Weddings, births, college graduations. There aren’t many occasions that trump college commencement ceremonies in terms of sheer happiness—for the graduates as well as their families. For some it’s been smooth sailing, while others have encountered a rocky place or two, but—for all of them—the official recognition that their hard work is paying off with a diploma is a moment to be wondered at, savored and celebrated.

In the following pages, you’ll meet some of the Longwood students who have completed their degrees in the past year, most of them this May but some in August and December of 2016. They’re heading off to jobs as auditors, middle-school math teachers and professional athletes; or to graduate programs at institutions including Brandeis, Gallaudet and Dartmouth.

Their destinations are varied, but this year’s graduates seem to have at least one thing in common—their love for Longwood and its people, traditions and opportunities. Faculty and staff who encouraged and supported them. Friends who studied and partied with them. Yellowstone, PRISM, the Big Event, Greek life, CHI, Big Siblings, Relay for Life, athletics— the complete list is much too long to include here.

Meghan West (pictured above right), a communication sciences and disorders major from Powhatan, not only participated in 14 organizations and volunteer activities but also studied abroad in Spain, was a member of the Honors College, conducted research and served an internship with an audiologist in Richmond.

“Each organization and volunteer activity holds a special place in my heart, and without them I don’t know where I’d be today,” said West, who is going on to graduate school at West Virginia University. “I came to Longwood very shy and not knowing a lot of people, but these experiences got me out of my comfort zone.”

Susie Strong also was transformed at Longwood. “Honestly I wouldn’t be where I am without Longwood,” said Strong ’16, a middle-school English teacher who earned a graduate degree in reading, literacy and learning this May. “I was not the student I am now in my high-school years. Longwood made me find my potential and live up to it.”

Keaton Unroe, a biology major from Clifton Forge, may have spent more time in the research lab than any of his fellow graduates: seven semesters and two summers. It’s no surprise that he will soon enter a Ph.D. program in translational biology, medicine and health at Virginia Tech.

“I love the opportunities that Longwood has offered me,” he said. “The professors here have helped me to achieve more than I ever imagined.”

Taylor Aherron

Hometown: Alton
Major: Business with a concentration in management and a supply chain endorsement
What’s next: Special events program coordinator
Where: City of Danville
Off to the races: Taylor’s internship at Virginia International Raceway opened many doors and showed her how the racing industry works “from the inside.”
Change of plans: “I had thought that I wanted to work in a big company. After completing my internship at a smaller company where the employees work closely together on projects, I now prefer the family-type atmosphere of a small company.”
Couldn’t have done it without: Melinda I. Fowlkes, assistant business dean; Dr. Charles D. White and Dr. Paul T. Barrett, business faculty. “They always had strong words of encouragement to help push me further in life and in classes.”

Zach Fasana

Hometown: Springfield
Major: Biology with a biomedical health concentration and chemistry minor
What’s next: Ph.D. program in molecular and cellular biology
Where: Dartmouth College
Talk to the animals: Zach learned many diagnostic and medical techniques while interning at Noah’s Ark Animal Hospital.
Science and barbecue: Zach traveled to Memphis to present his findings at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research. He will always remember the experience and the food.
Couldn’t have done it without: Dr. Amorette R. Barber, biology faculty. Dr. Barber spent a considerable amount of time and effort expanding my understanding of immunology, providing me with career-related insight and referring me to her friends and colleagues, who shared their experiences with me. It was through her encouragement and her love for scientific research that I was able to conjure up the confidence to share my results with others and develop as a scientist.”

Chappell

Amanda Chappell

Hometown: Zuni
Major: Psychology, with a concentration in health education
What’s next: Master’s program in experimental psychology
Where: Radford University
Watch your language: Amanda’s senior seminar research project explored the effects of inappropriate language and perceptions of authority on stress levels.
Psychology of warfare: While abroad for a summer in England, Belgium and the Netherlands, she studied the psychology
of warfare and terrorism.
Volunteer extraordinaire: Here’s the list: Vice Presidential Debate, Virginia Children’s Book Festival, Farmville food pantry, Habitat for Humanity, Longwood Red Cross, the Big Event, Race Street Baptist Church (tutor) and Prince Edward Middle School science day.

