Wilkes University awarded 782 bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees at its 70th spring commencement ceremonies on May 20. The ceremony for graduate students receiving doctoral and master’s degrees was held at 10 a.m., while the ceremony for undergraduates receiving bachelor’s degrees was held at 3 p.m. Both ceremonies were in the Arnaud C. Marts Sports and Conference Center, 274 S. Franklin St., Wilkes-Barre.
The speaker at the 10 a.m. ceremony was Bernard Graham, founding dean of the Nesbitt School of Pharmacy at Wilkes. Graham, who is retiring at the end of the current academic year, helped to found the pharmacy school at Wilkes and has been its only dean. The school celebrated its 20-year anniversary in fall 2016.
Wilkes President Patrick F. Leahy addressed students at the 3 p.m. ceremony. Graduating senior Casara McLeaf of Fairfield Township, Pa., delivered remarks on behalf of the graduating senior class. She also was the recipient of the University’s Alumni Leadership Award for her contributions to campus.
Wilkes awarded an honorary doctor of humane letters degree to John J. Passan of Wilkes-Barre at the ceremony. Passan, a businessman and philanthropist, and his wife, Ann, gave a $3.3 million gift to create the Passan School of Nursing at the University. Passan greeted nursing students on stage they received their degrees on Saturday.
Passan founded Valley Distributing & Storage Co. of Wilkes-Barre. Passan is president of Pocono Downs and of the Passan Family Foundation. He has supported a number of charitable causes in the region, including previous support to Wilkes. A building that houses the office of the University’s dean of students, health and wellness services and residence life, also bears his name.
The following awards were presented to undergraduates at the afternoon ceremony:
Mabel Scott Wandell Award and Sterling Leroy Wandell Award —
The Mabel Scott Wandell and the Sterling Leroy Wandell awards are presented to the man and woman in Wilkes University’s graduating class with the highest grade-point average. This year’s winners – Erika Zarfoss of York, Pa., and Joshua Reightler of Bethlehem, Pa. – are the 57th and 58th students in the history of Wilkes to achieve a perfect 4.0 grade-point average
Erika Zarfoss earned the Bachelor of Science degree, summa cum laude, on her way to graduating with the Doctor of Pharmacy degree in May 2019. Zarfoss is the Pharmacy Student Senate President. She recently returned from a medical mission trip in Guatemala and will spend the summer at the Johns Hopkins Pharmacy Internship Program. She is the daughter of Adam and Jan Zarfoss.
Joshua Reightler graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree, summa cum laude, with a major in mechanical engineering. He received the award as the top academic performer in mechanical engineering. He is a member of the Alpha Lambda Delta national honor society. He has been president of ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers) for two years and has coordinated its successful car shows for the past two years. He is the son of Donna and William Reightler.
Teresa Jordan and Frank Mehm Prize – Shana Noon, Mahanoy City, Pa.
The Mehm Prize is awarded annually to the undergraduate who most nearly represents the ideal respecting moral courage, unselfishness, and noteworthy extracurricular participation significantly advancing the University on and off campus.
Shana Noon’s list of activities and contributions at Wilkes is noteworthy. She served as a resident assistant for three years and as a resident staff advisor for her senior year. As part of the Alternative Spring Break program, she made service trips to Costa Rica, Kentucky and the Dominican Republic; She participated in a four-week study abroad program to Tanzania, Africa, where she worked with mothers with low-birth-weight babies.
Noon recently presented with Wilkes faculty member Linda Winkler at the Global Health and Innovation Conference at Yale University where their project was selected as a finalist. Noon graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing. Noon also received the award as the Outstanding Graduate of the Passan School of Nursing. Following graduation she will work as a nurse at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital. She is the daughter of Heather Moss and Thomas Noon.
Alumni Leadership Award – Casara McLeaf of Fairfield Township, Pa.
The Alumni Leadership Award is given by the Wilkes University Alumni Association to the member of the graduating class considered to have made the strongest contribution to student life and the student activities program of the University.
Casara McLeaf has served as president of the Wilkes Chapter of the National Society of Leadership and Success. She has been a member of Student Government serving as a class representative and class vice president. On campus she has been an Adventure Education Coordinator, a resident assistant and a residential student advisor. She has been an e-mentor, a peer tutor, a volunteer for Women Empowered by Science and served as the Coordinator of the Lenten Soup and Scripture Series. As part of the University’s Title IX initiatives, McLeaf was a Bystander Peer Trainer, educating other students about ways to prevent sexual violence. McLeaf will serve this summer as the Adventure Challenge Coordinator at Bradford Woods in Indiana. She graduated summa cum laude with the Bachelor of Science degree with a double major in mathematics and computer science. She is the daughter of Michael and Theresa McCleaf.
About Wilkes University:
Wilkes University is an independent institution of higher education dedicated to academic and intellectual excellence through mentoring in the liberal arts, sciences, and professional programs. Founded in 1933, the university is on a mission to create one of the great small universities, offering all of the programs, activities, and opportunities of a large, research university in the intimate, caring, and mentoring environment of a small, liberal arts college, at a cost that is increasingly competitive with public universities. The Economist named Wilkes 25th in the nation for the value of its education for graduates. In addition to 43 bachelor’s degree programs, Wilkes offers 25 master’s degree programs and four doctoral/terminal degree programs including the doctor of nursing practice, doctor of education, doctor of pharmacy, and master of fine arts in creative writing. Learn more at www.wilkes.edu.