“We All Need to Breathe”: The Rev. Dr. Cynthia Hale ‘75 Counters Pandemic Anxiety with Mindfulness

The Rev. Dr. Cynthia Hale ‘75 likes watches.

For years, the founding and senior pastor of Ray of Hope Christian Church in Decatur, Georgia, has collected time pieces in every shape, color, and style. Watches became an essential part of her wardrobe.

When Ray of Hope’s women’s ministry presented Hale with an Apple Watch, it was a game changer. As a fashion statement, the watch’s interchangeable bands meant she didn’t need to wear a different watch with different outfits. What’s more, she said, “Whatever I need and want to do is on my Apple Watch. I can answer my phone, read and respond to email and texts, program an exercise routine, store my credit cards. I haven’t even come close to naming all the things I can do because I’ve yet to discover them all.”

One of the most enduring discoveries she made occurred in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. On a day when she was besieged with worry about the well-being of her congregation and others and grieving over the losses she was personally experiencing, “my watch suddenly vibrated and said, ‘breathe.’ It told me I would have a better day if I took a moment to breathe. I said to myself, ‘This watch is clairvoyant. It knew exactly what I needed when I needed it.’”

The act of simply breathing on a regular basis was part of the wisdom Hale shared recently with an audience of Hollins students, faculty, and staff in her presentation “Mindfulness Matters: Physical, Emotional, and Mental Well-Being in the Time of COVID-19 and Beyond.” Hale explained the state of mindfulness with a definition from scientist, writer, and meditation teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn: “Mindfulness is awareness cultivated by paying attention in a sustained and careful way, on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”

The often overwhelming stress of daily life has been amplified by anxiety over the pandemic and the future generally, and Hale warned of becoming “‘human doings’ rather than ‘human beings,’ never taking time to enjoy, learn, and love while in the moment. When you’re always busy moving from one thing to the next, you fail to pay attention to what is happening to you in the moment.”

Hale went on to describe the debilitating aspects of stress. “It robs you of energy and the opportunity to live life to its fullest. It can lead to cardiovascular issues, decreased immune function, and an increase in recovery time from illness. When you’re stressed, you have a problem concentrating and thinking clearly, affecting your ability to learn and produce. It makes you irritable and hard to deal with.”

As a counterbalance, Hale urged “living in the present, in the now, and stewarding the gift of life we’ve been given. First and foremost is loving ourselves, which involves knowing ourselves. Each of us must learn to affirm our dignity and worth.”

Mindfulness is particularly challenging for women, Hale said, “because we don’t always know who we’re supposed to be. The world and people around us have certain standards and expectations about how we should look, act, think, react. When you allow the desires of others to determine who and what you will be, you rob them of the joy of being and receiving from the real you, who is vibrant and alive and exciting and valuable to the relationship. The world needs somebody with your intellect, your intuition, your creativity, and your ingenuity to show them what being a powerful woman is all about.”

Along with championing breathing as “essential to our well-being, not just physically but mentally and emotionally,” Hale offered these suggestions for achieving mindfulness:

  • Accept, believe in, and celebrate who you are. “See yourself in the future: Where do you want to go? Who do you want to be? What gives you joy? The sky is the limit to what you can be and what you can do. Don’t be afraid to try something new and different. Give yourself to the process of being who you were created to be.”
  • Take care of yourself. “Get seven to eight hours of sleep a night, eat right, and exercise regularly. But, you must also learn to be still. When was the last time you just sat still and listened to the creative stirrings of your heart, the singing of the birds, the rustling of the wind through the trees? Doing nothing at regular times, experiencing calm in the wonder of it all, is healthy.”
  • Seek times of solitude. “Solitude is an investment. It is a time to recharge your emotional, your physical, your spiritual batteries. A time to dream, a time to imaging the possibilities of your life, a time to get in touch with yourself. Solitude is a time to gain insight or a solution to a pressing problem.”
  • Listen deeply. “Simply to refrain from talking without listening is not silence. Inner solitude and inner silence are inseparable. The purpose of silence and solitude is to be able to see and hear with one’s heart and not simply one’s ear. It is cultivating an intimacy with your inner life as it unfolds.”
  • Be intentional about acknowledging your grief and your loss, especially during the pandemic. “One of the most devastating effects of this pandemic is the loss that we’ve all experienced in so many ways: loved ones, colleagues, friends, and classmates, the loss of people we didn’t even know but nevertheless are part of the human family. Loss must be grieved in a healthy and mature way. Mindfulness is sitting with our pain whether we like the way it feels or not. It allows us to learn, to grow, to mature, to heal, to be delivered.”
  • Embrace your limits. “We cannot do everything we want to do whenever we want to do it. Much of what happens to us is beyond our control. Limits are really gifts from God to keep us humble and to ground us. Limits remind us that we are of the earth and we have to stay committed and connected to the earth. Realize that life isn’t perfect. There will be pain and disappointment. We must live with it and learn the lessons it teaches us.”

Hale concluded with a message that “given all that we’ve been through as a nation and a world over the last 18 to 20 months, we need one another to help affirm our common humanity. We need one another to navigate through the continued uncertainty of the effects of this pandemic. We can’t make it without the other, and we have to learn how to be kind. Kindness is a state of being that includes the attributes of loving, affection, sympathy, feeling for another, and identifying with one another.”

A native of Roanoke, Hale graduated from Hollins with a Bachelor of Arts degree in music, and went on to complete a Master of Divinity degree at Duke University and a Doctor of Ministry at Union Theological Seminary. She holds five honorary Doctorates of Divinity and an honorary Doctor of Law degree. Because of her leadership and foresight, Ray of Hope Christian Church has been cited in the book, Excellent Protestant Congregations: A Guide to Best Places and Practices.

Hale has been inducted into the African American Biographies Hall of Fame and the Morehouse College Martin Luther King Jr. Board of Preachers. She has been honored by the National Urban League and is a recipient of the inaugural “Women of Power” award. Ebony magazine placed her among its Power 100, a yearly compilation of the most influential African Americans in the country.

In 2009, Hale was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve on the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships. She also served as a member of the 2016 Platform Committee for the Democratic National Convention and delivered the invocation at the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

Hale serves on the Hollins University Board of Trustees. She is also chairperson of the IC3 Conference Board; chairperson of the Board of Trustees of Beulah Heights University; vice president for the Hampton University Ministers’ Conference; a member of the Board of Visitors of the Divinity School at Duke University; a member of the UNCF NFI Advisory Council; and a member of the Welcome.US Council.

