Hollins University Board of Trustees Chair Alexandra Trower ’86 assured the class of 2022 that graduation is “not an ending, but a commencement, a new beginning, a monumental moment” at Hollins’ 180th Commencement Exercises, held May 22 on the school’s historic Front Quadrangle.
Hollins conferred 193 undergraduate and graduate degrees during the morning ceremony.
Trower, who retired last year as executive vice president, global communications, for The Estée Lauder Companies, was scheduled to be the guest speaker for this year’s event, but was unable to attend in person. Hollins President Mary Dana Hinton delivered Trower’s address on her behalf.
In her remarks, Trower praised the graduating class for having done “something really, really hard. You began at Hollins, and then, right in the middle of it all, COVID-19 cracked the world open. And our old world kind of fell apart. But with the help of our incredible leader, President Mary Dana Hinton, together with the entire campus, you built a new Hollins community – this extraordinary ‘Culture of Care’ for which this wonderful class of 2022 will forever be known. You did all that during a time of racial reckoning, of political upheaval, of cancel culture, despite fear of illness and even death while still being students, artists, athletes, workers, and friends. You did not give up.”
Trower’s address offered advice to the graduates that she noted, “I wish I had known when I was in your seat decades ago.” Her lessons for the class of 2022 included:
Pick one thing. “At the start of your post-Hollins journey, pick the thing that is most important to you and go for it. I have to add one crucial fact – your most important thing will change over time. You still need to figure out what that most important thing is for you right now, but be prepared for forks in the road as you move forward.”
Ask for help. “Asking for help doesn’t mean you are weak or that you don’t know what you are doing. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Asking for help is a sign of strength and courage. And one of the best parts of Hollins is that Hollins graduates are always there to help each other. Pick up the phone, reach out on LinkedIn, send an email or a text – but ask!”
Raise your hand for everything. For Trower, that included “tasks I knew nothing about. Working on those projects with other departments, stepping in when a teammate was out, and volunteering for things no one else wanted to do helped me learn more about the organization, build my skills, and experience new areas. And it built trust. You will find that accountability matters at all levels of an organization, personally and professionally. I could trust myself to follow through. My teammates could trust me to show up. And that’s co-creating a culture that thrives.”
Be a team player. “It wasn’t just that I was willing to do the work, but that I was…someone who most people enjoyed working with. And believe me, when it’s your fourth night in a row of working past midnight, being with people you like is really important. Organically, I began building a network that meant more complex and important projects, more meaning for me, and more and more responsibility.”
Always ask, “What do you need from me?” Trower considers this to be “the most important lesson I’ve learned. Remember to ask the people that you work with: What do you need from me? What does it look like? What does success look like for you? How do you want to be communicated with, and how often? What keeps you up at night?” Trower added, “‘What do you need from me?’ is something we should also ask ourselves. Be brave enough to ask yourself, ‘What do I need in this moment?’ And graduates, this is how change happens. Every single time you expand your thinking to include even one more person, rather than just reacting and retreating – you can change the culture, and the future, for the better. You have increased the chances for more communication, more honesty, more success, and better outcomes for everyone ”
Trower concluded with a quote from the Talmud: “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”
“When we say (that quote), we are really asking the world, ‘What do you need from me?’,” she explained. “When we make intentional choices true to our calling, when we raise our hand, and raise each other up, when we take a moment and ask ourselves and the world: ‘What do you need from me right now?’, we take a step closer to becoming the person we want to be, in the world we say we want to live in. But it takes all of us. And that is a relief, because that is what Hollins is. It’s all of us.”
Other highlights of this year’s commencement included the presentation of the following honors:
The First Faculty Award for Academic Excellence, recognizing the student or students with the highest academic standing in the class of 2022, was presented to Aabhashree Lamichhane (economics) and Apoorva Verma (psychology). Nabila Nasrullah Meghjani (gender and women’s studies) and Chin Wai “Rosie” Wong (communication studies/theatre) received the Second Faculty Award for Academic Excellence for earning the second-highest academic standing.
Mary Ming McDonald (theatre/communication studies) 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. Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Patty O’Toole 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 Leena Gurung (international studies). The award honors the senior who have evidenced the finest spirit of leadership during her days at Hollins.
The Jane Cocke Funkhouser Award, recognizing the senior who is preeminent in character and leadership in addition to being a good student, was presented to Aabhashree Lamichhane (economics).
Watch Hollins University’s 180th Commencement Exercises in their entirety.