CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Tony Bonse said his four years at Wyoming Catholic College were the hardest yet most wonderful of his life.
Mercedes Sayler said she came back to the Lander college every year because of the “world-class” teachers.
Bonse, 22, of Casper, and Sayler, 21, of Fargo N.D., are among the 30 seniors in the first class to graduate from Wyoming Catholic College this weekend.
The college offers a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts and features the Great Books curriculum, which focuses on Western civilization’s most prominent contributors to philosophy, theology and other disciplines and uses texts such as Plato’s “Republic.”
Its program also includes outdoors experiences in partnership with the National Outdoor Leadership School.
The college has a dress code and restricts the use of such electronic devices as cellphones and televisions.
Before Bonse came to Wyoming Catholic College, he would text messages while people were talking to him.
“Now I can’t stand it if people are texting when I talk to them,” he said in a telephone interview.
“At the very beginning I had doubts about how I was going to get through,” he said. “I thought most people in the world couldn’t live without TV and cellphones and neither could I.
“But you turn it off and put it away and it’s easy.”
“It’s so much more peaceful,” he said. “My attention isn’t always being grabbed. I have time to reflect and enjoy the day.”
The great outdoors
Sayler said one of her best experiences at the college was the National Outdoor Leadership School wilderness trip into the Wind River Mountains.
“The outdoors aspect here is phenomenal,” she said. “We learned how to rock climb, all things about backpacking and good leadership skills.”
She said the theology and philosophy programs exceeded her expectations.
After Saturday’s graduation, Sayler will teach grades six through 12 in a private school at Front Royal, Va.
During the year she will decide whether to attend graduate school and earn a master’s in theology or attend film school.
“I’m very interested in both of them, which is kind of cool,” she said. “Theology is taught at school, but I also did quite a bit of work doing student films.”
One teacher put on a classic film series for the students at his house.
Bonse said the wilderness trek experience made him realize he belonged at Wyoming Catholic College.
“The outdoor experience was equivalent to the first time you realize you’re in love with somebody,” Bonse said. “That was the moment. This is my college. This is the place to be.”
The teachers, he said, were phenomenal and caring and invited students to their homes for dinner.
Bonse’s next step is to help a priest conduct retreats for Catholics in Rwanda.
After that he will either attend graduate school to earn a master’s in theology, take an extra year of Latin at a school in Rome or go into business.
Mark Randall, vice president for institutional advancement, said the college can only accept 30 to 32 students per year and is on track for a full freshman class next year.
The tuition is $23,000 per year.
The college uses Holy Rosary Parish in Lander as an interim campus and has movable dormitories.
The school also purchased a building downtown last year for a dining facility and student lounge and is renting a couple of other buildings for classrooms.
The college board of directors will finalize a strategic plan for a new campus this summer, Randall said, and probably will announce a master plan in the fall.
The hope is to construct a campus 15 miles south of Lander on land donated by Francie Mortensen-Perkins of the Broken Anvil Ranch.
The site, in the foothills of the Wind River Range, was chosen over dozens of other potential locations, according to the school’s website.
In addition to the scenic location, the college founders chose Lander because of the community’s support.
A “cornerstone committee” that included local businesspeople and other citizens donated $300,000 to the college.
The school is an asset to the community in ways other than the contribution to the local economy from students and faculty members, said Gary Michaud, grants writer for the city of Lander.
“We have these young, intelligent adults walking up and down our main street during the day,” he said. “These kids are all good kids. They have a positive impact on the community.”