 

 

 

 


Hollins 2021-22 Reading And Lecture Series To Feature Pulitzer-Winning Poet Forrest Gander And NYT Bestselling Author Imbolo Mbue

“In person” is back in session at Hollins, and not just for classes either. After more than a year of online reading events and lectures, Hollins University is proud to welcome back in-person events for its 2021-22 Reading and Lecture Series. This week, the university’s English and Creative Writing Department released the full schedule of special literary events, readings, Q&As, and lectures. This year’s reading series is roaring back in person with a bang, featuring big-name authors like Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Forrest Gander, Hollins alumnae Anna Caritj M.F.A. ’16 and Kristina Gorcheva-Newberry M.F.A. ’10, and New York Times bestselling author Imbolo Mbue, whose debut novel Behold The Dreamers won the 2017 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.

“I’m very proud of this lineup, which includes such a variety of writers in terms of genre, subject matter, and diversity,” said Liz Poliner, professor of English and creative writing and former director of  Hollins’ Jackson Center for Creative Writing. Poliner created the impressive program of authors for this year’s reading series before she stepped down as director last spring. “It took probably six weeks or so of fairly steady effort to line it all up,” said Poliner. “I’m looking forward to absolutely all of them! All are first-time readers at Hollins, as we like to have a fresh lineup each year, and all are truly accomplished writers with so much to offer.”

The series officially kicked off on September 2 and 3 with a dual reading and Q&A from two of Hollins’ newest English and creative writing professors: Candice Wuehle (author of the poetry collection Death Industrial Complex, which was selected as a 2020 finalist for The Believer Magazine Book Award) and Scott Blackwood (author of the novel See How Small, which won the 2016 PEN USA Award for Fiction). On September 23-24, award-winning Cameroonian-American novelist and short story writer Imbolo Mbue will offer a reading and Q&A about her most recent novel How Beautiful We Were.

In all, this year’s reading series will feature 14 published authors across 21 events (all readings and Q&As are held on separate days). That doesn’t include Hollins own talented faculty and student writers, who will also get opportunities to read in person this year.

Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s reading and lecture series is (for now) only open to current students, faculty and staff. However, all readings will be livestreamed via Zoom so the public can watch from the safety of their own homes. Q&As will remain open to only the campus community.

Get your calendars/smartphones ready and check out the full schedule below.

FALL SEMESTER

Thursday-Friday, September 23-24, 2021: Imbolo Mbue

Mbue, whose previous book Behold the Dreamers was an Oprah’s Book Club selection, will discuss and read from her latest novel, How Beautiful We Were.

Reading: Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the Visual Arts Center Auditorium.

Public access via livestream only:

Passcode: 159935

Q&A: Friday at 11 a.m. in the Hollins Room, Wyndham Robertson Library (open to the campus community only)

 

Thursday, September 30, 2021: Alison Fraser

Alison Fraser is an associate curator at the University at Buffalo Libraries and will give a lecture entitled, “Sweet Company: Helen Adam and the Archives at the Poetry Collection.”

Lecture: Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the Hollins Room, Wyndham Robertson Library.

Public access via livestream only:

Passcode: 714888

 

Thursday, October 7-8, 2021: Ada Limón

Limón won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry for her 2015 collection Bright Dead Things and has also been a finalist for the National Book Award and the National Books Critics Circle Award.

Reading: Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the Green Drawing Room, Main Building.

Public access via livestream only:

Passcode: 404655

Q&A: Friday at 11 a.m. in the Hollins Room, Wyndham Robertson Library (open to the campus community only)

 

Thursday, October 21, 2021: Julie Pfeiffer

Hollins Professor of English Julie Pfeiffer will give a lecture entitled, “Transforming Girls: How We Make Girls into Women.”

Lecture: Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the Green Drawing Room, Main Building.

Public access via livestream only:

Passcode: 403576

 

Thursday-Friday, October 28-29, 2021: J. Drew Lanham

An award-winning poet and professor of wildlife ecology at Clemson University, Lanhams’ writing explores his experiences as a birder, hunter and “wild, wandering soul.”

Reading: Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the Hollins Room, Wyndham Robertson Library

Public access via livestream only:

Passcode: 695218

Q&A: Friday at 11 a.m. in the Hollins Room, Wyndham Robertson Library (open to the campus community only)

 

Thursday-Friday, November 11-12, 2021: Dinaw Mengestu

Mengestu’s ambitious 2007 debut novel The beautiful things that heaven bears won him international recognition and the coveted Guardian first book award.

Reading: Thursday at 7:30 pm in the Green Drawing Room, Main Building

Public access via livestream only:

Passcode: 760233

Q&A: Friday at 11 a.m. in the Hollins Room, Wyndham Robertson Library (open to the campus community only)

 

Thursday, December 2, 2021: Writers’ Harvest Reading

Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the Visual Arts Center Auditorium

Hear Hollins faculty writers read exciting new work to raise money for Feeding America Southwest Virginia, a nonprofit food bank that has been helping feed the hungry in Virginia for 40 years. 100 percent of the proceeds will be donated to this organization. General admission is $10 and $5 for students. Tickets will be available at the door or, to preorder, please contact Lisa Radcliff, administrative coordinator (phone: 540-362-6317; email: English@hollins.edu).

Public access via livestream only:

Passcode: 933103

 

SPRING SEMESTER

 

Thursday-Friday, February 10-11, 2022: Yiyun Li

A native of Beijing and a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Li’s novels and short stories have won her many awards, including a PEN/Hemingway Award and a MacArthur Fellowship.

Reading: Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the Green Drawing Room, Main Building

Q&A: Friday at 11 a.m. in the Hollins Room, Wyndham Robertson Library (open to the campus community only)

 

Thursday-Friday, February 24-25, 2022: Nazera Sadiq Wright

An associate professor of English at the University of Kentucky, Wright’s book Black Girlhood in the Nineteenth Century earned the 2018 Children’s Literature Association’s Honor Book Award for Outstanding Book of Literary Criticism.

Lecture: Thursday at 7:30 p.m.—location to be determined.

Q&A: Friday, time and location to be determined.

 

Thursday-Friday, March 10-11, 2022: Forrest Gander

Raised in Virginia, Gander is a gifted poet, translator, essayist, and novelist whose 2019 poetry collection Be With fetched him a Pulitzer Prize.

Reading: Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the Green Drawing Room, Main Building.

Q&A: Friday at 11 a.m. in the Hollins Room, Wyndham Robertson Library.

 

Saturday, April 2, 2022: Hollins Annual Literary Festival

The Hollins Literary Festival is an all-day celebration of all things writing related. Readings and the poetry panel will be held in the Wetherill Visual Arts Center Auditorium (Room 200).

