Alum to Graduates: Keep ‘Eyes Wide Open’

May 17, 2015

The threat of rain did not dampen the joy of graduates at Mary Baldwin University’s 173rd Commencement exercises Sunday morning on Page Terrace. In fact, the sun made an appearance during the ceremony, mimicking the joy of hundreds of family members and friends who came to celebrate the Class of 2015.

Christian Peele ’05, this year’s keynote speaker.

Keynote speaker Christian Peele ’05 — herself familiar with reaching milestones at a young age as an alumna of Mary Baldwin’s Program for the Exceptionally Gifted — reminded the soon-to-be graduates to be open to all the changes that life brings.

“Living with eyes wide open to what’s seen and what’s not seen yet, has been one of the greatest challenges of my life,” Peele said. “And, I’ve found, in all my adventures, that the specific work I do with my hands never matters nearly as much as much as the work I do with my eye — a mind’s eye that works furiously and intensely to see the here and now and the canvas that is yet unseen — the smoldering red of something new — the moving lines of a dream dreamed—the humongous frame that shows poverty, violence, and oppression reversed — so close our backs can almost touch it.”

Peele — the youngest person to earn a master of divinity from Duke University Divinity School at age 20 — worked on President Obama’s White House staff and now oversees development activities at one of New York City’s premier churches.

Sophia Stone receives her diploma from President Pamela Fox.

Before the graduates walked, several were singled out and honored for their achievements, including Sophia Stone, this year’s Martha Stackhouse Grafton Award winner — a triple major and cross country standout who is headed to the University of Washington next year to pursue an MD/PhD.

The college conferred an honorary doctor of humane letters upon Margaret E. “Lyn” McDermid ’95. The former Board of Trustees chair is chief information officer at the Federal Reserve Bank.

Bethany Zaiman and dean emeritus and professor emeritus of English Jim Lott were presented this year’s Algernon Sydney Sullivan awards, the top honors presented at Commencement recognizing unselfish service, noble character, and spiritual qualities.

For a group of grads in the Master of Arts in Teaching program, the day began on an especially sentimental note as classmate Brittany Baker received a marriage proposal from beau Brandon Cash while taking the class photo on North Court. (She said yes!)

At the post-commencement reception in front of the Administration Building, newly minted alumni rang the new 14-inch, 44-pound bronze bell — their gift to Mary Baldwin—and started a new campus tradition.


Commencement award winners:

Algernon Sydney Sullivan Student Award: Bethany Zaiman

Algernon Sydney Sullivan Non-Student Award: Jim Lott, dean emeritus and professor emeritus of English

Martha Stackhouse Grafton Award (highest GPA): Sophia Stone

Baldwin Online and Adult Programs Outstanding Student: Shawna Mills Franklin

MLitt/MFA Ariel Award for Outstanding Program Service and Leadership: Marshall B Garrett

Graduate Teacher Education Outstanding Student: Mariah Dittrich


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More information about the awards given at Mary Baldwin’s Commencement.

Remarks by Commencement speaker Christian Peele ’05.