Just call her “Doctor” Wilma
(From left) SRU President Cheryl Norton stands with Wilma Cavill following the 2015 December Commencement Ceremony.
Dec. 12, 2015
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - After 57 years at Slippery Rock University, Wilma Cavill, assistant professor in safety management, would be the first to tell you that nothing much surprises her anymore. Today she got the surprise of her life.
Cavill, who serves as the University's grand marshal for commencement and other academic programs, and who has announced her retirement effective Jan. 8, 2016, was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Public Service during the University's Dec. 12 winter commencement ceremonies at Morrow Field House.
SRU President Cheryl Norton awarded the "surprise" honorary degree on behalf of the council of trustees and the University. "This honorary degree for public service recognizes the immeasurable contributions Wilma has made to Slippery Rock University and more importantly, the students we serve," Norton said. "During her tenure she has helped thousands of students discover and stay on the road to success."
"It was a monstrous surprise," said Cavill. "I had no idea this was coming. At first I thought they were just paying tribute to all my years of service. I certainly didn't think it would be this sort of thing.
"People kept telling me they thought something special would happen,'" said Cavill, "but I told them that Cheryl wouldn't break with an ancient ritual. And as it turns out, she didn't."
Cavill added that she was overwhelmed and humbled by the reception she received from the graduates and audience.
"I have loved my career and loved teaching," Cavill said. "This was truly an honor - not to mention I feel 100 pounds heavier and a few degrees warmer (because of the additional regalia)."
Born and raised just 20 miles from the University, in New Castle, Cavill began her affiliation with SRU in 1948 as a physical education major and member of the gymnastics team, serving as captain her junior year. The North Hall resident would also log time as the sports editor of The Rocket, the student newspaper at SRU.
After graduating, Cavill taught physical education in her hometown and received her master's degree in education from Westminster College.
In 1958, Norman Weisenfluh, SRU president from 1953-1964, invited Cavill to campus to talk to her about returning to the University. Cavill accepted a position supervising student teachers and as an aquatic specialist, and she never looked back.
Within two weeks of her employment, Cavill would being a six-year run coaching gymnastics, serving as head women's coach and assistant men's coach.
Lovingly known as SRU's 'elder statesperson,' Cavill has served under, and commanded the ear of nine presidents, (14 if you count all the actings and interims), pioneered women's athletics and has settled disputes as a faculty union leader all while educating thousands of students.
She was instrumental in the development of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, the organization that represents faculty and coaches, and has been a member since its founding in 1971. Her peers elected her president of the local chapter four times and she has served in a variety of leadership positions, including vice president and delegate to Legislative Assembly, state vice president and five years as a member at large of the state executive council.
SRU's council of trustees bestowed a Commendation of Service Award upon Cavill Dec. 4 as part of their quarterly meeting. Frank Brogan, State System chancellor, also issued a commendation recognizing Cavill's contributions as the longest service faculty member in the State System. Cavill was also awarded faculty emeritus status.
Those accolades are in addition to Cavill's past honors that include the SRU President's Award, Outstanding Woman of the Year and APSCUF Distinguished Service Award.
In addition to her campus leadership, Cavill has also been active in the community, including having served as grand wizard for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
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