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Ayers, Bland will address students

Edward Ayers, one of the nation’s most accomplished historians and university presidents, and noted entrepreneur and commonwealth civic leader Gil Bland will address Longwood University’s graduating students during commencement weekend on Friday and Saturday.

The 2017 Longwood graduate commencement ceremony will take place Friday at 5:30 p.m. in Jarman Auditorium, according to the university’s website.

Edward Ayers

The 2017 Longwood undergraduate commencement ceremony will take place on Saturday at 9:30 a.m. Wheeler Mall.

“Ayers served as president of the University of Richmond from 2007-2015 and was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2012 in a White House ceremony. He will deliver the keynote address at Longwood’s undergraduate ceremony on Wheeler Mall on Saturday,” officials said in the release.

“Bland, whose extensive record of public service has included chairing the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV), will address graduate students the night before … at the ceremony for the university’s College of Graduate and Professional Studies.”

Ayers, officials said, is a highly-decorated scholar and visionary university leader and is also known to many as a wonderful teacher who has inspired generations of students and countless radio listeners with his engaging perspective on American history.

Gilbert Bland

“We look forward to welcoming two accomplished citizen leaders — and celebrated leaders in higher education — to share words of wisdom at Longwood’s 2017 Commencement,” said Longwood President W. Taylor Reveley IV.

According to Longwood’s website, Ayers is co-host of the nationally syndicated public radio program and popular podcast BackStory with the American History Guys.

“Gil Bland is a great leader in the commonwealth,” Reveley said. “Through his work and service to higher education through SCHEV and numerous educational institutions around the state, as well as with humanitarian and business organizations, Gil is the epitome of a citizen leader.”

According to Longwood’s website, as the president of the University of Richmond, Ayers led that institution’s continued ascent to national prominence, overseeing a strategic plan with remarkable impact in areas as diverse as the curriculum, facilities and student life.

“Ayers vaulted to the national stage in 1992 when as a history professor at the University of Virginia he published ‘The Promise of the New South: Life After Reconstruction,’ a historical account of life in the South between Reconstruction and the end of the 19th century, a finalist for the National Book Award for Nonfiction and for the Pulitzer Prize for History,” according to the website. “His 2004 book ‘In the Presence of Mine Enemies: War in the Heart of America, 1859-1863’ was awarded the Bancroft Prize, among the most prestigious awards in the field of American history. At U.Va., where he served as dean of arts and sciences, he was named the National Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation.”

According to the website, Bland is an entrepreneur and chairman of the GilJoy Group and for nearly 30 years has been a franchisee of Burger King and Pizza Hut, owning and operating more than 70 restaurants throughout the Mid-Atlantic. “He has been named one of the 50 most influential Virginians by Virginia Business Magazine, and has received the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Leaders Award from the Urban League of Hampton Roads, the Humanitarian Award from the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities and the Old Dominion University Award for Service for his commitment to the Hampton Roads community and the commonwealth.”