ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI) – Friday, Washington University said goodbye to thousands of graduates, a med-school couple and the man behind decades worth of commencement ceremonies.
Students filed into their seats. Families craned over each other with digital cameras and cell phones. The band played.
"Really, this day is the result of a grand conspiracy of love,” said Newark, New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker on Commencement Day 2013 at Washington University.
"So many people came together to make this day so special for the graduates,” he announced at the podium.
On behalf of the 2,800 graduates, Booker thanked faculty, staff and others he said do not get thanked enough.
"So, I want to give my thanks to all the people at this university who served the food to our young people, who cleaned floors and bathrooms,” the crowd cheered.
"Everybody on the campus commits to it,” said Commencement Director Jim Burmeister. "The person pulling the weeds in the flower beds, the person putting up the chairs, the person painting or whatever is going on. They are doing it because they really want it to look great."
After forty decades, he directed his final commencement. Chancellor Mark Wrighton thanked Burmeister and asked for the over 15,000 students and families to recognize his work. But, the director was in the middle of the action. He was not seated, enjoying the attention. You could see him pacing the aisles, still helping families find seats.
“We already have the best faculty, the best students,” he pointed out. “Why not give them the best ceremony.
This is yet another celebration for two med school students.
"We met in anatomy lab, and we got married Valentine's Day,” Somalee Banerjee rolled her eyes. “Awww, I know. This year."
She crossed the stage behind her husband and School of Medicine Marshal, Ignacio Beccera-Lisha. He could not decide which looked better on Banerjee, her wedding dress or her graduation robe.
"I'm very proud of her today,” he laughed. “On our wedding day, she just looked absolutely gorgeous. So, two very different emotions right now."
Ignacio’s father, Jose, looked on.
“I am very proud of them both.”
Later, several community leaders received honorary degrees. That included the co-founder of the Matthews-Dickey Boys’ and Girls’ Club, Martin Matthews and philanthropist Marilyn Fox. First, Burmeister left Banerjee, Beccera-Lisha, and the thousands of other graduates with some advice.
"Go out and have a good life, and use your education, because they will,” he said. “They don't think about it but they really do."
Booker challenged graduates to pay for what he called a “First Class” life.
"Have it as a challenge to pay with love, to pay with kindness, to pay with decency.”