Educator and humanitarian Johnnetta Cole told graduates, “You must not only believe that change can happen, you must be instruments for that change,” during Hollins University’s 171st Commencement Exercises on Sunday, May 19.
Hollins conferred 156 bachelor’s degrees and 61 master’s degrees during the ceremony, which commenced under cloudy skies on the university’s historic Front Quadrangle and persevered despite a steady shower that began roughly an hour into the program.
Cole, this year’s guest speaker, has enjoyed a distinguished career as an anthropologist, author, teacher, and college leader, during which she has been committed to achieving the goals of racial and gender equality. She made history in 1987 when she became the first African American woman to serve as president of Spelman College, a post she held for ten years. She then returned to teaching, spending three years as Emory University’s Presidential Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, Women’s Studies, and African American Studies. In 2002, she was appointed president of Bennett College for Women, where she founded the Johnnetta B. Cole Global Diversity and Inclusion Institute, whose mission is to create, communicate, and continuously support the case for diversity and inclusion in the workplace through education, training, research, and publications. Currently, she is director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art, the only national museum in the United States dedicated to the collection, exhibition, conservation, and study of the arts of Africa.
Cole reminded the class of 2013, “Here at Hollins University you have received a quality education. That means you have come to better understand the world, and you understand your responsibility to whatever you can to help make our world a better place.” She emphasized “the power of community service to transform lives and strengthen communities” and urged graduates to “act on the basic principle that doing for others is just the rent you must pay for your room on Earth.”
Cole cited Martin Luther King, Jr., and his philosophy on service (“Everybody can be great because anybody can serve”), and concluded with Sojourner Truth’s message to a gathering of 19th century suffragettes (“…if one woman, one day in a garden, could get the world turned upside down, then it seems to me that all the women in here can get it right side up again”).
“We are counting on you,” she told the graduates, “to be the kind of leaders that will help get the world right side up again.”
Following Cole’s address, Thomas Barron, chair of Hollins’ Board of Trustees, awarded her the degree of Doctor of Laws honoris causa in recognition of her personal and career accomplishments.
Four graduating seniors were honored during the ceremony for their academic achievements. Cara Jean Bailey, Jaclyn June Donnelly, Courtney Kathleen Flerlage, and Kailen Marie Kinsey each received the Faculty Award for Academic Excellence. Bailey, Donnelly, and Flerlage tied for the highest grade point average among this year’s graduates, which Kinsey had the second highest academic standing in the class of 2013.
The following awards were also presented at this year’s commencement:
- The Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award, given by the New York Southern Society in memory of the founder, recognizes members of the campus community who have shown by daily living those qualities that evidence a spirit of love and helpfulness to other men and women. This year’s honorees are senior Melissa Amanda Jane Wilson and Celia McCormick, director of the Horizon program.
- The Annie Terrill Bushnell Award, established by the late Mrs. William A. Anderson in memory of her mother, is presented to the senior who has evidenced the finest spirit of leadership during her days at Hollins. Bethany O’Neil is this year’s recipient.
- The Jane Cocke Funkhouser Award, honoring a member of the class of 1911, recognizes a junior or senior who, in addition to being a good student, is pre-eminent in character. Senior Kelsey DeForest was presented this year’s award.
- The Hollins University Teaching Award, supported by an endowment established by Mary Bernhardt Decker ’58 and her late husband, James DeWitt Becker, honors secondary school teachers who have devoted their lives to preparing students to achieve and excel in a higher education setting. Each year, Hollins seniors are invited to nominate the teachers who inspired them or contributed significantly to their intellectual and personal growth. This year’s winner, nominated by two graduating seniors, Elizabeth Hatcher and Molly Meador, is Tim Sauls, MALS ’09, English teacher and chair of the English department at Cave Spring High School in Roanoke County.