9:30 a.m. – check-in and refreshments, 2nd floor lobby

10:30 a.m. – reading by Akhil Sharma

11:30 a.m. – poetry panel discussion of student-submitted works

12:45 p.m. – luncheon, Moody Dining Hall (pay at the door)

2: p.m. – reading by Jenny Boully

3:15 p.m. – reading by A. Van Jordan

4 p.m. – reception, 2nd floor lobby

 

Thursday-Friday, April 21-22, 2022: Anna Caritj and Kristina Gorcheva-Newberry

This is a rare double reading of two recent M.F.A. alums: Anna Caritj ’16 and Kristina Gorcheva-Newberry ’10. Both have new books out that they will be reading from and discussing.

Reading: Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the Green Drawing Room, Main Building.

Q&A: Friday at 11 a.m. in the Hollins Room, Wyndham Robertson Library.

 

Thursday, May 5, 2022: “The Last Twist”

Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the Green Drawing Room, Main Building

Enjoy “The Last Twist,” a farewell reading by Hollins seniors and graduating Creative Writing M.F.A. students. This is the Hollins community’s last chance to hear the work of this talented young cohort of writers.

 

 


“To Gather, to Connect, to Love”: Hollins Opens the 2021-22 Academic Year

Hollins President Mary Dana Hinton asked students, faculty, and staff to “look out for one another, to support one another, to lift one another” during the university’s 2021-22 Opening Convocation on August 31 in duPont Chapel.

The annual ceremony represents the official launch of a new academic year. New students are welcomed into the campus community and seniors process in their graduation robes for the first time.

In her address, Hinton invited the audience to consider this year’s convocation as “a community embarking on a journey together. Even more, I ask that you hold your in your mind and heart the vision of us as a community fueled by love. A love that binds us one to the other; a love that binds us to learning and to the liberal arts; and a love that binds us to this community of our beloved Hollins.”

Hinton noted that the daily routine on a college campus can sometimes be frenetic. Nevertheless, she encouraged students, faculty, and staff to “go above and beyond, that we take a moment to see the humanity that each one of us brings to this endeavor. I ask that we take the time to see the individual complexities and marvelous beauty we each bring. I ask that we recognize Hollins would simply not be the same without each and every one of us. When we talk of students, faculty, staff, and administration, we’re talking of a collection of beating human hearts. I ask that we see our hearts, and that we choose to extend compassion, grace, and care to each person we encounter. That when we are faced with a variety of ways to reach out and engage one with the other, that we choose to do so with love.”

Calling it her “favorite essay,” Hinton cited William Cronon’s “‘Only Connect…’: The Goals of a Liberal Education,”  for the way it “explains the beauty and the demands of the type of education we are so fortunate to experience here at Hollins.” She shared the ten attributes that Cronon argues are typical of those educated in the liberal arts tradition:

They listen and they hear.

They read and they understand.

They can talk with anyone.

They can write clearly and persuasively and movingly.

They can solve a wide variety of puzzles and problems.

They respect rigor, not so much for its own sake, but as a way of seeking truth.

They practice humility, tolerance, and self-criticism.

They understand how to get things done in the world.

They nurture and empower the people around them.

“I believe with my whole heart that we exemplify those traits,” Hinton said. “This is what we do, and it’s who we are at our core.”

Hinton Opening Convo
President Hinton: “In the end, it is love that matters most.”

Hinton concluded her remarks by asking that “love, care, and connection be the fuel that powers our community as a whole. Because in the end, it is love that matters most. You see, when we choose to see one another’s humanity, when we choose to see the purpose of our work and the liberal arts as connecting, it leaves us no choice in the end but to work daily to become a beloved community.”

She added that her most fervent hope for Hollins is “for each of us individually, and all of us collectively, to work toward goodwill for all. This will be daily work, difficult work, enduring work. But it is the work that we, a community fueled by love, can uniquely undertake. As we launch this academic year, I ask that we choose not only to gather, but that we choose to connect, and most of all, that we choose to love.”

Student Government Association Vice President Jaiya McMillan ’23 urged her fellow students in her remarks to “indulge in every second of our lives and greet each day knowing the only definite is change,” but to also understand their personal life experiences transcend upheaval in the nation and the world.

“To grow into ourselves and understand what this new state of being is, isn’t just change. To realize something deeper and more profound about the world around us feels radical and new, and to me, feels like magic. It’s not just change but a transformation, and I believe that this lifelong cycle is only amplified by the metamorphosis that we each undergo at Hollins. You may not know it yet, but to be in college is to transform. Your way of thinking, your breadth of knowledge, and your relationships grow.”

McMillan acknowledged that the thought of becoming “a different person when you leave Hollins may be terrifying,” but added reassurance that “your essence, the core of who you are, will never change.” Rather, “You come out of this university empowered to show the world who you truly are.”

Following Opening Convocation, Hollins’ class of 2022 took part in the traditional First Step ceremony on the university’s historic Front Quadrangle. Each year, seniors line the sidewalks of Front Quad dressed in robes they creatively design themselves. Bearing bottles of cider specially decorated for the occasion, they take their symbolic first steps onto the grass.

Top photo: Hollins seniors processing in their graduation robes for the first time is one of the highlights of Opening Convocation.

 

 


Hollins, Roanoke College Welcome Nominations for the 2021 Perry F. Kendig Awards

Nominations are now being accepted for the 2021 Perry F. Kendig Arts and Culture Awards, which recognize individuals, businesses, and organizations in the greater Roanoke region that provide exemplary leadership in or support for the arts.

The deadline for nominations is Thursday, July 1, at 4 p.m. EDT. The nomination form and other information can be found at https://kendigawards.com/.

 

Celebrating 36 years this year of honoring excellence in arts and culture, the Kendig Awards have been co-sponsored by Hollins University and Roanoke College since 2013. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an awards presentation gathering was not held last year. A celebration for the 2020 nominees/winners and 2021 nominees/winners will be held jointly this fall at Roanoke College on a date to be announced at a later time.

Kendig Awards are presented in each of the following categories:

  • Individual Artist (selected from all disciplines, including dance, literature, music, media arts, visual arts, and theatre)
  • Arts and/or Cultural Organization
  • Individual or Business Arts Supporter

Individuals, businesses, and organizations from the greater Roanoke region (which includes the counties of Botetourt, Franklin, and Roanoke, the cities of Roanoke and Salem, and the town of Vinton) are eligible, as are past Kendig Award recipients from 1985 – 2012. Programs and full-time employees of Hollins University and Roanoke College are eligible to be nominated as well.

“Hollins University and Roanoke College have actively sought ways for students to immerse themselves in the Roanoke Region’s vibrant arts and cultural community,” said Hollins President Mary Dana Hinton. “Our students are often fortunate to find themselves working alongside a local visual artist in their studio or in the community, performing in a local theatrical production, or learning about arts administration during an internship at a non-profit organization.”

“Roanoke College is proud to join with Hollins University to support arts and culture in the Roanoke Valley,” added Roanoke College President Mike Maxey. “Our region has a vibrant arts community that enriches all of us. The Kendig Awards honor and highlight those who make that happen. The Kendig Awards are highlights for all to remember and observe.”

Named for the late Perry F. Kendig, who served as president of Roanoke College and was an avid supporter and patron of the arts, the awards were presented by the Arts Council of the Blue Ridge for 27 years.


Graduates Assured at 179th Commencement, “You Have Hollins and You Can Do Anything”

During a commencement unlike any other previously held at Hollins University, NASA’s Director of Talent Strategy and Engagement Elizabeth Kolmstetter declared to graduates, “Successful people never give up. Successful people learn from successes but even more so from hardships, failures, and paths redirected.

“So what do successful people have in common? They start with a dream – a vision of big goals for the future.”

 

Kolmstetter, a member of Hollins’ class of 1985 who currently serves on the university’s Board of Trustees, was the guest speaker for the university’s 179th Commencement Exercises on May 19. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s ceremony was held on the university’s athletic practice fields to allow for a socially distanced setting that best and most safely accommodated all graduates and guests. Attendance was limited to up to three guests per graduate.

Hollins honored a total of 269 undergraduate and graduate students, including members of the class of 2021 receiving bachelor’s degrees and graduate students earning advanced degrees in 2020 and 2021.179th Commencement Graduate Undergraduates from the class of 2020, whose commencement was postponed last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, elected to have their celebration coincide with Hollins’ Reunion Weekend, May 27-29, 2022.

Hollins President Mary Dana Hinton paid tribute to the graduating students for how they learned and thrived despite what she described as “perhaps the most disruptive crisis in our history. You cared for yourselves, one another, and this community.”

Hinton continued, “Even more, you showed concern for those beyond this community. Long before the racial reckonings of the summer of 2020, this class called Hollins to be more just, more inclusive, more equitable. You demanded that we do better and become consistent advocates, allies, and activists. In our most challenging moments, in the face of injustice, violence, and hate, you lifted one another, your Hollins family, and our institution. We shared hurt and heartache. But we also shared hope. We shared the work. We called on one another to be our best selves and, when conditions made that difficult, we offered compassion and support. You were strong and courageous, vulnerable and caring.”

179th Commencement StudentKolmstetter, an industrial and organizational psychologist, has pioneered numerous innovative talent management programs across eight federal agencies, including the FBI, CIA, and Office of the Director of National Intelligence. She conveyed to graduates that whatever they want in life is achievable “because you have Hollins,” and employed each letter in the university’s name, “H-O-L-L-I-N-S,” to cite the advantages of their Hollins experience. She devoted “H” to President Mary Dana Hinton, who is completing her first academic year at Hollins. Kolmstetter called her “an extraordinary leader and role model. She has engaged the entire Hollins community. She is authentic, a powerful and prolific communicator, and inspires all of us to be our best selves. As you go forth, lead as she does with grace and grit, smarts and heart.”

“O” represents the campus community’s optimism, which Kolmstetter said “has already gotten you through unexpected challenges and allowed you to innovate and create new opportunities. It is a great strength that will give you courage to adventure further.”

The first “L” stands for the liberal arts education offered at Hollins, which Kolmstetter said emphasizes “skills such as critical thinking, communication, self-expression, and the ability to view ideas from multiple perspectives. Show those off every chance you get.” The second “L” is laughter. “It really is the best medicine,” Kolmstetter explained. She cited research from Stanford Business School on the positive effects of laughter, especially during the pandemic, on “relieving stress, healing illnesses, and helping cope with difficult situations. You’ve had hours of laughter with your friends and faculty, so keep that going. The more you laugh, the better the journey will be.”

Ingenuity is the “I” in “H-O-L-L-I-N-S.” “Together, you and this entire campus have used ingenuity and perseverance…to navigate the challenges of the last 15 months,” said Kolmstetter. “These two qualities179th Commencement Mortarboard will serve you well as you go forward.”

“N” is for nimble. “I am pretty sure you have all learned that you can act faster and bounce back more nimbly that even you thought,” Kolmstetter stated. “Rigid and status quo is ‘out.’ Nimble and thriving in change is ‘in.’ Employers want to know you are nimble and adaptive to change. Use it to your great advantage as you pursue your dreams.”

And, “S” reflects sisterhood. “You are part of the Hollins sisterhood, women who celebrate each other’s wins and support each other through hard times – and always understand you,” Kolmstetter said. “There truly is no friend like a sister. Things in life seem a little less scary when you know your sisters are there for you.

“Welcome class of 2021 to the greatest sisterhood on Earth!”

Kolmstetter concluded by telling graduates to do one thing “before you leave the Hollins gates: Close your eyes and envision your one big, scary dream. Then, write down H-O-L-L-I-N-S and a word or phrase for each letter. Perhaps some of mine resonated with you, but I am sure you have your own, too. Tuck it in your diploma or a favorite Hollins picture…and from time to time, use it to remind yourself of all you have to fearlessly pursue your dreams. No matter where you go or what you do, you have Hollins and you can do anything.”

179th Commencement StageHinton urged graduates to “hold tight to your beliefs. You have proven your strength. You have proven your character. Most of all, you have proven you are enough. Who you are is enough. How you are is enough. Who you love is enough. How you love is enough. In your joy and sadness you are enough. In the face of criticism, lies, and pain, you are enough. On your very best day, on your very worst day, you are enough. Believe that. Rise with that.”

Other highlights of this year’s commencement included the presentation of the following honors:

  • Ivana Esther Martinez, a Spanish major from Sterling, Virginia, received the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Student Award. Given by the New York Southern Society in memory of the founder, this award recognizes a senior who has shown by daily living those qualities that evidence a spirit of love and helpfulness to other men and women. Megan Canfield, the university’s director of student activities and orientation, was presented the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Community Award, which is given to a person associated with Hollins who has shown in daily living and work those characteristics that exhibit the noblest of spiritual and human qualities.
  • The Annie Terrill Bushnell Award was given to Emma McAnirlin, a classical studies major from Newport, Maine. The award honors the senior who has evidenced the finest spirit of leadership during her days at Hollins.
  • The Jane Cocke Funkhouser Award, recognizing the junior or senior who is preeminent in character in addition to being a good student, was presented to Shravani Chitineni, a biology major from Cary, North Carolina.

 

 


Hollins Celebrates 179th Commencement May 19

Hollins University will honor members of the class of 2021 receiving bachelor’s degrees, and graduate students earning advanced degrees in both 2020 and 2021, during the school’s 179th Commencement Exercises, which will be held on Wednesday, May 19, at 10 a.m.

Undergraduates from the class of 2020, whose commencement was postponed last year due to the pandemic, have elected to have their celebration coincide with Hollins’ Reunion Weekend, May 27-29, 2022.