Emily Spittle

Hometown:Warrenton
Major: Graphic design with a concentration in brand, identity and media design
What’s next: Layout designer
Where: Allen Wayne Design Studio, Vint Hill
Lessons in a London fog: Emily studied abroad in London, focusing on Identity Through Art.” “It was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I still think back on the lessons I learned and often ponder how identity is shown today.”
Mad Men, the next generation: As a senior art director in Longwood’s Design Lab, she honed her skills as a designer and built her portfolio— all contributing to the successful launch of her career.
Couldn’t have done it without: Wade Lough and Chris Register, graphic and animation design faculty. “They never let me get away with the easy way out and taught me to always have a reason behind my design choices.”

Sabrina Walker

Hometown: Cullen
Major: Mathematics with a concentration in secondary education and a minor in business
What’s next: Math and Algebra I teacher
Where: Cumberland County Public Schools
Oh, the places you’ll go: Sabrina studied International Math History in Greece with Longwood faculty. “Traveling to Greece held a lot of firsts. First airplane ride, first time away from home for more than three days, first time out of the country and many more.”
A push in the right direction: “I am sure that if I had not applied for PRISM or senior honors research (with Dr. Leigh Lunsford’s encouragement), I would be just another individual going year to year without ever challenging myself to do more and believing that I didn’t have what it takes.”
Couldn’t have done it without: Dr. Thomas Wears, mathematics faculty; Charlene Gaines-Cook, Cormier Honors College staff. “At the end of the day, I knew Dr. Wears had my back. I liked to call Mrs. Gaines-Cook my ‘campus mom’ because she always encouraged and checked up on me.”

Keith Crisp

Hometown: Fredericksburg
Major: Chemistry with minors in physics and criminology
What’s next: Assistant scientist
Where: Pharmaceutical Product Development, Richmond
Out-of-country experience: Costa Rica opened up a new world for Keith. “It was a great experience to visit a country that works so differently from the United States and is also so naturally and physically different.”
Couldn’t have done it without: Dr. Sarah Porter, chemistry faculty. She guided me through three semesters of research and taught me most of the chemistry skills I now possess.”

Mariah Johnson

Hometown: Richmond
Major: Nursing with a minor in health education
What’s next: RN in a Trauma Step Down Unit
Where: Chippenham Hospital, Richmond
The mark of Yellowstone: “I not only learned so much about nature, the communities and the heritage, but I also learned a lot about myself through our times of self-reflection and journaling.”
Couldn’t have done it without: Jo Ann Davis, nursing faculty. “She has been an advocate for all nursing students and has supported me throughout my time as president of SNA [Student Nursing Association].”

Keaton Unroe

Hometown: Clifton Forge
Major: Biology with minors in neurostudies and chemistry
What’s next: Ph.D. program in translational biology, medicine and health
Where: Virginia Tech
Rain forest adventure: “I researched the perceptions and awareness of mental health in the Peruvian Amazon. This experience showed me my love for traveling and gave me a new lens through which to view the world.
Home sweet home: For at least the last two years, you were sure to find him in the third-floor lounge in Wheeler surrounded by friends.
Couldn’t have done it without: Dr. R. Adam Franssen, biology faculty. He taught me skills and techniques that are commonplace in neuroscience labs, exemplifying what it takes to be a great scientist, mentor and professor.”

Finnlay Wyatt

Hometown: Sheffield, England/Midlothian
Major: Computer science
What’s next: Richmond Kickers professional soccer team
You know him as No. 8: Finnlay, a member of the Longwood men’s soccer team for three years, was named to the 2016 Big South All-Academic Team. “To be able to pull on a Longwood jersey and represent the school fills me with an immense sense of pride.”
CRUD is a good thing: Finnlay completed an internship for Proseal America, where he did PLC programming and worked with CRUD databases. (CRUD—which stands for create, read, update, delete—refers to all of the major functions that are implemented in relational database applications.)
Couldn’t have done it without: Dr. Robert Marmorstein, computer science faculty. “Dr. Marmorstein helped me by being so open and flexible, allowing me to compete on the field to the best of my ability while giving me every opportunity to challenge myself and learn in the classroom.”

