Angela Hotop. John Wilferth. Tyler Glaus.
During his Southeast Missouri State University commencement speech Saturday, Mayor Jay Knudtson invoked the names of the recently dead to make his point -- that life is priceless and sometimes fleeting.
"Don't ever forget how precious life is or how it can all change in a moment's notice," Knudtson said. "In the end, it's all about family and the friends you make."
John Wilferth, a Cape Girardeau native, died earlier this month at age 40 in Colorado following a lengthy illness brought on by a head injury sustained in a high-school baseball practice.
Angela Hotop, a 23-year-old Southeast Missouri State University graduate, died May 2 of a mysterious illness that began with flu-like symptoms.
And Tyler Glaus, an 18-year-old Notre Dame Regional High School student, died May 5 when a tractor he was helping remove from a small pond overturned, pinning him underwater.
Knudtson imagined Glaus may have been planning a college career with his parents before he died.
"Then, instead of planning a graduation, you're planning a funeral," he said.
The speech -- in a packed Show Me Center -- wasn't all somber. Knudtson thew in a few jokes and some talk about the university's collaborative efforts with the city of Cape Girardeau.
But in his speech -- the first at the university ever given by a Cape Girardeau mayor -- Knudtson said later he wanted the graduates to realize what's really important.
"I know a lot of speakers give advice about what the students need to do," he said. "But it's important for people to sometimes pause and remember what it's all about. I don't think we do that enough. I don't even do that enough."
The commencement ceremony saw 1,105 students graduate, including 960 undergraduates and 145 graduates. An honors convocation was held earlier Saturday, during which 259 undergraduate and 46 graduate students were honored.
Knudtson was also presented with the Vandiver Show Me State Award, which recognizes outstanding contributions to the university, the region and the state.
Board of Regent member Reginald Dickson, who also spoke to the students on behalf of the university, also spoke to the students about cherishing life.
"This is your day," he said. "Look at the person on your left. Look at the person on your right. Now take a deep breath. That will be among the sweetest breaths you take in your life."
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* 1,105 students participated in commencement Saturday-- 960 undergraduates and 145 graduate students
* At an honors convocation, 259 undergraduate and 46 graduate students were honored
* Leading the class of undergraduates were 22 with perfect 4.0 GPAs
* There were 13 honors scholars recognized in the graduating class
* Three students graduated with academic distinction in their major department
* Ninety-nine students graduated from Phi Kappa Phi, the oldest international honors society
* Thirty-two members of Omicron Delta Kappa, the national leadership honor society for college students, faculty, staff, administrators and alumni, graduated
SOURCE: Southeast Missouri State University