Commencement 2009: Grads Show Unique Mary Baldwin Character

May 24, 2009

Update 5/24/09:Confidence, compassion, and the promise to change the world for the better shined along with the sun on the faces of more than 330 graduates at Mary Baldwin University’s Commencement ceremony May 24.

Keynote speaker Karen Sherman, executive director for global programs at Women for Women International, endeared herself to the audience with her opening lines. “Even though you’re sitting out there, and I’m standing up here, we have something in common: all of us are about to start something brand new. You are about to start your post-graduate life. I’m about to deliver my first Commencement address. I’m sure you’re feeling what I’m feeling — a lot of excitement, mixed with just a little fear.” Through examples of women she has met through the organization’s peace-building social entrepreneurship programs in eight war-torn countries around the world, Sherman illustrated the power of women as agents of change here and abroad. “’One woman can change many things. Many women can change everything,’” Sherman said, quoting a favorite phrase of her colleague, country director for the Democratic Republic of Congo. Read Sherman’s full speech and more about her at

Here is a look at Commencement day through the eyes of a few graduates we profiled as they prepared for their big day:

The drive from Roanoke, Virginia, didn’t hold Judy Sgroi back from attending Commencement ceremonies in Staunton. She had been in the audience for her daughters’ college graduations, and today they grabbed a seat on the hillside, along with other family members, to watch their mom receive her master of arts in teaching degree. The students in Sgroi’s elementary school class may not have been in attendance, but they sent plently of well-wishes with her

PICTURE DESCRIPTIONTHINKING OUTSIDE HER CLASSROOM:WhenJudy Sgroidiscovered Environment-Based Learning — or EBL, a unique approach to teaching that is part of Mary Baldwin’s Master of Arts in Teaching program — she asked, “Why didn’t I think of that?” Soon after her first EBL class, Sgroi sent a note home with the children in her Roanoke, Virginia, elementary school class: “Please send your child with clothes that can get dirty and a towel. We’re going outside!” Her students have since rehabilitated a neglected pond on school grounds, and they consistently rate their outdoor time monitoring the animals, journaling, and applying math lessons as a top activity on periodic evaluations. Like many parents, Sgroi put her educational goals on hold to make sure her daughters made it through college; now they are working on advanced degrees in education, too. “Mary Baldwin’s standards are high, but I wouldn’t have wanted to earn a master’s degree from somewhere that makes it easy,” she said.

Serving for her final time as a class marshall, Cytha Stottlemeyer ushered most of her classmates through the line-up before she took her place to recieve her own dipolma. Graduating summa cum laude with honors and distinction in her major made her walk across the terrace worth the wait.

PICTURE DESCRIPTIONELECTION CONNECTION:Recent presidential election events seem to coincide with big moments in political science majorCytha Stottlemeyer’slife. She studied the monumental 2000 election in eighth grade (the year her school required civics), she turned 18 on Election Day 2004, and she was involved in the Democratic campaign and Young Democrats at Mary Baldwin during the historic election of the nation’s first black president in 2008. Stottlemeyer became one of the “go-to” people for informed comments during the election and inauguration, and she co-authored an article about women in local political office with professor Laura van Assendelft that was published in a scholarly journal even before she completed her undergraduate degree. The Pennsylvania native has enlisted to teach math in the Mississippi delta with Teach for America, before she applies to grad school. “This is may be my only opportunity to do something like that before other responsibilities come into play,” she said.

It took Alan Carter 27 years to earn his undergraduate degree at Mary Baldwin – sandwiching classes between raising children and entrepreneurism – but the hour or so from the start of Commencement to his name being called probably felt like one of the longest stretches. In the audience, beside other beaming family members, was daughter McCall Carter ’07, whom he proudly noted will be taking off in just days for a summer fellowship in India.