 

Susie Strong

Hometown: Ashburn
Major: Reading, literacy and learning (graduate program)
What’s next: English teacher
Where: Trailside Middle School, Loudoun County
Tough love:When her first student teaching assignment placed her with a group of boys struggling with behavior issues, she found she had a “love and strength” for behavior and classroom management.
Kudos to Longwood: “Honestly I wouldn’t be where I am without Longwood. Longwood made me find my potential and live up to it. The professors actually get to know you and push you to be the best you can.
Couldn’t have done it without: Dr. Robin Smith and Dr. Gena Southall, secondary English education faculty. “They were advocates for me and pushed me into leadership roles where I built up my confidence as a teacher and as a student.”

Kyle Perka

Hometown: Sterling
Major: Business with concentrations in accounting, finance and real estate
What’s next: Assurance associate
Where: RSM US, McLean, an audit, tax and consulting firm that is a member of the global accounting network RSM International
Good work: Kyle completed an internship in accounts payable with Paralyzed Veterans of America. “This let me put my knowledge into practice and gave me the feeling of creating a true impact with my work.”
It’s not easy being green: A program in Costa Rica taught Kyle lessons about sustainability and the workings of a tourism-based economy.
Couldn’t have done it without: Claire LaRoche, business faculty. “Her assistance has helped me move forward in my academic, professional and personal life.”

Denissa Bianca De Leos

Hometown: Springfield
Major: Communication sciences and disorders
What’s next: Clinical Doctor of Audiology program
Where: Gallaudet University
So much to do: She tutored fellow students, played club tennis, served as president of the Asian American Student Association and was a member of the Student Diversity and Inclusion Council and several other student organizations. “Being highly involved on campus has not only helped me become a better Lancer but also has given me opportunities to help others.”
Couldn’t have done it without: Dr. Lissa Power-deFur, Wendy J. Pulliam, Dr. Shannon Salley and Dr. Ann Cralidis, communication sciences and disorders faculty. “They excelled at making me feel like an important part of Longwood as a whole.”

Lorin Hope Turner

Hometown: Moneta
Major:Theatre
What’s next:Tour actor /director
Where: Missoula (Montana) Children’s Theatre
The lure of greasepaint: Looking for Lorin? There was one place you’d be sure to find her—in the Center for Communication Studies and Theatre. “I was there all day every day, running lines, helping with props, doing whatever I could to be in the theater.”
Multiple personalities: Lorin appeared as Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as Mrs. Drudge in Real Inspector Hound, as Antigone in the Greek tragedy, as Lucy in You're a Good Man Charlie Brown and as Annie in Table Manners.
Couldn’t have done it without: Bruce Speas and Dr. Ronda Scarrow, theatre faculty. “Bruce encouraged me to develop my talent. He believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. Ronda taught me so much about how to work with students and how to be a decent human being.”

Leah Parr

Hometown:Yorktown
Major: Choral music education and piano performance with a minor in voice
What’s next: Master of Music program in collaborative piano
Where: LSU, Baton Rouge
Sound heard around the world: A study abroad program took her to the Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique in Paris. “It is the leading, government-funded sound and music research facility in France and allowed me to collaborate with musicians from around the world.
Couldn’t have done it without: Lisa B. Kinzer, music faculty. “She is an example of the type of music teacher and collaborator that I aspire to be in the future. She most definitely changed my life.”

Laura Fricker

Hometown: Chester
Major: Liberal studies with a concentration in special education
What’s next: Master of Education program in special education
Where: Longwood University
Reading is fundamental: Laura is already a readingintervention teacher at Prince Edward County Elementary School, where she works with kindergarten students struggling to learn to read.
A night at the library: “One of my favorite memories was sitting in Greenwood Library at 1 a.m. during finals week of junior year with all of my friends. People were in pajamas, people were ordering pizzas. Everyone was tired, everyone was stressed, but we all knew we were going to make it together.”
Couldn’t have done it without: Dr. Gena Southall, liberal studies faculty. “Dr. Southall was always pushing me to achieve more and be the best teacher I can be.”

