Family, friends and faculty celebrated the achievements of 238 Central College graduates on Saturday.

The class of 2019 represented graduates from 17 states who have completed 28,175 credits. The class graduated with 32 different majors, 42 double majors and one triple major. Thirty students were children of alumni and 81 students graduated at least one minor.

“This group of scholars has made a lasting impression on me and my family in their time here,” said Central College President Mark Putnam. “It’s been a privilege to get to know so many of you throughout our years together.”

The commencement speaker, Steven Van Wyk, a 1981 Central College graduate, was given the Honorary Degree in Public Service prior to giving his address, “The Measure of Success.”

Van Wyk shared photos of people who have made a difference in his life throughout the years, including his wife, Sheila, a former professor at the college, his family and more specifically, his mother. He also requested students send photos of inspirational people in their lives, and 130 students participated. Van Wyk shared a collage of the photos throughout his speech.

“I learned that hard work gets you places,” said Van Wyk.

Van Wyk’s hard work took him to Wall Street. In 2001, at the age of 43, Van Wyk survived the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, where his office was located on the 67th floor of the south tower. He explained that, for whatever reason, he felt he needed to purchase a new tie that day.

Moments after he bought the tie, the hijackers crashed into the north tower. 19 minutes later, a second plane hit the south tower, four stories above his office. Despite their efforts for evacuation, the company lost seven employees.

Van Wyk was placed in charge of recovery efforts of the business. The company temporarily set up in a make-shift warehouse and worked around the clock. To rally the team, Van Wyk had employees construct a bell that they placed in the middle of the warehouse. They hung an American flag above it and used the bell as a symbol of what they needed to accomplish.

“What I learned from that experience was that life is more about what you give than what you receive,” said Van Wyk. “It’s about serving others and being kind to everyone. It’s about helping those that can’t help themselves.”

In addition to Van Wyk, two other alumni received awards. Catherine Elwell, a graduate of the Central College Paris Program of 1971 and 1972, received the Honorary Alumna Award. Adam Gregg, a 2006 Central College graduate and now Iowa’s lieutenant governor, received the Distinguished Alumnus Award.

Emily Hawk can be reached at or by calling the newsroom at 641-628-3882.