Graduates Share Stage with Dame, Dog

May 16, 2004

The clouds cleared after a rainy dawn in time for hundreds of family and friends to blanket Page Terrace to watch Mary Baldwin University grant 325 degrees — a near-record total — in Commencement ceremonies Sunday, May 16.

The event was packed with highlights, including the presentation of an honorary degree — her first from an American college or university — to Dame Judi Dench, the accomplished British screen and stage actress. During the ceremony, the Oscar winner helped drape ceremonial hoods over the college’s first master of fine arts graduates in Shakespeare studies. The three women who earned MFA degrees, considered the final degree in the field, were among the first to receive master of letters degrees in the unique program a year ago.

Claire “Yum” Lewis Arnold ’69, chair of the college’s Board of Trustees and a prominent businesswoman who mentors young women, was also awarded an honorary degree — much to her surprise. “One of the greatest pleasures in my life, in addition to my family, is my relationship with Mary Baldwin,” said an emotional Arnold. “This means so much.”

Among the more than 270 undergraduates receiving degrees was Angela Woolf, who walked with Writer, the seeing-eye dog that has been at her side for all four years at the college, to receive her degree. Woolf, a communication and sociology double major who graduated with distinction in communication, received her diploma and Writer was given a certificate of service, a bone, and a Mary Baldwin dog collar.

A record 39 students earned a master of arts in teaching, Mary Baldwin’s other graduate degree. They included Andrew Frye, whose wife, Laurie, received her bachelor’s degree the same day. The largest total number of degrees, undergraduate and graduate, was 341 in 1999.

On a more solemn note, many graduates pinned yellow and purple ribbons (senior class colors) to their robes in memory of classmate Grace Brooks, who died in a sledding accident on campus in December 2002. The school was devastated by her loss, and students, faculty and staff remembered her during a service in the days following the accident.

The Commencement speaker, Louise Rossett McNamee ’70, urged the graduating class to continue to be kind — “You will be happier for it, and the world will be better for having you in it.”

McNamee, a veteran New York advertising executive who is one of the most recognized women in her field, said she hoped it would not take graduates as long as it did for her to realize the true benefit of a Mary Baldwin education: “You haven’t been educated in order to have a successful career — although I’m sure you will — you’ve been educated so that you may have a successful life. And there is a world of difference.”

“Yes, you’ve learned about many different and quite specific things, but what you’ve also learned is how to learn, how to analyze, how to evaluate, how to be engaged in the life-long adventure of the intellect — how to be your own person with your own point of view,” McNamee added.