On a beautiful weekend marked by sunny skies and seasonably mild temperatures, thousands of family, friends and mentors gathered to celebrate the graduates of the Longwood University Class of 2023. [Watch the video]
The featured speakers at both Commencement ceremonies— author and columnist John Feinstein at Saturday’s undergraduate ceremony and former speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates Kirk Cox at Friday’s graduate ceremony—urged the more than 1,000 graduates to lead full lives of passion and consequence.
At the undergraduate ceremony, held Saturday on a full Wheeler Mall, the class was praised for its persistence and resilience in the face of the Covid 19 pandemic, which upended their freshman year and impacted their college experience before a return to normalcy.
Get a job that makes you think about one thing that inspires you. And, if you can do that, you’re going to be happy. I know I have been.John Feinstein Tweet This
Feinstein, a prolific author and columnist whose books take on topics such as racial inequality and mental health through the lens of sports, challenged graduates to always find ways to be better tomorrow than they are today, and said following that principle will lead them to success and contentment.
In a speech dotted with humor, anecdotes and stories from his storied career covering men’s college basketball coaching legends such as the University of North Carolina’s Dean Smith and North Carolina State’s Jim Valvano, Feinstein implored members of the Class of 2023 to find one thing that they are truly passionate about.
“Don’t think you have to get a job where you’re going to make a lot of money or advance,” he said. “Get a job that makes you think about one thing that inspires you. And, if you can do that, you’re going to be happy. I know I have been.”
Feinstein recalled a little-known story about Smith that he uncovered while researching a book: In 1958, Smith, then an assistant coach at UNC, went to an all-white restaurant with a Black member of his church and they sat down together in defiance of segregation.
“He said he wished I had never been told that story,” recalled Feinstein. “I said, ‘Why? You should be proud of that moment.’ And he said, ‘John, never be proud of doing the right thing in life. You should just do the right thing.’ Think about those words. If you live your life that way, you’ll be doing just fine.”
In his remarks, President W. Taylor Reveley IV noted the importance of relationships and that Longwood has increased the number of full-time faculty members at a time when the national trend has been going in the opposite direction.
“From generation to generation, the faculty are the cherished mentors of every Longwood student,” Reveley said. “Parents, you may already know the tales well. But if you are looking for the impact of an education here, ask today’s graduates about a professor who has made a difference in their lives. We are a boat going against the current in that regard.”
You are prepared not just for your chosen careers but to be thoughtful citizen leaders in our democracy because of Longwood’s unique Civitae Core Curriculum, which teaches you to think, to write, to speak and to problem solve with others who might be different from you. These are critical skills our nation and world urgently need.Mike Evans, Rector of the Board of Visitors Tweet This
In his final year on the Board of Visitors, having served the maximum eight years, Rector Mike Evans said he was honored and grateful to be part of Longwood during a time of great momentum for the university. He offered particular thanks to Reveley, who is celebrating the 10th anniversary of his appointment next month.
Evans said that, in addition to celebrating the graduates and those who supported them along their journey, Commencement is a day to be proud of Longwood, which has the highest percentage of classes taught by full-time faculty of any public university in Virginia.
“So many of you graduates today are here because of teaching mentors on stage with me,” Evans said. “You are prepared not just for your chosen careers but to be thoughtful citizen leaders in our democracy because of Longwood’s unique Civitae Core Curriculum, which teaches you to think, to write, to speak and to problem solve with others who might be different from you. These are critical skills our nation and world urgently need.”
With all of the different moments, connections and hardships we have shared together, we are stronger and bolder than we were four years ago, and we can head confidently into our individual communities.Ethan Lewter, Class of 2023 President Tweet This
Class of 2023 President Ethan Lewter spoke of life as a set of building blocks with formative experiences stacked on top of each other and urged his classmates to use the lessons they learned at Longwood for the greater good.
“All of those little moments we experienced and crafted have created one bigger block in our life, the blue and white Longwood block that serves as a solid foundation, a cornerstone, for the tall structure that we will continue building once we depart from this place,” said Lewter, who graduated with a Bachelor of Science in health and physical education. “With all of the different moments, connections and hardships we have shared together, we are stronger and bolder than we were four years ago, and we can head confidently into our individual communities.”
Over Commencement weekend, Longwood recognized 1,079 degrees: 419 in Friday’s graduate ceremony and 660 in Saturday’s undergraduate ceremony.
At Saturday’s undergraduate ceremony, six seniors shared the Sally Barksdale Hargrett ’21 Prize for Academic Excellence, Longwood’s top academic award annually given at Commencement: Alexandra Nicole Cassidy of Virginia Beach (B.S., liberal studies), Stormie Lynn Foley of Bassett (B.A., communication studies), Rachel May Iman of Portsmouth (B.S., elementary education and teaching), Ireland Hamilton Seagle of Keysville (B.A., English), Yurika Tada of Chiba-Shi, Japan (B.S., business administration) and Elizabeth Mary Garri of Wirtz (B.S., communication sciences and disorders). Foley, Iman and Garri are graduates of the Cormier Honors College.
Kelly Jarratt of Midlothian received the prestigious Dan Daniel Senior Award for Scholarship and Citizenship, which recognizes the Longwood student who exhibits a commitment to a life of public service and leadership.
Jarratt, who received a Bachelor of Science in kinesiology, is a member of the Cormier Honors College who serves on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and as a mentor with Project Success, where she led a class focused on personal development, civic engagement, career planning and leadership. She is a cheerleader and a wellness ambassador with Longwood Campus Recreation.
Dr. Kristen Boyle, assistant professor of mathematics, was awarded the Student-Faculty Recognition Award, annually given to one faculty member for professional excellence and service to students.
Longwood’s graduate ceremony was held Friday evening in a packed Willett Hall, where families of master’s degree recipients stood and burst into applause as each graduate crossed the stage. Of the 419 graduate degrees conferred, 99 were to double Lancers who also received their undergraduate degree from Longwood.
Cox, a former speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates who spent 32 years in the legislature and decades teaching civics in Chesterfield County Public Schools, imparted hard-won life lessons and told graduates that the country depends on their being thoughtful citizens. He began his remarks espousing the importance of setting lifetime goals and then reassessing them at various stages.
“Take two minutes tonight and list as many goals as you can: family, social, career, financial, community and spiritual goals. Let your imagination run wild,” Cox said. “Next define how to achieve these goals. This simple exercise will give direction to your life. An architect must consider many things when drawing the plans of a house. You are the architect of your life. Do not attempt to build your life without plans put to paper.”
Several annual student and faculty awards were conferred at Friday’s Graduate Commencement ceremony:
- Graduate Faculty Research Award: Dr. Meg Meng, assistant professor of marketing
- Graduate Faculty Teaching and Mentoring Award: Dr. Tom PlaHovinsak, assistant professor of economics
- Longwood Graduate Innovation Award: Curtis Claar, M.B.A.
- Graduate Citizen Leader Award: Carissa Strum, M.S., communication studies and disorders
- Graduate Young Alumni Award: Brittany Willis ’22, M.Ed., school librarianship
- Graduate Alumni Award: Lori Donovan ’05, M.Ed.