In order to best and most safely accommodate all graduates and guests, and to ensure Hollins is in full compliance with the commencement guidelines issued in March by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, the ceremony will be held on the university’s athletic practice fields. Attendance is limited to up to three guests per graduate.

The event may be viewed virtually through the commencement livestream beginning that day at 9:50 a.m.

The 179th Commencement Exercises will recognize undergraduate and graduate students who are pursuing the Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Arts and Fine Arts, and Bachelor of Science degrees, as well as the Master of Fine Arts, Master of Arts, Master of Arts in Teaching, and Master of Arts in Liberal Studies degrees. The following awards will also be announced:

  • The Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award, honoring a senior and a member of the Hollins community who have shown by daily living those qualities that demonstrate a love and helpfulness to others.
  • The Annie Terrill Bushnell Award, presented to a senior who has evidenced the finest spirit of leadership during their days at Hollins.
  • The Jane Cocke Funkhouser Award, highlighting the junior or senior who, in addition to being a good student, is preeminent in character and leadership.

Elizabeth Kolmstetter, Ph.D., a member of Hollins’ class of 1985 who has pioneered numerous innovative talent management programs across eight federal agencies, will be the guest speaker. An industrial and organizational psychologist, Kolmstetter has excelled at leading organizational change across some of our nation’s most prominent agencies such as the FBI, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the CIA. After 9/11, she helped start the new Transportation Security Administration where she led the hiring of the largest civilian workforce in U.S. history in one year.

Kolmstetter currently serves as NASA’s director of talent strategy and engagement. Her efforts have contributed to NASA being named the Best Place to Work in government and she was recently recognized with NASA’s 2020 Outstanding Leadership Medal. She is a member of the Hollins University Board of Trustees, has served on several nonprofit boards, and is the recipient of Hollins’ Distinguished Alumnae Award and Hollins’ Honoris Causa. Her mother, Paula P. Brownlee, served as president of Hollins from 1981 – 1990. Her husband, Michael, earned his Master of Arts in Liberal Studies from Hollins in 1990.

Visit the 179th Commencement Exercises webpage for more information on this year’s ceremony.

 


Honors Convocation Spotlights Student and Faculty Excellence

 

Hollins recognized students for high academic achievement during the university’s annual Honors Convocation on May 4.

Held each spring since 1978, Honors Convocation also highlights those faculty members whose exceptional work and dedication have earned them special academic designation.

 

Student and faculty awards announced at this year’s Honors Convocation include:

DEPARTMENTAL AND DIVISION AWARDS
Alice Bull Biology Award
Shravani Chitineni ’21
Hanna Vance Schleupner ’21
Established in 1991 by students, alumnae, colleagues, and friends in honor of Professor Alice Bull, who taught biology at Hollins from 1964 until her retirement in 1990. The purpose of the award is to provide recognition to a deserving senior and/or junior student in biology.

American Chemical Society, Division of Analytical Chemistry, Undergraduate Award in Analytical Chemistry
Uyen Nguyen Thanh ’23
Given to encourage and to recognize students who display an aptitude for a career in this field. The award consists of an eight-month subscription to the journal Analytical Chemistry and an eight-month honorary membership in the Division of Analytical Chemistry.

American Institute of Chemists Award
Maria Ibrahim Jdid ’21
Presented to the outstanding senior chemistry major.

Andrew James Purdy Merit Scholarship in Creative Writing
Isabel May Houck ’21
In memory of Andrew James Purdy, a member of the Hollins English faculty from 1968 to 1977, this scholarship is given to a senior English major pursuing an honors project in short fiction or a related literary
genre.

Andrew James Purdy Prize for Short Fiction
Winner – Laura Schmitt M.F.A. ’22
Runner-up – Griffin Plaag M.F.A. ’22
In memory of Andrew James Purdy, a member of the Hollins English faculty from 1968 to 1977, this award is given to a graduate student in the creative writing program who has written a body of fiction of outstanding quality.

ARETE Award in Classical Studies
Elizabeth Lindsay Lauderdale ’22
Established in 2006, this award is sponsored by the Classical Association of the Middle, West, and South (CAMWS) and is given to the junior and/or senior student(s) who have completed outstanding work in the field of classics in the past year. The awardee receives a certificate, a subscription to Classical Journal, and a free membership in CAMWS for the following academic year.

CRC Press Chemistry Achievement Award
Tram “Amy” Nguyen ’24
Keegan Leigh Clark ’24
Given to an outstanding first-year or sophomore student with interest in pursuing a career in chemistry.

Daniel M. Murphy Prize for Spanish
Ivana Esther Martinez ’21
This award, named for Dan Murphy, professor of Spanish at Hollins from 1993 until his death in 2012, is presented to a student of Spanish who, following Professor Murphy’s example, exhibits on a daily basis a profound love of the Spanish language and a dedication to learning about and teaching others about Hispanic cultures and literatures.

David L. Longfellow History Prize
Nathalie Jean Fortier ’23
This prize, established in 1982 in honor of David L. Longfellow, former assistant professor of history at Hollins, is awarded to the outstanding first-year student in history.

Elise Deyerle Lewis Award
Akshita “Akshi” Agarwal ’22
The late Elise Deyerle Lewis, class of 1927, donated a silver cup to honor the student in the junior class showing the greatest promise in mathematics. The award is in memory of Isabel Hancock, class of 1927, who was Mrs. Lewis’ roommate at Hollins, and later an outstanding teacher of mathematics at Abbot Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. The name of the student chosen is engraved on the cup, which remains on display at the university.

Elizabeth Alexander Thomas Award
Sara Ann Ficke ’23
This award, in memory of Elizabeth Alexander Thomas, class of 1968, recognizes and rewards one or more rising sophomore, junior, or senior art history majors whose academic work in art history shows exceptional depth and promise and to provide support for the art history department. Awarded funds may be used by the recipient(s) for any expenses related to academic work in art history, including museum admission fees and travel to collections and galleries.

Elizabeth Kennedy Chance Award
Summer Yvonne Jaime ’22
Shuvechchha Kunwar ’22
Established by John K. Chance in memory of his mother, class of 1922, this award is given for excellence in economics.

Evelyn Bradshaw Award for Excellence
Irina Conc ’21
This award, established in 1997 and given in honor of former Horizon Program Director Evelyn Bradshaw ’88, recognizes an outstanding Horizon student who inspires others through her perseverance, positive attitude, pursuit of knowledge, and love of Hollins. The chosen student will have her name engraved on a plaque that will remain at the university.

F.J. McGuigan Psychology Awards for Excellence
Hinza Batool Malik ’21
Established in 1974, this award, consisting of books and a certificate, is presented for excellence in undergraduate and graduate education and research.

