As Daniel Webster College grads ponder the future, so does the school

NASHUA – The Daniel Webster College class of 2009 is the school’s 43rd group to earn diplomas from the institution, and it may be the last to do so under current management.

Some 160 graduates marched into a giant white tent on the school’s soccer field Saturday morning to hear speeches and advice about the future.

But some graduates stopped to reflect on the recent past, in light of an announcement last month that their school will be purchased by the for-profit ITT Educational Services, which operates more than 100 technical schools across the country.

The sale, which is still subject to approval, would make Daniel Webster a wholly owned subsidiary of ITT, a company that plans to brand the school into a national chain of four-year schools.

Brian Tompkins, 21, a Greenland resident who graduated Saturday with an aeronautical-engineering degree, said the school’s initial e-mail about the sale was “a little shocking,” but that follow-up explanations from school leaders were helpful.

Daniel Webster will keep its name, for one, and ITT will invest $40 million into the school, which includes assuming at least $20 million of Daniel Webster’s debt.

For Tompkins, the plan stabilizes his four years of hard work.

“Our degrees could be meaningless if the school collapsed,” Tompkins said.

Several of his classmates, who gathered before the ceremony to line up in the gym, agreed.

“I’m happy for the school,” said Tyler Smith, a 23-year-old sport-management graduate from Moultonborough. “We’re in debt. We need a new dorm. We need a new gym. Having the extra money is the only way we can do that.”

“ITT is nationally known,” added Emily Coole, 21, a fellow sport management major from Littleton, Mass. “If anything, it’s going to strengthen our degrees and those of students after us.”

Ben Olech, 23, said, “there was definitely a concern” at first, especially since he had such a good experience at Daniel Webster.

“I love flying at the school,” said Olech, who earned his degree in aviation flight operations. “It’s a great group of people. I’d hate to see that go away.”

But then Olech said he talked with his professors about the plan.

“They said the flight program is what attracted ITT to Daniel Webster,” he said. “This is going to help. They’ll get new airplanes and new equipment.”

Fellow air traffic control graduates Morgan Morawski and Cara Jameson said the announcement didn’t bother them because they’re now leaving the school.

“I don’t care, as long as long as my degree is from Daniel Webster,” said Morawski, 22, of Simsbury, Conn.

She liked the school because “it’s small and personal. It’s like a family because our classes are so small. You’re not a number.”

“I’m happy I’m graduating now,” added Jameson, who lives in Nashua. “It’s the school I applied to.”

“For me, I’m glad to be going,” said Stephanie Zubricki, 22, of Brookline. “I wish the school well and hope everything works out, but I’m happy to be done before all the controversy.”

Not a peep about Daniel Webster College’s future was mentioned at the ceremony, in which 15 associate degrees, 17 master’s degrees and 130 bachelor’s degrees were awarded.

College President Robert Meyers encouraged the graduates to “drink in the attention and savor it” before asking the class to turn around and give their families and supporters a round of applause.

Salutatorian Andrew Plummer quoted a couple of Biblical passages and encouraged his classmates to think of others before themselves, and to serve rather than be served. Valedictorian Kerryn Schneider referenced “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” and urged the graduates make their own meaning of their lives.

Guest speaker Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, delivered an energetic message complete with anecdotes from his own childhood.

Then he advised the Class of 2009 to remember there’s always “so much more to know.”