What’s the key to fulfillment in life? According to Ellen Goldsmith-Vein, Hollins class of 1984 and leader of a company that represents some of the most creative minds in the entertainment industry, it isn’t just ambition or hard work.
“Remember to be kind. Treat people the way you would want to be treated,” the owner and CEO of The Gotham Group encouraged graduates during Hollins’ 172nd Commencement Exercises on May 25. “It costs nothing, but it pays enormous dividends.”
Hollins conferred 123 bachelor’s degrees and 69 master’s degrees during the ceremony, which took place on the university’s historic Front Quadrangle.
Goldsmith-Vein, this year’s guest speaker, is widely considered to be one of the most powerful women in Hollywood. She was the first talent manager ever featured on the cover of the “Power 100” special issue of The Hollywood Reporter in 2006, and is the only woman to own her own entertainment management company completely. In addition to boasting a client list that includes 500 top directors, writers, producers, authors, illustrators, and publishers, The Gotham Group produces a host of live-action and animated movies and television.
“The great journey you’re about to embark upon will be about exploring questions and finding your own answers to them, and trust me, it’s way better than thinking you have all the answers already,” Goldsmith-Vein told the class of 2014. “Your journey will be different, everyone’s is, but if you have passion for what you do, you’ll enjoy every moment of it.”
While she was composing her commencement address, Goldsmith-Vein recalled, “The thought occurred to me that what I should write about was something that I learned here at Hollins that has been a central precept in my life, something that transcends all things: Kindness.
“The Dalai Lama once said, ‘Be kind whenever possible.’ And then he added, ‘It is always possible.’”
Goldsmith-Vein spoke of how applying that philosophy as a business woman has helped her not only to achieve personally, but also to inspire her employees.
“I have found that a kind word at the right time makes them not only happy in the moment, but more fulfilled, loyal, and in the long run more successful.
“And kindness is what keeps you human through the madness, and keeps the monster of greed out of the war of ambition.”
Following Goldsmith-Vein’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.
Three graduating seniors were honored during the ceremony for the academic achievements. The First Faculty Award for Academic Excellence, which recognizes the student with the highest academic standing in the class of 2014, was presented to Cecelia Lee Parks. By virtue of having the second highest academic standing in the class, Catherine Marie Hensly and Rebecca Leigh Rowe each received the Faculty Award for Academic Excellence.
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 Natalie Johnson and Jon Guy Owens, director of the Hollins Outdoor 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. Gabrielle Awuma 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 Catherine Hensly was presented this year’s award.
- The Hollins University Teaching Award, supported by an endowment established in 2007 by Mary Bernhardt Wolfe 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 graduating senior Megan Grosholz, is Jessica Cuello, French teacher at Marcellus High School in Marcellus, New York.