Graduates urged to lead lives of justice, kindness

Published 8:00 am Wednesday, May 25, 2022

In a triumphant return to full Commencement crowds, thousands gathered under the sizzling early summer sun this weekend to celebrate the Longwood University Class of 2022.

Both featured speakers, the Honorable William C. “Bill” Mims at Saturday’s undergraduate ceremony and N.H. “Cookie” Scott ’72 at Friday’s graduate ceremony, exhorted more than 1,200 graduates to heed a call to be examples of civility, justice, and kindness as they enter the next chapter of their lives.

Mims, the first person to serve in all three branches of Virginia government — as a delegate, state senator, attorney general, and finally as a Virginia Supreme Court justice — told the thousands of graduates, friends, and family on Wheeler Mall Saturday that those qualities are urgently needed in today’s political climate.

Mims challenged the class of 2022 to become citizen leaders who stand on the foundation of classical virtues and “the timeless traits that have guided women and men in every age.” Specifically, he focused on Aristotle’s cardinal virtue of justice.

“Justice doesn’t mean constantly demanding fairness for yourself. Rather, justice means seeking what is fair for all. Justice looks out the window at our neighbors rather than looking in the mirror at ourselves,” Mims said. “During your years at Longwood, our nation has grappled with this concept of justice. True justice reflects a generosity of spirit. It celebrates inclusion rather than exclusion. And it recognizes that the American creed is based upon opportunity rather than privilege.

“Justice and mercy are timeless. They are universal. They will carry you far. As you leave Longwood may these virtues light your path,” he continued. “You will drive away from Farmville today and your horizons will expand. Many things will change. But always remember the timeless virtues applied equally to all persons at all times in all places.”

Mims and several speakers on Saturday congratulated the graduates for persevering through a tumultuous time, including the pandemic and social unrest. The Class of 2022, the first to matriculate through the Civitae core curriculum, experienced only three semesters of normal college life before the Covid-19 pandemic upended their academic careers.

“For all of the history we have known here since Longwood’s founding in 1839 these years since 2020 are a time that worldwide and nationwide we will all mark as a fulcrum point — a time when the unknown and uncertainty have often felt omnipresent,” said President W. Taylor Reveley IV. “Which makes it all the more joyful to be together now taking part in a tradition age old like generations before and generations to come.”

Continuing a tradition that began last year, Joan of Arc was on stage for undergraduate celebrants to touch – a longstanding good luck tradition – as they received their diplomas.

Class of 2022 President Tyler Roebuck said that while the Covid-19 pandemic presented the class with unique challenges, in reflection the experience had brought the Longwood community closer and provided the class with a sense of accomplishment in getting through it together.

“Although we may not always be prepared for everything in life, Longwood has given us the tools and the education to better our chances and our future endeavors,” he said. “When we hear the name Longwood I hope you remember the things that made this place feel like home. From the Cook Out runs that we desperately needed to the late nights with our friends studying and finishing assignments. We deepened our bond with this University and left a mark on our alma mater.”

Over Commencement weekend, Longwood awarded 1,231 degrees: 350 in Friday’s graduate ceremony and 881 in Saturday’s undergraduate ceremony.

At Saturday’s undergraduate ceremony, four seniors shared the Sally Barksdale Hargrett ‘21 Prize for Academic Excellence, Longwood’s top academic award annually given out at Commencement: Kelsey Lee Bomar of Clover (B.S., communication studies and disorders, minor in neurostudies); Abigail Elizabeth Jones of Disputanta (B.S., communication sciences and disorders, minor in neurostudies); Bailey Macy Nixon, a member of the Cormier Honors College from Montpelier (B.S., elementary education, minor in Spanish); and Anna Lindsay Sotelo, a member of the Cormier Honors College from Vienna (B.S., elementary education).

Holden Allen of Concord 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.

Allen, who received a bachelor’s of science degree in communication sciences and disorders, is the president of the Longwood Sign Language Club and volunteers as a tutor for fellow students studying American Sign Language. He is a member of Longwood’s Speech Language Hearing Club, as well as a member of both the Speech-Language-Hearing Association of Virginia and the American Speech-Language Hearing Association.

Heather Lettner-Rust, associate professor of English and director of the Civitae Core Curriculum, 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 on Stubbs Mall, where each graduate stood and was hooded by one or both of their guests as their names were read. Reveley noted that among the 350 graduates there were 117 “double Lancers,” who earned both their undergraduate and graduate degrees at Longwood.

N.H. “Cookie” Scott ’72, one of the first Black students to enroll at Longwood and the first to graduate, delivered the graduate commencement address, marking the 50th anniversary of her own historic graduation. Scott, a current member of the University’s Board of Visitors, revealed that she had declined to attend her graduation in 1972 and therefore Friday was her first-ever Longwood commencement.

Scott focused most of her address on the importance of kindness, delivering a charge to graduates to go forth and lead with kindness in both their professional careers and in life generally.

“Your leadership matters. As you leave Longwood and make your impact on the world. As you take the helm and become those responsible for our society. Your leadership matters,” Scott said. “Let us be the voices and the faces of leadership that value our differences. The voices and the faces of civil and caring people in our society. Let us lead the way. Let Longwood lead the way.”

Scott, who retired in 2018 following a more than 40-year career with the Virginia Department of Corrections, said that while kindness has gotten a bad rap in society, practicing it is the best action that a leader can take.

“Kindness is not sweetness and light. Kindness does not equate to soft, weak, naive or impotent. Kindness does not negate accountability. Kindness forces us to stop, to think and to choose our words wisely,” she said. “To be kind to others, you must first be kind to yourself. In your careers and in your life do not allow yourself to burn out. Take care of yourselves, it is the way you are able to take care of others.”

Scott acknowledged some of the people who had shown her kindness in life, including four of her classmates who were in attendance at Friday’s ceremony. She also recounted that her trailblazing journey to Longwood began with her high school counselor, Virginia Richards Dofflemyer, a 1941 Longwood alumna who drove her to visit campus during the tumultuous Civil Rights era of late 1960s. She told graduates they might not fully realize in the moment how much impact their actions may have on another person’s life.

“I encourage you with your new well-deserved credentials, your knowledge, your skills, your abilities, spread your wings and kindly lead the change in the world,” Scott said.

Several annual student and faculty awards were conferred at Friday’s Graduate Commencement ceremony:

• Graduate Faculty Research Award: Dr. Haley Woznyj, assistant professor of management

• Graduate Faculty Teaching and Mentoring Award: Dr. Alison King, assistant professor of communication sciences and disorders

• Longwood Graduate Student Award: Kurustun S. Musick and Amber M. Gordon ‘20, communication sciences and disorders

• Lancer Graduate Student Award: Corey R. Talbott

• Graduate Leadership Award: Madison L. Hommey ‘21, health and physical education

• Graduate Alumni Award: Virginia E. Silveira Gills ‘89, ‘05