Commencement 2011: Graduates’ Paths Reflect Diverse Mary Baldwin Community

May 16, 2011

Mary Baldwin’s graduating seniors always illustrate the many paths to earning a college degree. Meet just a few of the students who make the Class of 2011 unique.

Jackie and Brian Simmons

All in the Family: Father, Daughter Share Special Day

As they walk across Page Terrace on Sunday, Brian and Jackie Simmons will represent one of the rare father/daughter duos to graduate from Mary Baldwin on the same day. Jackie will earn her bachelor’s degree in studio art and teacher licensure through the Residential College for Women and Brian will receive his religion degree from the Baldwin Online and Adult Programs (Baldwin Online and Adult Programs).

Although her dad’s decision to attend Mary Baldwin initially took Jackie by surprise, she admits that as time progressed she realized how important it was for her dad to earn his degree.

“I feel much different than I did before,” said Jackie, an aspiring elementary teacher. “I think it is great accomplishment to finish school no matter where you go, how old you are, or who you end up sharing it with.”

Jackie’s parents — South Boston residents — are both Methodists pastors: her mother, Jeaux, is a hospice chaplain and Brian is a pastor at McKendree United Methodist in Halifax and Asbury United Methodist in Vernon Hill.

Brian’s graduation from Mary Baldwin is a pivotal step on his way to becoming ordained as a pastor. After Commencement, he will take graduate-level classes at Duke Divinity School through a program for United Methodist clergy. Jeaux is also pursuing a degree in religion through Baldwin Online and Adult Programs.

After graduation, Jackie will work as a horse wrangler on a Montana ranch. This summer, she will work with horses, lead guided tours, and teach guests how to ride.

Although Jackie and her dad have never sat in the same classroom together, they have shared a few professors in biology and political science classes. Brian almost relinquished his right of walking at graduation, but his daughter reassured him of her full support.

“This is Jackie’s day really; I am 30 years late,” he said. “However, Jackie encouraged me [to attend Commencement] and added that she thought it was weird at first, but now she thinks it is cool that we can graduate together.”

Quinesha Cruz

A Mind, and Job, is a Terrible Thing to Waste

For 21-year-old Quinesha Cruz, graduating at a time when high unemployment figures tick dangerously close to double digits was a major factor in planning her senior year at Mary Baldwin. In the summer of 2010, the Richmond native had received a job offer from the Department of Defense and she knew she couldn’t turn it down, even if it meant working full time while continuing to pursue her history degree.

“It was the kind of job I had been praying for for the longest time,” Cruz said. “Obviously it was a sacrifice that I had to make. I knew it would provide me with a job [after graduation].”

To keep her job as a government contractor purchasing parts for the U.S. Air Force, Cruz commuted to Richmond for work twice a week all through the fall semester while completing her senior thesis and juggling a full class schedule. When the semester was finished, she moved back home to work full time while taking the last two courses she needed online through the college’s Baldwin Online and Adult Programs.

Cruz, who minors in business administration and African-American studies, hopes her time as a member of the college’s Judicial Board, her acclaimed senior thesis about an unsung hero in history who helped dismantle Jim Crow, and her work experience gives her an edge when she pursues her ultimate goal: a law degree.

Great Day, Great-Grandmother

She’s a mother of three, a grandmother of three, and a great-grandmother of six. And on Sunday, Alice Colvin will shake hands with President Pamela Fox at the seasoned age of 80 to receive her bachelor’s degree in history.

Colvin started her uncommon academic journey in 1998 at Piedmont Virginia Community College — home to one of Mary Baldwin’s regional centers — where she received her associate’s degree in history. After taking a brief hiatus from higher education, she enrolled in Baldwin Online and Adult Programs in 2002. The octogenarian credits her desire to stay active as her inspiration to return to school so late in life.

“I thought taking a class or two would help keep my brain active and that I would learn something in the meantime,” Colvin said. “I enjoyed a lot of the classes and a lot of the professors. I didn’t think it at the time, but I am most proud of my senior paper.”

That thesis — reflections of Colvin’s experience growing up in Louisa County during the Great Depression — has been shared with family, church members, and many others in her community. Colvin is grateful for the support and praise she’s received from her family, which includes granddaughter Amanda McDaniel, who also studies at Mary Baldwin.

“My husband told me now that I have graduated I need to start looking for a job. Isn’t that what comes next?” she joked.

Jan Saxman

Degree Delayed but not Denied

Decades ago, marriage stalled Jan Saxman’s college career. She promised her parents that she would eventually earn her bachelor’s degree and on Sunday, at the age of 70, she will do just that.

“It’s a great feeling of satisfaction,” Saxman said of the milestone. “And it’s a marvelous statement to the grandchildren.”

Saxman’s return to college came at a time when she was able to step back from her family’s business, she said, “and take time for me to do what I needed to do.” The decision to major in political science came naturally to Saxman, who hails from a family that has long held an interest in politics and current events. Her son, Chris Saxman, represented Staunton in the General Assembly. She said her studies allowed her “to argue with Christopher with more fact, instead of passion.”

Saxman said she’ll miss the student experience, and thanks members of the faculty who encouraged her all the way to the finish line.

“‘You can do this,'” Saxman said one professor told her. “And darn it, I did.”