As a high school student in 1967, Richard Odell never had heard of Heidelberg University or Tiffin and never had been west of New York City.
A self-described under-performing student who easily was bored with academics, Odell said a choir teacher understood him and allowed him to go to the office each day to get the mail. While walking back one day, a Heidelberg catalog got his attention.
"College was not in (my parents') vocabulary," he said.
After applying and going through an interview, he learned he had been accepted. He said Heidelberg spoke to his heart and was where a dream met reality.
"Heidelberg helped me find myself," he said.
Odell, president of IMG Pendleton School and a member of Heidelberg's class of 1972, delivered "Expectations - The Intersection of Dreams and Reality" during Heidelberg's undergraduate commencement ceremony Sunday afternoon.
Odell surveyed the class prior to commencement and shared the findings. He said the graduates have direction, ambition, integrity and passion.
"You are not a selfish class," he said.
Odell told graduates to keep a personal and professional balance and make time to laugh each day.
"'Berg graduates are what the world needs more of," he said.
Jeffrey Meyers Jr., who received a degree in communication and theater arts, was the undergraduate speaker. He produced a film in memory of Maggie Kesling, a Heidelberg junior who was killed in a Hancock County accident in February. He said it included interviews of her close friends and acquaintances and showed laughter and tears from everyone involved.
Meyers told his classmates to think of something they want to do with the lives they own. He said their experiences will be the key to guiding them.
"Throw out the worry of where to go next," he said.
President Robert Huntington said 257 graduates were receiving degrees Sunday afternoon, which, based on the university's records, was the fourth-largest graduating class in the last 50 years. He said he believed the 344 graduates receiving bachelor's and master's degrees was the largest graduating class since the university was founded in 1850.
"Congratulations to the class of 2011," he said.
Kimberly Patterson, who received a bachelor's degree in psychology, said she is the first non-traditional student to attempt and complete Heidelberg's honors program.
She said she is going to miss Heidelberg, and officials were supportive from the first class she took there.
"I'm a completely different person now," she said.
Patterson, a 40-year-old Tiffin resident, said she was a shy child and never had a lot of self-confidence. She said she never thought college was for her.
Patterson, who got married right after high school and later was divorced, took care of her mother for nearly two years. Her mother died at the age of 53 in 2001 from complications of breast cancer, and she said it made her realize she needed to do something else.
"(I) didn't really know what to do for quite awhile," she said.
Patterson said she got called for jury duty in 2002, and the courtroom of Judge Steve Shuff of Seneca County Common Pleas Court was hosted on Heidelberg's campus.
She said as soon as she walked on campus, it felt right. She said she started studying education and loves teaching but fell in love with psychology.
"I knew that was what I wanted to do," she said.
Patterson remarried in 2008. After running into financial difficulties after two years at Heidelberg, she worked and enrolled at Terra Community College. As soon as she started classes at Terra, she learned she was pregnant. She gave birth to a son two weeks after the semester ended and returned to Heidelberg when he was a few months old.
She also has a son in college in Michigan, a son who is a freshman in high school and a daughter who's a senior in high school who plans to attend Heidelberg in the fall to study psychology.
"I would like (to find) something in social work," Patterson said.
Honorary degrees were presented to Odell and the Rev. Geoffrey Black, who spoke during the baccalaureate service.