September 28, 2022

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Brian Lenzmeier, president of Buena Vista University, presents Mark Shivers’ degree to his daughter, Jayne Bartrom; granddaughter, Aryah Bartrom; and her daughter Marzia Shivers. Mark’s son Devontay Naylor-Foy is not pictured.

Mark Shivers dreamed of earning a bachelor’s degree in social work so he could one day open a youth center for high-risk children. He was just a few classes away from graduating when he died suddenly on February 13. But Buena Vista University President Brian Lenzmeier saw the outpouring of messages about Mark’s character, integrity and service to others and decided not to let his dream perish, too.

Lenzmeier, along with BVU staff at the Fort Dodge campus, posthumously awarded Shivers this bachelor’s degree.

“After visiting people at the BVU who knew him and reading his obituary, learning that he was a Navy veteran committed to the people of his community, I concluded that he embodied the motto of the Buena Vista University “Education for Service,” Lenzmeier said.”The provost and I agreed together that he should posthumously receive an honorary bachelor’s degree. It’s not something we do routinely. We felt Mark’s case was particularly worthy of recognition.

Lenzmeier and Fort Dodge campus staff asked the children of Shivers, Jayne Bartrom, Marzia Shivers and Devontay Naylor-Foy to stop by campus where they surprised them with the diploma and a graduation party in l honor of Shivers.

“Both girls were very moved and grateful that others recognized the great qualities that Mark embodied,” said Jenny Shivers, Mark Shivers’ sister-in-law. “What’s extra special is that they introduced him to the girls on Mark’s late mother’s birthday. Tommie Mae would have been so proud of Mark. Ira and I said they had a double party in heaven that day.

According to Jenny and Ira Shivers, getting that bachelor’s degree was a lifelong goal for Mark – he wanted to do it for himself, but also to show his kids that if you work hard you can accomplish anything. Mark Shivers began his college career locally at Iowa Central.

“He loved school, enjoyed interacting with his instructors and classmates and got to know them very well,” said Jenny Chills. “He would bring treats and food to his classmates to celebrate their accomplishments. He participated in activities offered to student veterans and imparted his life wisdom to the younger generation on campus.

Mark Shivers then continued his studies at the BVU campus in Fort Dodge, where he continued to participate in activities and with other students and instructors.

“Mark was about to graduate at the time of his death,” said Lenzmeier. “His Academic Advisor, Sherry Wassom, informed Laura Newhouse, Director of Student Enrollment and Success, of his passing and expressed his sadness at losing such a sympathetic student who had worked so hard to earn a BVU degree, especially if close to graduation.”

Receiving Mark’s graduation is a proud moment for the Shivers family, but also a bittersweet moment as they celebrate his accomplishments without him and without the pomp and circumstance of graduation day.

“We would have been ‘this’ family at graduation,” said Jenny Chills. “He would have had a crowd of supporters, including his siblings, children, cousins, nieces and nephews, cheering him loudly on stage. Mark was a fixture in the Shivers family, a supporter of all, and he would have received a shower of love and support that day.

Mark’s family said they were touched by the outpouring of love and memories, including those of his college instructors and peers, but said they weren’t surprised.

“The amount of love and messages we received about Mark after his passing had us all wondering how in the world he had time to be a support for so many people,” said Jenny Chills. “I mean, so many people! The only way to respond to it was that he was incredibly selfless and gave his all to make sure others felt and knew their value and worth.

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