On a gorgeous spring Sunday, Baker University graduates took the traditional last walk across campus behind the usual sounds of a bagpipe brigade leading them to commencement.
The weather was mentioned by everyone speaking as the university continued to celebrate its 150th anniversary. At the 1 p.m. commencement for Baldwin City campus graduates, the first of two on the day, Baker President Pat Long told the 200 honored they are special.
"What a day, what a beautiful day," Long said to those gathered in Collins Gym. "As beautiful as it is outside, it's just as beautiful in here. You are our successes. We all applaud you. Congratulations and a job well done.
"You are, and always will be, the graduating class in our 150th year," she said. "This is your day. It's a day to reflect. Just enjoy your day. This is your day, this is your time, this is your moment."
Michael Nolte, the author of "Burned But Not Broken," was the keynote speaker. Five years ago, he was trapped in a burning car on Interstate 70 after an accident involving a semitrailer that slammed into the back of a highway patrol car in Missouri. The trooper was killed, and Nolte was severely burned. It took years of rehabilitation before life returned to near normal.
"This is the strangest commencement address you'll hear in 150 years," said Nolte, noting that there's no way to know what may happen next, such as the accident. "You want to make God smile? Tell him what you're going to be doing next week."
Nolte went on to outline the tragedy and his triumph over it. He also said one of the reasons he wrote the book and speaks across the country is to inspire other burn victims to talk about their tragedies.
He wanted to inspire the graduates and to let them know that there will be lean times, but it will get better. People will help. He referred to a toolbox containing talents that everyone has and how those tools should be shared.
"Those that are for you will always be stronger than those that are against you," he said. "If you can get out of bed by yourself, suck it up, it's going to be a good day."
To conclude his speech, he revealed another item from the crash. He said experts say if he had been in the car 15 seconds longer, he would have been dead. Two people risked their lives to pull him from the fire while 75 others watched from a safe distance.
"What happened to me was like 'Mission: Impossible.' I've grown from it," Nolte said. "Thank you, Dave, and thank you, Machelle. Go make some waves, and share your tools."
One of the people who pulled him from the car was Dave Bryan, whose daughter Machelle Bryan was graduating.
During the 4:30 p.m. commencement for graduate students, the university conferred its first-ever doctoral degrees. There were 13 graduates that received doctorates in education. Baker is the only private school in the state that offers doctoral degrees.
The doctoral program, which is at the Overland Park campus, was started two years ago.