Frances Niederer Scholars
Art History:
Madison Elizabeth Harr ’22
Amy “Faith” Herrington ’22
Studio Art:
Victoria “Tori” Queenette An’Jannique Cobbs ’22
Maddie Alexandra Zanie ’22
An anonymous donor established a scholarship fund in 1983 to honor Frances J. Niederer, professor of art history at Hollins from 1942 until her retirement in 1980. The art department selects two outstanding art majors, at least one of whom is specializing in art history, as recipients in their senior year of the Frances Niederer Scholarships.

Freya Award
Angela “Andi” Brown ’21
Paige Arianna Russell ’21
Caylin Hathaway Smith ’21
The purpose of this award is to recognize a student who throughout her time at Hollins has remained dedicated and committed to her activities on campus in a way that provides a quiet yet vital force in our community. It is for someone who has never reached out for the spotlight and has not been recognized for her efforts formally, but has still continued to work humbly and diligently in what she does to positively affect our campus.

Gertrude Claytor Poetry Prize
Winner – Tyler Starks, MFA ’21
Runner-up – Madeleine “Maddie” Gallo, MFA ’21
Runner-up – Makenzie “Kenzie” Hampton ’22
This prize of the Academy of American Poets is given to a graduate or undergraduate student for the best poem or group of poems.

Goethe Award
Victoria Taylor Anderson ’24
This award, in recognition of special accomplishments in the study of German language and literature, is presented by the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Herta Freitag Award in Mathematics
Sarah Elizabeth Hayashi ’21
The purpose of this award is to recognize an outstanding senior student in mathematics at Hollins who plans either to teach mathematics or pursue a career field related to mathematics.

Hollins Fiction Prize
Virginia “Ginny” Lee Lucey ’24
Established by Sally Durham Mason, class of 1959, in honor of Louis D. Rubin Jr., a member of the Hollins English faculty from 1957 to 1967. This award is given to an undergraduate student who has done outstanding work in the writing of fiction.

International Studies Award for Academic Excellence
Claire Michaela Hintz ’21
This award is given to a student for outstanding work in international studies during the academic year.

James Lewis Howe Award in Chemistry
Jaclyn “Elizabeth” Ward ’21
This award is sponsored by the Virginia Blue Ridge Section of the American Chemical Society and is given each year to the outstanding chemistry major from each of the 14 colleges or universities within the section’s boundaries.

Jane Lyell Stephens Ayers Scholarship
Jonea “Joey” Alexa Mathis ’21
Hannah Nicole Marcum ’22
Given in memory of Jane Stephens Ayres, class of 1961, by members of her family, colleagues, fellow students, and friends, this scholarship was established in 1986. It is awarded to a rising junior or senior who has shown special ability as a writer and serious interest in publications or journalism.

J.F. Maddox Foundation Award for Excellence in French
Savanna Virginia Huffman Sewell ’21
Awarded annually to a student who has demonstrated superior achievement in French.

Judith Gregory Smith Award
Winner – Nupur Sehgal ’23
Winner – Uyen Nguyen Thanh ’23
Honorable Mention – Olivia Kathryn Sacci ’24
This award is given by Judith Riddick Reynolds, class of 1915, in memory of her granddaughter, Judith Gregory Smith, who would have been a fourth-generation alumna in the class of 1990. It recognizes excellence in the natural sciences.

Lisa Lindsey Award for Excellence in Theatre Arts
Theatre:
Tatiana Alexis Durant ’21
Anna Mitchell Johnson ’21
Lilyana Marie Miller ’21
Dance:
Chloe Fiona Mahalek ’22
Established by Mary Varner Meryweather, class of 1941, as a memorial to her classmate and friend, Lisa Lindsey, this award, consisting of a cash prize and a certificate, is presented annually to a student who demonstrates outstanding achievement in theatre arts.

Mae Shelton Boger Award
Emma Valentine Fitzgerald ’21
Mae Shelton Boger, class of 1941, derived particular pleasure from her studies in French. This endowed award, given in her memory, is presented annually to an outstanding student of French who combines sound scholarship with pleasure in the pursuit of her studies.

Margaret Markley Smith Awards
Art History:
Shelby Lynn Barbee ’21
Studio Art:
Candice Marie Housden ’21
English:
Winner – Joanna “Jay” Wright ’21
Runner-up – Averi Danielle Greenstreet ’21
Runner-up – Carly Pawlowska Lewis ’21
In memory of Margaret Markley Smith, class of 1938, these awards are given to a senior majoring in art and a senior majoring in English for outstanding work.

Marion Garrett Lunsford Music Award
Mary Elizabeth Simmons ’21
Established as a fund in memory of Marion Garrett Lunsford, class of 1926, this award is given annually to a member of the senior class for distinguished accomplishment in music.

Mary Houska Scholarship
Elizabeth Katy Brown ’22
The purpose of this award is to recognize an outstanding upperclass economics or business major who has demonstrated superior academic performance.

Mary-Barbara Zeldin Award
Julia “Jules” Jackson ’21
This award, established by students, colleagues, and friends in honor of Professor Mary-Barbara Zeldin, who taught philosophy at Hollins from 1953 until her death in 1981, is given to a rising junior, rising senior, or senior for excellence in philosophy.

Mary Vincent Long Award in English
Claire Michaela Hintz ’21
Renee Marie Roberts ’21
In memory of Mary Vincent Long, a member of the Hollins English faculty from 1938 to 1959, this award is given to a senior English major who exemplifies in the study of literature “a mind capable of going beyond concern with immediate facts to understanding and creation.”

Mary Williamson Award
Aysia Skye Brenner ’21
This award is given in memory of the late Professor Mary Williamson of the department of philosophy and religion for the best study submitted in the field of humanities.

Melanie Hook Rice Award in Creative Nonfiction
Winner – Jennifer “Jen” Lazar M.F.A. ’21
Runner-up – Meghana Mysore M.F.A. ’22
Runner-up – Sharon Christner, MFA ’21
In memory of Melanie Hook Rice, class of 1975, this award is given to a graduate or undergraduate student in the creative writing program who has demonstrated considerable writing skills and has either completed or made substantial progress toward writing a book-length work of nonfiction.

Melanie Hook Rice Award in the Novel
Winner – Cory Crouser M.F.A. ’21
Runner-up – Zoe Wright M.F.A. ’21
In memory of Melanie Hook Rice, class of 1975, this award is given to a graduate or undergraduate student in the creative writing program who has demonstrated considerable writing skills and has either completed or made substantial progress toward writing a novel.

