The graduates waited an unprecedented two years for the ceremony, but the class of 2020 finally and deservedly received their moment in the morning sun as Hollins held its 178th Commencement Exercises on May 29.
The event on Hollins’ historic Front Quadrangle, which was postponed in May 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, honored members of the class who earned bachelor’s degrees that year (graduate students who earned advanced degrees in 2020 were recognized in May 2021).
Tiffany Marshall Graves ’97 was the guest speaker, fulfilling the invitation she originally received two years ago to deliver the 178th Commencement address. Since 2018, Graves has worked as pro bono counsel for Bradley Arant Boult & Cummings LLP in Jackson, Mississippi. She oversees the development and administration of the firm’s pro bono programs, which help address the unmet legal needs of indigent individuals and charitable institutions across the firm’s footprint. Prior to joining Bradley, Graves was the executive director of the Mississippi Access to Justice Commission, where she led and promoted initiatives to improve and expand access to civil justice to the nearly 700,000 Mississippians living in poverty.
The Hollins honors graduate with degrees in political science and Spanish as well as membership in Phi Beta Kappa went on to earn her law degree from the University of Virginia School of Law. She focused her remarks “on three Rs – no, not reading, writing, and arithmetic – but resilience, reflection, and rest.”
Graves emphasized that “being resilient does not mean that you don’t experience stress, emotional upheaval, and suffering. