Retiring President Nancy Oliver Gray was cited for setting “the highest standard of servant leadership with selflessness and compassion” during Hollins University’s 175th Commencement Exercises on May 21.
Hollins Board of Trustees Chair Judy Lambeth ’73’s recognition of both Gray and Thomas A. Barron with honorary degrees was one of the highlights of this year’s event, where 211 undergraduate and graduate degrees were conferred.
Gray is stepping down on June 30 after 12 years as president of Hollins, “an exemplary champion of the liberal arts and sciences and of women’s colleges,” said Lambeth. She also noted that Barron worked diligently to ensure that the university thrived after he was elected to the Board of Trustees in 2008 and then served as chair from 2012 to 2015.
Mary Elizabeth “Mary Beth” Hatten, a member of Hollins’ class of 1971 and the Frederick P. Rose Professor of Developmental Neurobiology at The Rockefeller University in New York City, was this year’s featured speaker. She addressed the question, “What is a woman’s voice?”, and cautioned that even though “a women’s voice is beginning to be heard, it is still questioned, still qualified as different, still somewhat slightly less important than the dominant male voice in society.”
Hatten explored how today’s graduates can “take what you have experienced here at Hollins and enrich our society with…a women’s voice. Perhaps the most important advice from the past decade is that of [Facebook COO and author] Sheryl Sandberg, who wrote about women, ‘We hold ourselves back, in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in.’ Try taking the confidence that you feel in your circles at Hollins into the world of business, academia, wherever you may land. Follow your passion and do what you love.”
The 175th Commencement Exercises included the presentation of the following honors:
- The Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award, given by the New York Southern Society in memory of the founder, recognizes a senior and a member of the Hollins community who have shown by daily living those qualities that evince a love and helpfulness to other men and women. This year’s recipients are Nora Williams, a double major in Spanish and religious studies from Littleton, Colorado, and the late Caren Diefenderfer, professor of mathematics.
- The Annie Terrill Bushnell Award was given to Lia Joseph, a sociology major from Hampton, Virginia. 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, in addition to being a good student, is preeminent in character and leadership, was presented to Tegan Harcourt, a business major from Wilmington, Delaware.
- The Faculty Award for Academic Excellence, recognizing the students with the highest and second-highest academic standing in the class of 2017, was received respectively by Taylor Walker, a biology major from Camillus, New York, and Samantha Stone, an English major from Patrick Springs, Virginia.