A Longwood University alumnus who is a Hollywood actor urged graduates at his alma mater’s undergraduate commencement May 11 to "get character or become one."

Ransford Doherty, a 1997 graduate who currently has recurring roles in two network television shows, found that advice in a book written by a friend of his who served time in prison after committing a series of bookstore and bank robberies.

"Far too often in our quest for the prize, we compromise our character, becoming characters who lack character," said Doherty, referencing Where Excuses Go to Die by John Espinosa Nelson. "During Nelson’s four years in prison, he learned that what was lacking in his core being made him no different from his fellow inmates. He learned that, to be different, he had to make better choices to bring about real change from within."

Longwood awarded 843 bachelor’s degrees during the May 11 ceremony and 179 master’s during a first-time commencement May 10 for the College of Graduate and Professional Studies. Among the undergraduates were the 25 graduates in Longwood’s inaugural class of nursing students.

Commencement Ceremony

The undergraduates also included 62-year-old Dorothy Delores Hatchett of Victoria, who first attended Longwood as a nontraditional student from 1984 until leaving in 1987 so she could raise her two sons and put them through college. She reenrolled in 2010. "It’s always been a dream of mine to finish," said Hatchett, now a grandmother, who earned a B.S. in social work.

Doherty, a Northern Virginia native whose parents are immigrants from Sierra Leone, fell in love with acting as a Longwood student. He currently is playing the coroner’s investigator Kendall in TNT’s "Major Crimes" and Detective Tim Bell on ABC’s "Body of Proof." The former show, which premiered in August 2012, replaced "The Closer," in which Doherty played the same role.

Doherty urged the graduates to carry some "tools" with them throughout life, including gratitude and humility.

"It’s a very competitive world out there, and you will be tempted daily for the rest of your life to lay down or get rid of all the tools you’ve grown accustomed to carrying," he said. "You don’t have to be the smartest— just smart enough. There will be times in your journey where you will want to quit. It’s normal. You just don’t quit."

In the undergraduate commencement, Jamie Leigh Yurasits, an art education major from Orange, received the Sally Barksdale Hargrett Prize for Academic Excellence, awarded to the graduating senior with the highest grade-point average. She graduated with a near-perfect 3.993 GPA.

Jessica Lynn Melton, a liberal studies/elementary education major from Ashland, received the Dan Daniel Senior Award for Scholarship and Citizenship.

Dr. Stephanie Buchert, associate professor of psychology, received the Student-Faculty Recognition Award, which honors a faculty member for professional excellence and devoted service to students. She joined the Longwood faculty in 2004.

Award recipients Dr. Stephanie Buchert (from left) and Jamie Leigh Yurasits '13 were congratulated after commencement by the speaker, Ransford Doherty '97, and Interim President Marge Connelly
Award recipients Dr. Stephanie Buchert (from left) and Jamie Leigh Yurasits '13 were congratulated after commencement by the speaker, Ransford Doherty '97, and Interim President Marge Connelly

In the graduate commencement ceremony, Dr. Jennifer Miskec, associate professor of English, received the Faculty Research Award, and Dr. Gayle Daly, senior clinical instructor in the communication sciences and disorders program, received the Faculty Teaching Award. Among students receiving their degrees, Jeffrey Everhart of Spotsylvania received the Full-Time Student Award; Katherine Stein of North Chesterfield the Part-Time Student Award; and Alyson Brackin of Hampton the Graduate Leadership Award. Beth Feagan (B.A. ’10 and M.A. ’12) received the Graduate Recent Alumni Award. Everhart and Stein earned their bachelor’s degrees, in addition to master’s degrees, at Longwood (Everhart in ’11, Stein in ’10).

"Lifelong learning is critical to staying successful not only in your chosen field but also in the fields we don’t even know about yet," said Interim President Marge Connelly at the graduate ceremony. "As you are faced with challenges in the months and years ahead, remember late nights, balancing coursework and the struggles to earn this degree—then remember this day. You can overcome any challenge—just don’t give up."

The keynote speaker at the nursing pinning ceremony May 10 was Dr. Patricia Cormier, who as Longwood president from 1996-2010 oversaw the launching of the nursing program. "This is a dream come true. This is the dream I had before I left, and these 25 students made it come true," said Cormier.

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