Commencement 2013: Faces in the Crowd

May 15, 2013

There are many paths to a college degree. Meet three soon-to-be graduates who will celebrate years of hard work and dedication Sunday at Mary Baldwin University’s 171st Commencement.

A Well-Rounded Leader  

Victoria Barrett will be the first in her family to earn a college degree. Though simply graduating wasn’t enough for this 21-year old international relations major from Chesapeake.

Victoria Barrett

For three out of four years at Mary Baldwin, Barrett earned the highest grade point average in her class. She is graduating with honors and is earning minors in history, anthropology, and leadership studies. She has been tapped for Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s oldest and most respected society honoring liberal arts students of genuine academic and personal accomplishment. She is well rounded — a member of both the Fighting Squirrels’ cross country and softball teams and is a top cadet in the college’s Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership (VWIL).

“Most of my memories [from Mary Baldwin] are centered around the VWIL program and the cadets that I have made life-long friendships with,” Barrett said. “The biggest life lesson that I learned is that even if you fall down and make a mistake, you have the ability to pick yourself back up and work toward redemption.”

While attending college on a four-year Army scholarship, Barrett earned the top Strength and Endurance Test score in her class. She is the top woman out of all the senior military colleges on the Army Order of Merit List. Barrett will commission into the U.S. Army as a second lieutenant. Airborne qualified, she has been selected to go to Rigger School with an assignment at Fort Bragg.

“As Commencement approaches I’ve become excited and nervous for the future,” Barrett said. “I am blessed to already have my first years after graduation planned out in the U.S. Army, but the unknown is scary. Mary Baldwin University, however, has given me the tools that I need to be successful as I move on into unfamiliar waters.”

Tenacity and Desire Help Student Beat the Odds

Tisha Blackwell-Carlesco‘s path to Commencement day looks nothing like she expected. When the 41-year-old Richmond resident crosses Barbara Kares Page Terrace on Sunday to receive her diploma, she will complete a journey she began as a “traditional” student at Mary Baldwin University in 1990.

Tisha Blackwell-Carlesco

“I am excited and feel a sense of accomplishment,” she said. “It’s something like crossing the finish line of a race and knowing that I have realized a significant goal in my life. In some ways, it almost seems surreal.”

Blackwell-Carlesco left Mary Baldwin after just one semester as a teenager. She eventually married and moved to Richmond but returned to Mary Baldwin in 2009 as a student in the Baldwin Online and Adult Programs. Soon afterward, her husband died unexpectedly. During this difficult and challenging time, Blackwell-Carlesco said she found “support, compassion, and encouragement not only from family and friends, but from my professors and advisor here at Mary Baldwin. The faculty took action, allowed me extensions to complete that semester’s course work and enabled me to continue with my program. This sense of community reinforced that I had made the right choice in my academic endeavors.”

Blackwell-Carlesco decided to pursue a business degree, which strongly appealed to her sensibilities in her work at Altria in Richmond. According to her advisor, Associate Professor of Business Catherine McPherson ’78, Blackwell-Carlesco has been a strong student and was able to access 12 semester hours prior learning credit for work experience and parlay a summer experience through the University of Virginia toward exemption for a Environmental Issues in Biology course.

“I have been a full-time student while working a full-time job for the past three years,” Blackwell-Carlesco said. “I am excited to have my time back — the greatest gift of all. Admittedly, I will miss the course work and the educational process of learning about topics such as religion, art, and science that are not always a part of my everyday educational opportunities.”

After Commencement, she plans to take some time off — pursuing her interest in art and catching up with family, friends, and her golden retriever — and then explore graduate school opportunities.

“We are all so much more capable of doing and overcoming challenges than we will ever realize. My confidence level since enrollment with Mary Baldwin has soared. I know that I can do anything I conceive and desire, and thankfully I have received a well-rounded liberal arts education that substantiates my declaration.”

Translating Scholarship into a Career

When Christina Ramirez returns to her home state of New Jersey after graduating from Mary Baldwin University, she’ll continue the skills she has honed as a social work major into a job with the Episcopal Service Corps program.

Christina Ramirez

“I will be a part of NEWARK ACTS, a service-learning program for young adults that will emphasize social justice, community service, spiritual formation, and communal living,” said the 22-year-old. “I will be able to express and use the education I have received at Mary Baldwin.”

Ramirez’s experience over the past four years has prepared her for a job that helps others. During spring semester, Ramirez worked in Honduras for her final field placement in international social work. One of the ways she helped residents of that Central American country was by motivating her classmates in Staunton to fundraise for a school mural project at a Honduran high school.

“An important life lesson that I will take from Mary Baldwin is to expect the unexpected,” Ramirez said. “I have learned to use all the resources I have and take full advantage of all opportunities that come my way.”

She has served as a campus tour guide, resident assistant, and a peer mentor to international students. She is a member of the President’s Society, Social Work Club, and the Phi Alpha honor society.

For demonstrating respect for all people and valuing diverse perspectives of others; engaging in service to the campus, community, nation, or world; effecting positive change; showing a commitment to diversity; and embracing all members of the community with compassion, Ramirez earned Mary Baldwin’s Global Citizenship Award for 2012–13.

“There have been many moments that have defined my time here, but I think the one moment that has really made a great impact was the moment I recognized my transformation while here at Mary Baldwin — the change in my wishes and goals that I had as a college student,” Ramirez said. “I went from being a normal college student to feeling empowered and wanting to do everything I could and strive for my greatest and best. Mary Baldwin has really allowed me to show my true potential and thrive as a woman and as a student.”