Love and passion were a common theme during Midland University’s commencement ceremony on Saturday.

Moments after guest speaker Carlos Eire had encouraged the Class of 2013 to pursue love, Nick Carlson walked up on the Event Center stage, stopped Mikenzie Renning as she was about to receive her diploma, dropped down on one knee and proposed marriage.

Students and faculty gave a standing ovation for the show of love as Renning cried in joy as she accepted both the proposal and her diploma.

It might have been considered a risk, but it was one of the types of risks Eire had spoken of during his commencement address.

“The kinds of risks you should seek out are easy to identify,” he said. “They involve love and passion. They involve love and passion in some way: Love of others, love of certain ideals or goals, burning passions of all sorts. When you examine yourself closely, and you should take the time to do it, you will discover that you are defined by what you love.”

Pursuing something she loved – along with following in her grandfather’s footsteps – is something Kelly Cronin is doing. She graduated Saturday with a bachelor’s of arts degree in education and special education, and she already has a job lined up in David City where she will teach and coach dance and cheerleading.

Cronin is granddaughter of legendary Midland football coach Don Watchhorn, who watched the ceremony with his family in one of the Event Center’s suites.

“It’s very special,” he said.

Watchhorn’s daughter, Carolee Cronin of Fremont, echoed those feelings.

“There are not words,” she said. “It’s just amazing. I think it’s been a real motivation for him to see her and to know she’s walking in the footsteps he walked.

“I think she’s learned a lot from her grandpa,” she added. “I think her grandpa has been a real impression to her in many ways, as was her grandma. Kelly danced in high school so dance and cheer is a real natural flow for her. She’s so very excited to get started.”

It’s pursuing those things that you love and for which you have passion that creates happiness in life, Eire reminded the graduates. He should know. At age 11 he fled Cuba as one of 14,000 unaccompanied children airlifted out through Operation Pedro Pan. During high school he worked nights so he could continue his education. He went on to study and eventually write books on early modern European religious history. In 2003, he won the nonfiction National Book Award for Waiting for Snow in Havana, his memoir of the Cuban Revolution.

“You want to be happy? Pursue what you love. You want to be successful? Pursue your passion. You want to be fulfilled? Give yourself over to what you love,” he said. “… If you want to be really, really happy, give of yourself. Help those less fortunately than you.”

But life also is filled with failure.

“Failure can be a wonderful thing,” Eire said.

“If it weren’t for my failures and my painful experiences, I would not be here today speaking to you,” he added. “It’s a way of saying the risks I took brought me here. Failure has brought me to his podium, more failures than I can count. … These failures are my trophies.

“When you graduates get to be my age, maybe 40 years from now or so, you should count yourself very, very lucky if you have a long list of failures because most of those failures will be related to risks that you took.”

Pursuing your love might require settling for fewer material things, Eire said. But “never settle for less than what you love.”

Several honors also were presented during Saturday’s ceremony.

* Patricia Trautrimas, assistant professor emeritus of English, received an honorary doctorate in honor of her four decades at the university.

* Jody Riibe was honored with the Stephen E. Fritz Award for Excellence in Teaching.

* Jeremy Denogean was the John R. Prauner Award, the top honor given to a graduating Midland student.

* Dillon Stockton received the Petrow Award for outstanding male athlete.

* Jamie Thramer won the Bracker Award for outstanding female athlete.

* Jamie Simpson received the Excellence in Teaching Award presented by Midland students.