Commencement 2006: Memories in a Stream of Words

May 21, 2006

Commencement 2006.A Sunday morning, sun streaming across the hillsides of Mary Baldwin, just the right temperature for May in Staunton, Virginia … The Stonewall Brigade Band playedPomp and Circumstanceas faculty and administration led those who were to graduate down the long steps from Hunt to Page Terrace in front of Grafton Library … President Pamela Fox welcomed and Board of Trustees Chair Louise McNamee greeted the assemblage; Chaplain Hunt offered the first prayer for the students in caps and gowns, tassels still on the right side…

Senior Aiysha Bethel could not be at the ceremony, but earning her diploma was a moment of almost inexpressible pride for her — and those who knew her at Mary Baldwin — because of what she had overcome to be in that place at that time to graduate: debilitating homesickness during her first year, the loss of her mother, leaving and returning to school…

Ellis Raiford, a graduate of the Baldwin Online and Adult Programs, knows about struggles, too. She transformed her own life through study of art, learning in the years preceding May 21, to pay attention to and appreciate the world in ways she hadn’t known were possible…

All 319 undergraduates and graduate students stepped into their future Sunday. They are not the same people they were when they first arrived at Mary Baldwin … Proud family, friends, faculty and staff, who had given so much to see the students to that moment, crowded the hillside to witness achievement and to hear alumna Charlotte Jackson Berry ’51: “My hope today is to challenge each of you to make a difference in your world in whatever your chosen profession or career may be. Time, talent, and treasure: It is possible to give all and to benefit personally from being part of the action instead of sitting on the sidelines.” … Commencement, the pinnacle college moment…

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Just the day before, campus was alive with celebratory events … Alpha Sigma Lambda Honor Society inducted high-achieving students in the Baldwin Online and Adult Programs. However, whether an adult student ever won an award or stood in an academic spotlight, each has earned highest respect and admiration for the special challenges she/he must face to reach the moment of graduation…

Margaret Ralston is one of those. Living in Highland County and with a disease that limits her range of motion and speed, among other challenges, she is on the doorstep of her dreams to work at a museum armed now with her degree in history and minor in historical preservation…

Another adult, Pat Dillon, 72 years old, was happy to earn her diploma before her grandchildren received theirs, and is still interested in continuing her studies … At Commencement, two pregnant adult students could not participate in the procession, but refused to miss their special moment. They were on Page Terrace to pick up diplomas earned by sheer determination and persistence…

A cadet receives her first saluteFive of 17 graduating members of Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership (VWIL), the only all-female corps of cadets in this nation, chose to commission into the armed forces in a special ceremony Saturday morning — congratulated by Lt. Gen. Robert Dail, U.S. Army … Therese Landin was one of those, now a Second Leiutenant in the Air Force. As the 2005–06 captain of the VWIL corps and also the college’s graduating senior with the highest GPA, she earned the award as top Air Force cadet (among those at Mary Baldwin and Virginia Military Institute). Her father, a retired member of the U.S. Army, gave her a proud first salute. She graduated Sunday, marries next week, and reports to the Maxwell Air Force Base for pilot training next…

Near midday on Saturday, graduating seniors and families gathered for champagne brunch and the 2006 class photo (the same photo that will make those in the photograph wonder, years later, what they had been thinking that day…

the colorful garb of Ajani is displayedOn the lawn of historic Rose Terrace, students celebrated multicultural campus life in a heartfelt and colorful event called Ajani. Alumna Tamika Jones Call ’04 was to deliver a challenge to seniors, but she was hospitalized the day before. The challenge, however, was still delivered — by Christian Peele ’05, who drove from North Carolina just hours before to be here to tell Ajani women that “you can do what you fear.” She also challenged them to “listen for unexpected words from unexpected people that can change your life.” Awards that mean so much to the students who give and receive them crowned the event…
Students celebrate at the VWIL Change of Command ceremonyContinuing up and over the very top of the hill, we could look down on the precision parade expertise of VWIL in a can’t-help-it-there-is-a-lump-in-my-throat ceremony where command of the corps passed from this year’s captain (Landin) to next year’s (Kerianne O’Connell) – the saber as a symbol of continuity of student leadership … Cadet and graduating senior Brianna “Spam” Salmon was among those on the field, probably not aware of the respect she has earned from so many, for her quiet, get-the-job-done attributes which shone when she created the first-ever honor guard last year to serve at the memorial service of Air Force 1st Lt. Sarah Small, the first VWIL cadet killed in the line of duty. “Spam” (she likes the stuff) transferred to Mary Baldwin as a junior and will likely seek environmental work in forestry, perhaps…

Back to the top of the hill at Hunt Gallery (graduating seniors have mastered the cross-campus trek) to the home of the PEGs (aka Program for the Exceptionally Gifted students) for a reception in honor of the 15 graduating seniors of PEG, 12 of whom earned honors degrees, latin honors, and/or distinction in major. They are the youngest of all Mary Baldwin graduates because they started college as 12-, 13-, 14-, or 15-year olds. Ziggy (that’s Nzinga Salcedo-Hutchison to you) may have traveled farthest to reach this point, starting out in her native Colombia. The next day at Commencement, she was awarded the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award for unselfish service, noble character, and spiritual qualities, as well as a diploma markedcum laude. She’s 18 years old … Another student who came to Mary Baldwin through the PEG program, Samantha “Sam” Sprole was one of 13 students inducted into Phi Beta Kappa Saturday. The very official ceremony was tempered for just a moment with the demonstration — for initiates only — of the organization’s secret handshake…

Late in the day, it grew quiet on campus as seniors withdrew to prepare for Commencement Ball that night and the ear-splitting vibes of the band Back to Zero…

Some students weren’t sure they really wanted Sunday to arrive, but it did…

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For Rick Blunt, it was a dream realized as he walked forward to be hooded signifying his Master of Letters in Shakespeare and Renaissance Literature in Performance AND the terminal, or highest degree in this field, the Master of Fine Arts. When Rick arrived to begin this course of study, he was one of those individuals who followed his gut, no matter what. He told us that for him, the program was a necessity. He will begin auditions wherever a theatre seeks actors for Shakespearean productions…

Commencement ceremony continued, robed faculty witnessing all as graduates responded to the Commencement litany led by president of the senior class of the Residential College for Women, Melissa Baldwin. Everyone stood to sing God of Grace and God of Glory; awards were announced and presented; Mary Baldwin’s friend, alumna, and Commencement speaker Charlotte Berry ’51 spoke, inspired …

Diplomas were conferred. Sounds simple. What it took to get there was anything but simple for each and every student. Did Cara Magolda, who graduatedsumma cum laude, forget — just for the second it took her to take her diploma and shake Dr. Fox’s hand — that she had received an engagement ring just a few days before (the future visible on her hand even as she stood in the present)…

Kellie Warner ’90, incoming president of the Alumnae/i Association, welcomed all graduates to the very select membership of just under 13,000 living alumnae/i of Mary Baldwin University as they were invited to move their tassels from right to left side. Tears were brushed away and voices wobbled as Kellie Knox ’06 ledA Hymn for Mary Baldwin

It was almost over — all that was left was a much-anticipated Mary Baldwin ritual, where faculty line the sides of the stairway leading back up to Hunt, so graduates may walk between them, past them, beyond them. Memories flooded the campus … Commencement 2006 was done. Proudly.

Related Commencement 2006 articles:
Commencement Awardees
Honorary Degrees Surprise, Delight
Berry Addresses Volunteerism
Glimpses of Commencement 2006