Dillon Yonker

Hometown: Virginia Beach
Major: Criminal justice and sociology
What’s next: M.S. program in higher education/student affairs
Where: Florida State University
Work, work, work: In addition to his studies, Dillon will be working as a graduate assistant in Florida State’s Student Disability Resource Center.
With a gavel in his hand: Dillon was president of the Student Government Association this year.
The Big Reveal: Internships in Longwood’s Office of Residential and Commuter Life and Dean of Students Office solidified Dillon’s decision to pursue a career in student affairs.
Couldn’t have done it without: Larry Robertson, dean of students. Larry has been a mentor to me since my sophomore year and has always pushed me to follow my dreams.”

Jenna Plotzyk

Hometown: Midlothian
Major: Business with a concentration in finance
What’s next: Master’s degree program in finance
Where: Villanova University
In print: Jenna’s research project, “The Effect of the 2012 Presidential Election on Healthcare and Energy Sector Returns,” was chosen to be published in the Academy of Accounting and Financial Studies Journal and was presented at the Allied Academies conference in New Orleans.
One thing leads to another: Her internship at Bon Secours Richmond Health System in the analytics and reporting department led
to a full-time job after she graduated in December 2016.
Couldn’t have done it without: Dr. Frank W. Bacon, finance faculty. “I owe all of my success to the opportunities Dr. Bacon has provided me.”

Michael Lundberg

Hometown: Lanexa
Major: Anthropology with a minor in history
What’s next: Master’s program in Greek and Roman studies
Where: Brandeis University
The real deal: “A semester abroad in Tuscania, Italy, was the first time I applied what I learned in anthropology to get the most of my experience.”
Gathered ’round the campfire: “On my last night at the James W. Jordan Archaeology Field School, we were all by the campfire after making our final presentations. We’d been through a lot together, and I knew at that moment that this was something special—something you could only find at Longwood University.”
Couldn’t have done it without: Dr. Jim Jordan, Dr. Douglas Dalton and Dr. Brian Bates, anthropology faculty. “They helped me make the most out of anthropology by giving such a wide berth of knowledge to apply to seeing the world.” Dr. James R. Munson, history faculty. “Dr. Munson helped me to maintain my passion for history.”

Josh Parsley

Hometown: Richmond
Major: Master of Business Administration
What’s next: Vice president of truckload brokerage
Where: Estes Forwarding Worldwide, Richmond
Down the road: Josh’s future goal is to be CEO of a company focused on supply chain management. He credits Longwood for helping him develop a more entrepreneurial mindset.
House calls: Two Longwood professors visited Josh at work. “They saw our facilities and related what we were doing to coursework. It meant they took an interest in my professional future and not just in the academics.”
Couldn’t have done it without: Dr. James C. Haug, business faculty, and Abigail H. O’Connor, MBA program. “Jim helped me connect real-life problems in my current business to what we were learning in school. He was a tremendous asset to me. Abbey delivered a personal touch throughout the entire process.”

Lotanna Nwogbo

Hometown: Lithonia, Georgia
Major: Kinesiology
What’s next: Playing basketball for Alianza Viedma
Where: Rio Negro, Argentina
You know him as No. 10: A transfer from Tulane, Lotanna played in 50 games as a Lancer. With a 7-foot-plus wingspan, he was a formidable opponent. He received an All-Big South first team citation in 2015-16.
On the road work: “I was privileged enough
to go to the Philippines with AIA (Athletes in Action) and do mission work. I also completed an internship in Atlanta with Highland Athletic Club.”
Couldn’t have done it without: The Longwood basketball staff—“for bettering me as a basketball player, a student and ultimately a man.”

