“Do and Be What You Are”: Hollins Celebrates the Class of 2024 at 182nd Commencement Exercises

“Do and Be What You Are”: Hollins Celebrates the Class of 2024 at 182nd Commencement Exercises

Commencement, Special Events

May 19, 2024

“Do and Be What You Are”: Hollins Celebrates the Class of 2024 at 182nd Commencement Exercises Commencement 2024 Main Image

The threat of inclement weather led Hollins University to hold its 182nd Commencement Exercises indoors, and the enthusiastic celebration of the class of 2024 was not dampened literally or figuratively as 182 undergraduate and graduate students received degrees at the morning ceremony on Sunday, May 19.

Hollins made the decision on May 16 to move this year’s commencement from its traditional location on the university’s historic Front Quad to the Berglund Center Coliseum in downtown Roanoke after considerable rainfall was predicted for the weekend.

“Today I see a group of students ready to tackle anything that the world puts before them,” said President Mary Dana Hinton in her welcome. “I have watched you grow into fiercely intelligent leaders. I see it in your academic work through your thesis presentations and honor society inductions. I see it in your athletic pursuits on the court, in the pool, and in the ring. I see it in your job and graduate school offers. But most of all, I see it in your eyes.”

She continued, “Those eyes I encountered express what it means to be love. Because that is what you are to me and for me: love. You are the love that fights injustice. You are the love that works so very hard to enable your amazing academic accomplishments. You are the love that has learned to forgive and recognize that we are all imperfect. You are the love that recognizes that we are so much better together. You are the love that looked one another in the eye and decided to take a chance on Hollins.”

This year’s guest speaker, Metropolitan Opera dramatic soprano Helena Brown ’12, urged the class of 2024 to “live your life from your own truth and turn your adversity, your failures, and your setbacks into wisdom.”

Guest speaker Helena Brown ’12: “I’m a Hollins woman because I am a leader and changemaker, like all of you are and will be in your own respects.”

Brown has received three Grammy certificates for her performances in productions at the Met, including Terence Blanchard’s Champion, which recently won the 2024 Grammy for Best Opera Recording. She has also appeared at Lincoln Center Theatre and on the New York Harlem Theatre European tour. A strong ally for the arts, Brown serves as a vice president of the choristers, actors, and staff performers in the American Guild of Musical Artists and is also an advisory director on the Metropolitan Opera Board of Directors.

Telling the class of 2024 that “you become what you believe,” Brown said, “If you speak to yourself with loving conviction and believe yourself to be an author or playwright, a scientist, CEO, venture capitalist, an engineer, a politician, lawyer, an artist, doctor, or an educator, then you will become that. The possibilities are endless. Own it, become it.”

She then challenged the graduates to “dream even bigger. How many lives will you touch? What problems will you solve? How many burdens will you ease? Will you lift people up? Develop a little voice that reminds you…that you are worthy, and your dreams are real. The experiences you will know, and feel, are not meaningless noise. All of these moments matter.”

Brown shared how she “did many of the things my naysayers said I could never do. There are people who thought they knew my destiny, tried quite hard to level me, saying that I would never have a professional career or get into grad school, and especially, that I would never sing at the Metropolitan Opera. But I knew myself and my convictions, and that was the only truth I would hear.” She encouraged the graduating class to “stop asking for permission, and instead, do and be what you are.”

Calling herself a “a proud Hollins woman,” Brown proclaimed, “I’m a Hollins woman because I am a leader and changemaker, like all of you are and will be in your own respects. This place, where we have spent some of our precious years…gives us the absolute audacity to think out loud and take flight into worlds that weren’t created with us in mind, to not limit our opportunities and cultivate our imaginations. It’s our legacy. We don’t fit the formula; we write it, and we surpass it.”

Brown concluded by reminding the class of 2024 to “love yourself. Hold yourself in high esteem. Self-care is not a luxury; it is a necessity. It is a collective practice that we need to be effective, empathetic changemakers. When we make space for ourselves, we also create space for others. Treat yourself kindly and continue to lift your eyes,” referencing the university motto, Levavi Oculos, which calls the Hollins community to leadership and service and drives its values and traditions.

Senior Class President Lew Neils assured the graduates that “no matter what has happened, or where we will go, we will always be the class of 2024. What you have chosen is to be a part of a class of brilliant minds, hopeless romantics, and creative geniuses. I hope, down the line, you look back at this class, or this moment, and all the other moments from when you applied, and you realize you have become the best person you can be because of these choices.” Neils thanked “family, faculty, staff, and friends for supporting this graduating class with persistence and love.”

182 for 182: 182 undergraduate and graduate degrees were conferred at Hollins’ 182nd Commencement Exercises.

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 2023, was presented to Eleanor Green (B.A. in English). Ellie Song (B.A. in English) received the Second Faculty Award for Academic Excellence for earning the second-highest academic standing.

Olivia Sacci (B.S. in biology) received the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Student Award, which recognizes a senior who has shown by daily living those qualities that evidence a spirit of love for and helpfulness toward others. Ruth Alden Doan Assistant Professor of History Christopher Florio 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 Prize was given to Abigail Soto (B.S. in chemistry). 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 senior who is preeminent in character and leadership in addition to being a good student, was presented to Israella Freidline (B.A. in communication studies, B.A. in French).

Sarah Rouhier (M.F.A. in children’s literature) received the Annual Excellence in Academic Performance Award, which honors a graduate student whose career at Hollins best exemplifies scholarly excellence – reflecting deep learning, critical and creative thinking, applied or practical relevance, and exceptional academic performance.

The Tracy Frist Farm at Sinking Creek Prize for Excellence in Imagining Nature, recognizing a graduate student whose final project, new play, screenplay, dance project, children’s book, short story, novel, poem collection, lesson plans, or thesis envisions new and creative orientations to natural habitats, permaculture and regenerative agriculture, land management, wildlife management, environmental justice, and sustainability, was given to Rebecca Edgren (M.F.A. in creative writing).

Watch Hollins’ 182nd Commencement in its entirety