to prove it to myself.”
The College recognized six individuals with special awards, three at each ceremony.
The Trustees’ Academic Award is the ultimate academic recognition from the Simpson College Board of Trustees for outstanding accomplishment by an exceptional graduate. The award goes to a graduating senior who has been a resident at Simpson during at least their entire junior and senior years, possesses the highest cumulative grade point average and accumulated the greatest number of quality points of any member of the graduating class.
Recipients of the Trustees’ Academic Award were:
- Sara Lawson ’20, Spanish and mathematics major from Bloomfield, Iowa
- Kole Hicok ’21, computer science, music, and computer information systems major from Dallas Center, Iowa
The Distinguished Teaching Award honors a faculty member who is recognized by both students and faculty colleagues for outstanding ability as a teacher, concern for students’ personal development, ability to enhance high academic standards and support of Simpson College’s goals.
Recipients of the Distinguished Teaching Award were:
- Sal Meyers, professor of psychology (2019-20)
- Chad Timm ’95, chair, department of teacher education (2020-21)
The Staff Student Impact Award recognizes staff members whose efforts to mentor and challenge students to graduate exceed the scope of their normal duties. Students submit nominations and the recipient is voted on by a committee of students.
Recipients of the Staff Student Impact Award were:
- Russ Rivers, night security officer (2019-20)
- Rebekah Kimzey ’15, athletic trainer (2020-21)
About Simpson College
Simpson College is a private, liberal arts college located in Iowa with campuses in Indianola, West Des Moines and online. Founded in 1860, the college has 1,268 undergraduate and graduate students. Simpson offers 74 majors, minors and programs in addition to three graduate programs. Outside of the classroom, Simpson is a member of the NCAA Division III American Rivers Conference, hosts eight Greek houses on campus and sponsors many extracurricular options for student involvement.
Cathy Cole, Vice President for Marketing and Strategic Communication