Aimee LaFontaine

Hometown: Chesapeake
Major: Business with a concentration in marketing and management
What’s next: Business and sales trainee
Where: Smithfield Foods Cincinnati, Ohio
Cleaning up on aisle 12: Aimee, who interned at Smithfield, will be working with the company’s Kroger sales team. “I will be responsible for meeting with buyers and working with all departments to learn every aspect of Kroger’s portfolio and analyze sales trends.”
Greeking out: “My fondest memory at Longwood was the day I joined Kappa Delta Sorority. I can remember it like yesterday, running into welcoming arms of more than 50 girls. The sisterhood became my second home.”
Couldn’t have done it without: Dr. Charles D. White and Dr. Steven Samaras, business faculty. “Both went out of their way to help me be successful and are great mentors who provided valuable guidance.”

 

Mary Callender

Hometown: Bridgewater
Major: Social work with a minor in Spanish
What’s next: Master of Social Work, advanced standing program
Where: University of South Carolina
Skipped the beach: Mary participated in Alternative Spring Break in Florida, where she assisted refugees. “It was such an eye-opening experience and furthered my desire to work in human services so that I’m able to help people as much as possible.”
Her plane to Spain: “We were able to climb 9th-century castle towers, experience flamenco shows, go to local markets and try so many different foods. I fell in love with the country and the culture.”
A missed sunset: Freshman year, Mary and her friends got lost on a quest to see a sunset from the High Bridge. “We trudged through the snow, got lost and made it [to the bridge] an hour after the sun. So we stared at the moon for a few minutes before running back, chased by a dog. It was so hilarious. I’ll always treasure that night.”
Couldn’t have done it without: Kalyn Sherwood, social work faculty. “She always goes out of her way to help students understand the material. She is so confident in all of her students’ abilities.”

 

Brittany Chesley

Hometown: Matoaca
Majors: Criminal justice and sociology with a minor in psychology
Sigma, National Criminal Justice Honor Society
What’s next: Master of Science program in clinical social work
Where: Virginia Commonwealth University
Becoming a big sister: Brittany served in the Big Siblings programs during most of her time at Longwood. “There is nothing better than making a difference in a child’s life. I have had the honor of working with one child throughout my time in the program, and I truly believe he has made as much of a difference in my life as I have made in his.”
Why Longwood?: “The traditions at Longwood are so special. There is no other school that can compare.”
Couldn’t have done it without: Dr. Lee Bidwell, sociology faculty, and Dr. Virginia Beard, criminal justice faculty. “They are the reasons why I fell in love with sociology and criminal justice. They are an inspiration to all students. ”

 

Cat Gambill

Hometown: Charlottesville
Major: Biology with a biomedical health concentration
What’s next: Ph.D. program in biomedical sciences, concentrating in microbiology
Where: West Virginia University
Fungus among us: Spent an entire summer investigating protein-coding genes and the fungus family Pilobolus. “The work enhanced my educational experience beyond any biology classes.”
Laughing in the lab: Fellow science students will remember her from the lab. “Seeing their faces light up when they get the right results has always been heartwarming.”
Couldn’t have done it without: Dr. Dale L. Beach, biology faculty. “He pushed me, provided me many opportunities and mentored me both academically and in my personal life.”

 

Daniel Glass

Hometown: Vienna
Major: Economics
Honors: Member of Beta Gamma Sigma business honors society
What’s next: 157th Engineer Platoon
Where: Fort Pickett, Blackstone
Salute: Daniel joined the ROTC program during his sophomore year. “I decided I needed more purpose in my collegiate career. Military service changed my life and turned me into an effective and efficient student.
Couldn’t have done it without: Cheryl Steele, associate dean of student engagement. “She provided great advice and feedback to stay organized.”

Alex Lee

Hometown: Portsmouth
Major: Integrated environmental sciences with a social science concentration and a minor in business
What’s next: MBA program
Where: Longwood University
People person: “After I started taking economics classes and actually doing scientific research, I realized that my true passions lie in working with people and ideas rather than strictly data and nonhuman organisms.”
Never a dull moment: At Longwood, Alex worked as a resident assistant and as an eco-rep in the Office of Sustainability. She also was president of the Honors Student Association and was active in the Environmental Club, Mortar Board and the environmental honors fraternity. She studied abroad in Thailand and participated in Longwood’s interdisciplinary programs in Yellowstone National Park and Alaska.
Couldn’t have done it without: Dr. Kathy Gee, environmental science faculty, and Dr. Alix Fink, biology faculty. “Dr. Gee inspired me in and out of the academic realm and has shown me that a woman can succeed in the field of science. Dr. Fink has been incredible since day one. She is a true problem-solver and does everything she can to be certain that we succeed.”

