Don't be a jerk, says actress Sutton Foster

By Rick Yencer

MUNCIE, IN  -  Actress and singer Sutton Foster delivered that wow that Ball State University President Jo Ann Gora always cherishes at the Ball State University's annual spring commencement at the historic Arts Terrace on Saturday amid a misty late morning.

 "Don't be a jerk," said Foster, a Tony Award winner and mentor of the "Circus in Winter" production that won Kennedy Center honors for the renowned university. "It just pays to be kind."

 Sutton, who got applause for her mention of television and Broadway work, was the top bill for the commencement that saw 2,950 degrees awarded amid more than 3,000 who attended the Saturday morning event.

 Others who got recognition included Bill Richards who has been BSU's tennis coach since the university was known only as a teacher's college, and philanthropist Leland Boren  who has given generously to numerous university and public school  programs and students.

 It was Boren who simply said changing the word can't to can opened so many opportunities to people. Boren also has been generous to public schools and is known for his pink barns that are landmarks near the small community of Upland.

 Among the celebrities in the audience were Sen. Richard Lugar, R-IN who was watching his newphew graduate. First gentleman, Roy Budd, Gora's husband, pointed out Lugar in the crowd and said he was likely to win the nomination on Tuesday.

Lugar has been in a grudge match with Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock who has Tea Party support besides some baggage over recent efforts to win the election at all costs. For Lugar, the election seemed like another universe as he sat with family waiting for their latest graduate.

 It was Foster who wowed he crowd with stories of her humble beginnings and then getting her big break on Broadway as an understudy and then a starring role. But the biggest role was the real one she played  on Saturday.

 "I never thought I would be a doctorate," she said. "I thought I might play one."

 While Foster plays pretend for a living, she considers her career as a passion and one that she cherishes as a modest girl who went from dancing ballet to acting on Broadway.

The actress also encouraged students to value relationships and work hard to achieve their goals.

 Young Thomas Pimmienta took all of Foster's word in as he waited for his brother, Alberto, to graduate with an undergraduate degree in telecommunications. He grew in Venezuela and now lives with his parents in Panama City, Panama. He agreed with Foster in that hard work and being nice to people would pay off in life.

 Kevin Easley, who earned a degree in secondary education, was walking always from graduation as he talked about his expectation for work in Indiana. Despite cuts in public education funding, Easley was optimistic that he would find a teaching job in the state.

 Over at University Library, graduation might have been a world away to Jessie Adams, an Indiana University graduate. Adams did not know who Sutton was or what she accomplished. As cars raced down McGalliard Road, toward Interstate 69, it was obvious the university and its economy was taking its summer break only to resume full schedule in August.