Mildred Persinger ’39 – Shocky Pilafian Award in Gender and Women’s Studies
Te’ya Kaye Mitchell ’21
This award acknowledges excellence in academic achievement as well as significant contributions to social activism both within the Hollins community and beyond. The award seeks to recognize gender and women’s studies graduates who are working to effect social change and bring about social justice in a variety of arenas. This award is given to a graduating gender and women’s studies major.

Nancy Ellen Couper Ault Award in Ethics, Morals, and Values
Emily Michelle Bulifant ’22
Available to any student of the college and is accordingly an interdisciplinary honor, encourages students to think critically about important ethical questions affecting a broad range of endeavors.

Nancy Penn Holsenbeck Prize in English
Winner – Fanny “Isabel” Estrada Lugo ’22
Runner-up – Amity Jane Williams ’22
In memory of Nancy Penn Holsenbeck, class of 1938, this award is given to a rising sophomore, junior, or senior English major who has demonstrated both a love and a command of the English language.

Nancy Thorp Poetry Prize
Isabel May Houck ’21
In memory of Nancy Thorp, who attended Hollins from 1956 to 1958, this award is given to an undergraduate student who has written the best poem to appear in the student-produced literary magazine Cargoes.

Nicole Kohn Film Award
Anja Elizabeth Holland ’21
This award is given in memory of Nicole Kohn, class of 2002, to a filmmaking student of exceptional promise.

Patricia Dowd Overall Award
Mary Rose Christian ’21
Patricia Dowd Overall is a member of the class of 1954. In her honor a prize is given annually to the student who, in the judgment of the department of education, has demonstrated in the schoolroom the greatest mastery and promise in the art of teaching.

Pi Sigma Alpha Award
Saoirse Eire Healy ’21
This award is given to the senior with the highest grade point average in courses taken in political science.

Sarah McCutchen Cook International Studies Award
Christine Marie Emeric-Martinez ’22
The purpose of this award is to recognize an outstanding undergraduate student majoring in international studies.

Stephanie Mahan Hispanophile Award
Mary Elisabeth Cochran ’21
This award is given to a senior Spanish major or minor whose enthusiasm and outstanding interest in things Hispanic most closely mirror the example set by Stephanie Lynn Mahan, class of 1995. Specifically, this student must have sought out first-hand experience in the Spanish-speaking world, and must have generously shared her knowledge of that world with her peers.

Wyndham Robertson Library Undergraduate Research Award
Faith Jaqueline Clarkson ’22
Joanna “Jay” Wright ’21
Established in 2011 by the library for the recognition of exemplary undergraduate student research projects completed in Hollins courses. Two prizes are awarded, one to a first-year or sophomore and one to a junior or senior.

FACULTY AWARDS

The Herta Freitag Faculty Legacy Award
Ángel Diaz, professor of Spanish
Awarded to a full-time teaching faculty member who has received external recognition of professional excellence from the last three years in the form of publications and papers, exhibits and performances, prizes, and other related expressions of their work.

Senior Class Faculty Award
Pauline Kaldas, professor of English
Given by the senior class  to a faculty member who has made a significant impact on their lives.

Hollins Faculty Excellence in Teaching Award
Initiated in 2021, recognizes two members of the faculty – one full-time tenure-track/tenured faculty member, and one non- tenure track faculty member – who motivate and inspire students through the demonstration of exemplary teaching practices, and who have made a positive impact on the teaching culture of the University through innovative and high-impact teaching methodologies, inclusive pedagogies, community engagement in teaching/learning, creative and/or interdisciplinary course development, instructional support, and/or campus leadership around pedagogy. Given that the inauguration of the award last year was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year the award was presented to two tenured or tenure-track faculty and two non-tenure-track faculty members.
Tenured/tenure track category:
Renee Godard – professor of biology
Tina Salowey – professor of classical studies
Non-tenure-track category:
Ashleigh Breske – visiting assistant professor of global politics and societies
Jeanne Jegousso – visiting assistant professor of French

Roberta A. Stewart Service Award
Ernie Zulia, professor emerita of theatre
Granted to a Hollins employee who demonstrates long-term service, loyalty to the university, and deep caring for students and colleagues.

 

 


Art History Senior Symposium and Tribute to Professor Kathleen Nolan, April 24

Hollins will observe the 25th anniversary of the Art History Senior Symposium and pay tribute to retiring Professor of Art History Kathleen Nolan during two virtual events on Saturday, April 24.

The annual Art History Senior Symposium, the capstone experience for art history majors, will take place from 10 a.m. – noon EDT. Four members of the class of 2021 will present their original research through a series of 20-minute talks. Email knolan@hollins.edu for the Zoom link and more details.

From 1 – 3 p.m. EDT, art history alumnae will come together for a reunion to honor Nolan and her distinguished 35-year academic career at Hollins. Nolan shaped the art history department into a multi-faceted program and taught majors, minors, and non-majors the skills to perceptively and thoughtfully interpret images from the past and present alike. She has taught medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque art history, and her scholarly interests include the history of women in the Middle Ages, and the works of art commissioned by women to tell their stories. She co-edited Arts of the Medieval Cathedrals: Studies on Architecture, Stained Glass and Sculpture in Honor of Anne Prache. Her book, Queens in Stone and Silver: The Creation of a Visual Identity of Queenship in Capetian France (Palgrave 2009), looked at queens’ personal seals and effigy tombs. Her articles and essays have appeared in The Art Bulletin, the Gazette des Beaux-Arts, Studies in Iconography, and Gesta.

Christine Holt Fix ’97, Zirwat Chowdhury ’05, Gwen Fernandez ’06, Sarita Herman ’08, and Rory Keeley ’17 will deliver brief reflections on how their experiences studying with Nolan shaped their career paths. Through short videos, many other alumnae will also offer greetings and share their recollections. The celebration will also include opportunities to catch up with classmates, provide updates, and make new connections. Preregister for the Zoom link, or contact Amy Torbert ’05 at amy.torbert@gmail.com to learn more about the reunion event or to contribute your own memories.


With Safely Accommodating All Graduates and Guests the Priority, Hollins to Conduct Commencement Exercises May 19

Hollins University will honor the class of 2021 during commencement exercises on Wednesday, May 19, at 10 a.m. ET.

In order to best and most safely accommodate all graduates and guests, and to ensure the university is in full compliance with the commencement guidelines recently issued by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, the ceremony will be held on the athletic practice fields across from the Batten Tennis Center on West Campus Drive.

The ceremony will recognize undergraduate and graduate students who are pursuing the Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Arts and Fine Arts, and Bachelor of Science degrees, as well as the Master of Fine Arts, Master of Arts, Master of Arts in Teaching, and Master of Arts in Liberal Studies degrees. The following awards will also be announced:

  • The Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award, honoring a senior and a member of the Hollins community who have shown by daily living those qualities that demonstrate a love and helpfulness to others.
  • The Annie Terrill Bushnell Award, presented to a senior who has evidenced the finest spirit of leadership during their days at Hollins.
  • The Jane Cocke Funkhouser Award, highlighting the junior or senior who, in addition to being a good student, is preeminent in character and leadership.
Elizabeth Kolmstetter '85
Elizabeth Kolmstetter, Ph.D., a member of Hollins’ class of 1985, will deliver the commencement address.