Olivia Pedigo

Hometown: Chesapeake
Major: Theatre
What's next: Camp life manager assistant
Where: American Shakespeare Center, Staunton
Out there and out of sight: She’s been in the spotlight as Antigone’s sister in the Greek tragedy, as Vivienne in Legally Blonde: The Musical and as Patty in You're a Good Man Charlie Brown. She also painted scenery and worked in wardrobe, carpentry and other technical areas.
Center stage: Olivia did her internship at Virginia Stage Company, where she learned how a nonprofit theater company functions.
A new appreciation for red noses: Olivia learned that being a clown is surprisingly difficult. “Clowning is very technical and incredibly challenging as an actor. It was hard but definitely worthwhile.”
Big shoes to fill: An art class introduced Olivia to papermaking, where she created 3-foot-long shoes out of paper. “Longwood has an amazing paper studio. It was also cool having your work on exhibit."
Couldn’t have done it without: Lacy Klinger and Leslie Cook-Day, theatre faculty. “Professor Klinger challenged me the most as an actor, and Professor Cook-Day always encouraged me to reach my highest potential.

Samantha Schmitz

Hometown: Midlothian
Major: Business with a concentration in accounting
What's next: Auditor
Where: RSM US, McLean, an audit, tax and consulting firm that is a member of the global accounting network RSM International
Evening the score: Tutoring several student-athletes gave Samantha the chance to share her passion for numbers. “One student had failed an accounting class. After I worked with her, she got a B on her next test and texted me right away.”
Let’s do lunch: Samantha took her role as a Big Sibling to an 11-year-old girl seriously, meeting her at school several times for lunch. “Even though she was shy, when I would meet her at lunch she would get excited and tell everyone at the table that I was her Big Sibling.”
Couldn’t have done it without: Dr. Robert J. Cochran, accounting faculty. “Dr. Cochran’s classes were intense and challenging, but they allowed me to realize my full academic potential.”

Meghan West

Hometown: Powhatan
Major: Communication sciences and disorders with minors in Spanish and special education
What’s next: Doctor of Audiology program
Where: West Virginia University
Heard the call: “My entire life I have always wanted to help people and give back to the community. What better way to do that than to provide treatment and services to maintain the hearing a person has left?”
Save the last dance: One memory that will stick is the night of Oktoberfest. “After all the bands had left and all the sound equipment had been loaded, all the members of Mortar Board formed a circle on the stage and did the Spirit Leaders Dance.”
‘Involved’ is an understatement: Meghan was a member of 11 student organizations and volunteered at the Big Event, Buddy Ball and the Farmville food pantry. “Without [these organizations], I do not know where I would be today.”
Couldn’t have done it without: Dr. Mani Aguilar, communication sciences and disorders faculty. “Dr. Aguilar helped me fall in love with audiology, and her passion and drive for teaching changed my life and showed me that anything is possible.”

Christina M. Mertz

Hometown: Palmyra
Major: Nursing
What’s next: Emergency room nurse
Where: Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital
Travel enlightenment: A medical service trip to Peru and an independent nursing research project in Alaska helped cement Christina’s ultimate goal of being a medical missionary.
Perception is reality: “My research is looking at how substance abusers perceive the nursing care they receive in nonpsychiatric inpatient hospitals or emergency rooms.” Christina was invited to present her findings at an international conference in Dublin, Ireland.
Couldn’t have done it without: Dr. Alix Dowling Fink, biology faculty, and Brooke Russo, nursing faculty. “Dr. Fink has been a role model and source of encouragement. Brook Russo advised me in planning my future.”

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SABRINA BROWN AND DAN CAWLEY

PHOTOS BY MIKE KROPF ’14 AND COURTNEY VOGEL

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