A picture-perfect spring day with sunlight gleaming off Joanie on the Stony welcomed the Longwood Class of 2021 and their families to a Commencement ceremony Saturday on Wheeler Mall—yet another uplifting sign of a return to normalcy on the campus and beyond.
Longwood’s senior class was among the few across the commonwealth to gather entirely together for Commencement, and, in a first for Longwood ceremonies, the Class of 2021 was invited to touch Joan of Arc—a longstanding good-luck tradition—as they received their diplomas.
Celebrated journalist and author Ray Suarez, the featured speaker at the undergraduate ceremony, noted the optimism of the moment.
“It is a great treat to speak at an in-person graduation,” he said. “A sign, like a robin or crocus, that good things are coming.”
My wish for you is that your Longwood education is constantly echoing in your head in new situations and new settings and amidst new challenges.Celebrated journalist and author Ray Suarez Tweet This
Across Wheeler Mall, chairs were spread out in groups of three for graduates and their two guests, as Covid-19 precautions limited the number of people who could attend the ceremony. This year’s more intimate event looked different, but the joy and celebratory vibes that could be felt from the steps in front of Wheeler Hall to the Rotunda fountain remained unchanged. Graduates were elated that they were able to come together and mark the end of their Longwood journey and that an in-person ceremony was possible after a challenging but successful year.
Over Commencement weekend, Longwood awarded 1,191 degrees: 254 in Friday’s graduate ceremony and 937 in Saturday’s undergraduate ceremony.
Suarez, one of the most accomplished broadcast journalists of our time, told graduates that fate had determined they would begin their post-undergraduate lives in such challenging times—but they were responsible for what happens next.
“Your times have to fit like a puzzle piece into the story of the world,” said Suarez, whose distinguished career included 14 years serving as a correspondent and anchor of The PBS NewsHour. “You don’t get to pick the times that you grow up in. You don’t get to pick the times that you become an adult in. They pick you, and you’ve got to make the best of it.”
He challenged graduates to be bold and creative and to take risks as their generation confronts the difficult work ahead in making America and society as a whole more understanding of diverse perspectives. He said they will be the ones who will stand in the way of this country’s giving into its worst impulses, and they will be the ones who will remind us of our highest ideals. And, he said, none of it will be easy.
Light up every room you are in. Don’t be bored and don’t be boring. Be salt, be bread, be light. Be a gift to everyone you meet.Celebrated journalist and author Ray Suarez Tweet This
“My wish for you is that your Longwood education is constantly echoing in your head in new situations and new settings and amidst new challenges,” Suarez told graduates. “That the things you learned here will not be forgotten but will only make more sense to you in coming years. There now is a rudder on your boat. You’ve been given the tools to be head up, eyes forward, wide awake in an unpredictable and challenging time.”
He left graduates with this final advice: “Light up every room you are in. Don’t be bored and don’t be boring. Be salt, be bread, be light. Be a gift to everyone you meet.”
President W. Taylor Reveley IV offered graduates his own advice: to look back to Longwood often throughout their lives for lasting lessons.
“From Longwood, you know that something as straightforward as the beauty of our surroundings and buildings matters,” he said. “There is dignity and grace to work and life in a setting that elevates the soul. From Longwood, you know that citizen leadership matters. Democracy works because we care for one another, understand the levers of action and take initiative rather than wait for someone else to step forward.”
“From the alma mater, in all the great ways you have come to comprehend and understand the great bodies of knowledge in your classes and majors, you know there is much yet still to learn and know,” Reveley continued. “You know that progress drives civilization. But you also know that traditions are what bind us together, and give rhythm and meaning when the pace of life and change are dizzying. From your time here at one of the country’s hundred-oldest colleges and universities, you know that a spirit of honor, a code Longwood lives by, would transform the world if it were more widespread. We are so proud of you, of all you have become and all you set out to do.”
We will all be, and indeed we all have been, called upon to address the unexpected. We will all have opportunities to lean on others. And we will all face moments that require us to act boldly.Anne Holton, former Virginia secretary of education Tweet This
Longwood’s graduate ceremony was held Friday evening on Stubbs Mall instead of the traditional location inside Jarman Auditorium. The outdoor ceremony in perfect spring weather allowed each graduate to be hooded by one or both of their guests as their names were read. Reveley noted that among the 254 graduates there were 66 “double Lancers,” who earned both their undergraduate and graduate degrees at Longwood.
Anne Holton, a former Virginia secretary of education and a longtime advocate for children and families, delivered the graduate Commencement address. She reflected on her experience serving as interim president of George Mason University during the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We will all be, and indeed we all have been, called upon to address the unexpected,” she told graduates. “We will all have opportunities to lean on others. And we will all face moments that require us to act boldly.”
Holton, who is a professor of education policy at GMU’s Schar School of Policy and Government and the College of Education and Human Development and currently serves on the Virginia Board of Education, said the graduates who would be continuing their careers in education had a special place in her heart.
“Many of you are or will be working in education,” she said. “You will certainly face huge needs with never enough resources. And you will make a difference, especially in the lives of some of our neediest young people.
At Saturday’s undergraduate ceremony, three seniors shared the Sally Barksdale Hargrett ’21 Prize for Academic Excellence, Longwood’s top academic award annually given out at Commencement: Kelly Higgins of Quinton (B.S., psychology); Katelyn Housler, a member of the Cormier Honors College, of Cumming, Georgia (B.S., business administration); and Carrie Reaver, a member of the Cormier Honors College, of Thurmont, Maryland (B.A., modern languages; B.S., biology).
Madison Lee Hommey 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.
Hommey, a three-year starter on the women’s soccer team who plans to stay on the team next year for her final year of eligibility as a graduate student, served as the president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) and represents the Big South in the national SAAC. She has also been deeply involved in planning and recruiting students for Alternative Breaks, which give students the opportunity to engage in community service trips during fall and spring breaks.
She also is a familiar face in the community, volunteering with the Special Olympics, Virginia Children’s Book Festival, Longwood Life program, Buddy Basketball, SPCA and FACES food pantry. She is a member of the Cormier Honors College.
Erica Brown-Meredith ’95, assistant professor of social work, was awarded the Student-Faculty Recognition Award, annually given to one faculty member for professional excellence and service to students.
Two graduating seniors, 2nd Lt. Curran Atkinson (B.S., integrated environmental science) and 2nd Lt. Jackson Velzy (B.A., political science) were commissioned into the U.S. Army in a morning ceremony with family members before Commencement.
Several students and faculty were honored at a Graduate Retreat held this week:
- Graduate Faculty Research Award: Dr. Erin Wallace, assistant professor of communication sciences and disorders
- Graduate Faculty Teaching and Mentoring Award: Dr. Sarah Tanner-Anderson ’02, Educational Leadership program director
- Longwood Graduate Student Award: Lindsey Belt ’21, Reading Literacy and Learning
- Lancer Graduate Student Award: Lia Fisher-Janosz ’21, School Librarianship
- Graduate Leadership Award: Marin J. Tettelbach ’21, Counselor Education
- Graduate Alumni Award: Danielle B. Sisson-Jones ’19, Reading, Literacy and Learning