Elizabeth Kolmstetter, Ph.D., a member of Hollins’ class of 1985 who has pioneered numerous innovative talent management programs across eight federal agencies, will be the guest speaker. An industrial and organizational psychologist, Kolmstetter has excelled at leading organizational change across some of our nation’s most prominent agencies such as the FBI, ODNI, and CIA. After 9/11, she helped start the new Transportation Security Administration where she led the hiring of the largest civilian workforce in U.S. history in one year.

Kolmstetter currently serves as NASA’s director of talent strategy and engagement. Her efforts have contributed to NASA being named the Best Place to Work in government and she was recently recognized with NASA’s 2020 Outstanding Leadership Medal. She is a member of the Hollins University Board of Trustees, has served on several nonprofit boards, and is the recipient of Hollins’ Distinguished Alumnae Award and Hollins’ Honoris Causa.

Kolmstetter is married to Michael (MALS ’90) and her mother is Paula P. Brownlee, who was president of Hollins from 1981 – 1990.


Presidential Inaugural Poet Richard Blanco Talks About Reading For Hollins And His Latest Book, “How to Love a Country”

It’s not every day that a presidential inaugural poet gives a reading for Hollins University. In fact, it’s a first. This Thursday, April 8, Cuban-American writer Richard Blanco, who read his poem “One Today” at the second inauguration of President Barack Obama in 2012, will offer a virtual reading for the Hollins community that’s open to the general public, becoming the first inaugural poet to do so in the university’s history. It’s a rare honor to be selected to read a poem at a presidential inauguration, even rarer than being president (45 individuals have served as U.S. President, but there have been just six inaugural poets, including literary titans such as Robert Frost at John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inauguration and Maya Angelou for Bill Clinton in 1993.) Blanco was the nation’s first Latino and first openly gay inaugural poet, and he wrote about the experience and his life leading up to that moment in his 2013 memoir For All of Us, One Today: An Inaugural Poet’s Journey. Blanco recently spoke about his latest collection How to Love a Country, writing during the COVID-19 pandemic, and his new friendship with fellow inaugural poet Amanda Gorman.

 

Thank you so much for taking the time, Richard. Let’s just start with the big game-changing moment: getting the call to read at then-President Obama’s second inauguration. What was that like?

That was a pretty crazy, alarming, wonderful, all-of-the-above moment. But I guess the most striking thing was that my initial reaction was not of fear or apprehension but really more of immense gratitude, not just for the opportunity that it represented, but more so gratitude for my parents and grandparents and all the sacrifices they made coming to this country. So you realize that your story is not just your story but that it’s a story that started being written a long time before. Gratitude for all of that was, in a way, a kind of closure as well as a new beginning. It closed one chapter of my life but opened up a whole new one.

 

It sounds like the inauguration was cathartic not just personally but artistically as well. Can you talk more about that?

Aesthetically and creatively, I’d never had to write a poem like that before. But I have to say, in an interesting and ironic way, I’d been writing it my entire life. In my very first graduate-level creative writing workshop, my first assignment was “write a poem about America.” [Laughs] My mentor and I joke that Obama gave me the same assignment ten years ago. But to be honest, after four books of writing about being Cuban-American and gay and Latino, I felt I had kind of exhausted the material. I didn’t know how to break out of the more purely autobiographical, and [the inauguration] was an invitation to do just that. I know what America means to me, but what does America mean to America? That was the question I had to ask. So the poem is a response to that and, in a way, it did open up a whole other approach to writing where the idea of the poetry of “We,” not just the poetry of “I,” became very important. And that’s obviously reflected in How to Love a Country as well.

 

Can we expect to hear some poems from that latest book during your Hollins reading?"How to Love a Country" Book Cover

Yes, I’ll read some poems from, How to Love a Country, [plus] some poems that lead up to that book as well. I usually like to tell somewhat of a narrative about my journey, both artistically and personally, and how that’s reflected in the poems. So thinking about growing up as an immigrant gay kid, becoming an inaugural poet, and how that changed my perspective on things in my art, resulting in How to Love a Country, which are poems that are much more socio-political.

 

I love that collection so much. For these poems, did you find yourself struggling to love this country, or struggling to re-evaluate that love?

The question of what is America, what does it mean to be an American, has always been a part of my question. Being selected as presidential inaugural poet was obviously an amazing experience in that it opened my eyes to the idea that my narrative is part of America. Before then, I wasn’t 100-percent convinced of that. [Laughs] But I also started seeing how many narratives weren’t being included although they were part of this country’s fabric, that so many people, like me, felt the same way. So I just started thinking about all the work we had to do still in this country. Our democracy is not a one-off—it’s not a check-and-done—it’s constant work and constant re-evaluation. So the inauguration was a pivotal moment, a positive moment, but it also sent me on a journey to keep investigating this idea of the American narrative.

 

And how has the COVID-19 pandemic affected that investigation? Has quarantine had a big impact on your writing process?

For the most part, no, in the sense that writers are used to working alone. But even I’m going a little stir crazy, and you know when the writers are going stir crazy that something is really bad. [laughs] But I really have a sense of empathy for people who have been working outside their house for years and years. I would say that this last year has instilled in me an appreciation for home and community like never before. There are so many things that we all take for granted, even the smallest things like going to your favorite neighborhood restaurant or just appreciating the people who allow us to have those experiences and understanding, much like the inaugural poem, that all of us matter. All our stories are really happening at once and they’re all interconnected.

 

Speaking of that interconnection, we just had another inauguration in January and another presidential inaugural poet. What did you think of Amanda Gorman’s poem, “The Hill We Climb”?

I know Amanda. She speaks Spanish, which is really wonderful; we text in Spanish so she can practice. As my partner Mark says, more people have been to the moon than have been presidential inaugural poets, so it’s a very small club! [laughs]

But besides her poem and the strength of her poem, what she represents is so powerful. During these chaotic years, I’ve been concerned by what kind of story we’re telling to our children, to our youth. So the choice of this 22-year-old writing dynamo as inaugural poet says a lot: says that you have power, you have agency, you have to participate in this democracy, it’s your country as well. I think she has come at a moment when we need that the most, and I look forward to seeing how she can lead us, especially our youth, through what I think are still very tumultuous years ahead.

 

Jeff Dingler is a graduate assistant in Hollins’ marketing and communications department. He is pursuing his M.F.A. in creative writing at the university.