PICTURE DESCRIPTIONDAD GETS DIPLOMA:When his youngest daughter, McCall, graduated from Mary Baldwin University in 2007,Alan Carterwas a supporting character who took classes with her while still working on his long-time-in-the-making degree. Now he is the lead. “Our family story really shows Mary Baldwin’s commitment to educate people wherever they are in life,” Carter said. McCall skipped high school to enter the Program for the Exceptionally Gifted at Mary Baldwin, her mother earned a degree in the college’s then-new Baldwin Online and Adult Programs in the 1980s, and Alan will complete his undergraduate work after 27 years at Mary Baldwin. Carter actually began the pursuit of his degree in 1971, taking his time while working for the family lumber business and starting several companies himself. Several years ago, he founded University Instructors and continues to build the multi-state organization that pairs K-12 teachers with professional tutors. A self-confessed “education addict,” Carter just started thinking that Mary Baldwin’s new master of education would be ideal for his business experience.

Christie Hamilton traded her Fighting Squirrels uniform for the traditional black robe and yellow-and-white Mary Baldwin hood for Commencement ceremonies. Hamilton had just returned days earlier from an Mary Baldwin May Term trip to Cyprus, which was made possible by her earning a scholarship for study abroad.

PICTURE DESCRIPTIONBEYOND BRAINS AND BRAUN:“My parents said ‘You have to do what you have to do so you can do what you want to do,’” explainedChristie Hamilton, who was recently awarded as a scholar-athlete in three sports at Mary Baldwin University. Extracurricular activities — and there were many of them including piano, ballet, flute, and sports — were a privilege, not a right, for Hamilton when she was growing up. That mentality carried her through at Mary Baldwin, where her grades were not sacrificed for volleyball, basketball (in which she reached more than 1,000 career points), or softball. A recent inductee into Omicron Delta Kappa and recipient of the Melissa Mitchell Award for Study Abroad — which she used to travel to Cyprus during May Term — Hamilton plans to use her mathematics degree and education minor to teach middle school in Virginia or North Carolina.

There is no doubt that Elizabeth Dattilio wished one more person could have been in the audience for her graduation ceremony. It had been just over a year since the passing of her father, but Dattilio held her head – and her diploma – high and headed for a future that includes graduate studies in clinical social work, inspired by her father.

PICTURE DESCRIPTIONSHE SHALL OVERCOME:The unexpected and untimely death of her father could have crushedElizabeth Dattilioand shattered a promising senior year of college. No one would have blamed her for taking a break after such a heart-wrenching ordeal. Instead, Dattilio summoned strength and courage to turn the tragedy into a senior thesis that was selected for Mary Baldwin’s competitive Capstone Festival. She will present her final communication project, “I’m So Sorry:” A Thematic Analysis of Bereavement Support Communication on May 14; chances are she’ll add to other honors she collected during this trying year, including Outstanding Communication Senior and a slot on the Honors List with a GPA higher than 3.75. Coping with the death focused Datillio’s future plans on earning a graduate degree in social work at Virginia Commonwealth University to become a licensed clinical social worker

Ashley Mitchell made the trip from Richmond, Virginia – where she has been working with youth for the past few months and reently accepted a full-time position – to ceremoniously cap a challenging educational experience. Her excitement was evident on her face and in her cheers for fellow graduates

FIFTH YEAR SPELLS SUCCESS: Ashley Mitchellknew two important things when she began her education at Mary Baldwin: She was not a straight-A student and she was not straight. “My professors had faith in me academically, and I found that being an “out” lesbian was seen as a courageous thing at Mary Baldwin,” said Mitchell. “Without those factors, I’m not sure if I would have made it.” Mitchell needed a little extra time to complete her degree; she finished her classroom work in December and headed to the non-profit Richmond Organization for Sexual Minority Youth (ROSMY) in the state capital to fulfill her final internship requirement for a degree in social work. She was recently offered a full-time position there as youth programs coordinator and plans to stay with the organization. “I wish there had been a program like this when I was younger,” she said.

Images of the grads we profiled at Commencement 2009:

Visit for more information about Commencement activities May 22–24.