Class of 2018 Steps into the Future

May 20, 2018

When this year’s graduating class entered Mary Baldwin University in 2018, the undergraduates were assigned the class colors scarlet and gold and the freshman orientation theme of “deep roots, bold future” — elements that remained linked to the class for four years.

The class colors tradition and the theme itself were not only a nod to MBU ritual and the university’s constant drive to look ahead, but also “deep roots, bold future” reflected the undergraduate student experience: gaining a sense of understanding and place, and then stepping into the world with confidence.

On Sunday, May 20, these students crossed that threshold — where the past meets the future — as they received their degrees during MBU’s 176th Commencement Exercises. As President Pamela Fox noted in her welcome, “In this moment, dreams are reality.”

Keynote speaker Lynn Pasquerella, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities told the assembled graduates, “each and every one of you being celebrated today occupies a critical moment of your present. You are literally hovering between the contingencies of the past and all the possibilities of the future.“

Pasquerella’s address, “Finding Success,” touched on the importance of a liberal arts education in today’s difficult political climate, quoting Emily Dickenson, Martin Luther King Jr., and Thomas Merton.

“Today, in a country in which partisan divides are greater than they have been in more than half a century, and in a world in which the oceans are rising and civility is plummeting … [w]e need to light up the danger and reassert the power of a liberal education in discerning the truth. At the same time, we need to face the fierce urgency of now and engage in dangerous altruism, recognizing that higher education and its graduates must play a leadership role in jettisoning a belief in the hierarchy of human value.”

More than 450 students earned their degrees this year, including undergraduate degrees for 123 in the Mary Baldwin College for Women. MBU also conferred graduate degrees in education; Shakespeare and Performance; health sciences; and, for the first time ever, business.


Individual students earning top honors that were celebrated on Saturday in separate ceremonies, also received mention at Sunday’s Commencement.

Phi Beta Kappa inductees were Cassandra BragdonAnnapurna ChitnavisNiranjana MenonMarianna MoynihanNicole Keen, Mary Ruth Wossum-Fisher, and Giselle Olivera.

For the first time, there was a three-way tie for the Martha Stackhouse Grafton Award, given to the graduate with the highest cumulative grade point average (GPA). Award winners were Cassandra Bragdon, Jennifer Eibert, and Corinne Weeks. All completed their degree with a 4.0 GPA.

The Outstanding Baldwin Online and Adult Award went to Bethany Popelish.

MBU’s Shakespeare and Performance program bestowed the Ariel Award for Outstanding Program Service and Leadership on Elizabeth Bernardo. The program’s Andrew Gurr Award for Outstanding Thesis went to Linnea Barklund.

The College of Education recognized Brittany Cage with the Outstanding Undergraduate Student Award while Kelsey Jarrett earned the Outstanding Graduate Student Award.

Melanie Rhodes received the inaugural Susan Nolan Palmer Outstanding MBA Student Award.

Murphy Deming College of Health Sciences bestowed the Nancy Morse Evans Leadership Awards on Heather Marie Bell, who received her bachelor of science in nursing; Jennifer Lynn Lewis, who earned her doctor of occupational therapy (OT); and Justin Walker Bennett, a graduate of the physical therapy (PT) program. The Linda Seestedt-Stanford Leadership Awards went to Jacqueline Marie Hrobak, a graduate of the physician assistant program; Ashley Elizabeth Bone, who was awarded her doctorate in OT; and Jaymee Lynn Dela Rosa Cruz of the PT program.


After a lively conferral of degrees, during which family members and friends — with great flourish — largely disregarded the often-ignored call to remain quiet until all names are called, President Fox helped close the ceremony, charging students to “pursue a new Renaissance of solutions for our world.”

Earlier this weekend, the Class of 2018 presented its class gift to MBU: an original sculpture by artist Becky M. Gismer, “Strong Roots, Bold Future.”

According to the artist statement, the sculpture “was created with pine tree roots and a variety of tree bark from different species of trees. It represents the coming together of individuals from different backgrounds to share in the common experience of growth and learning. The woman’s body has been sculpted into a confident, upright pose. She is looking out and beyond into the distance, envisioning the possibilities that lie ahead in creating a bold future.”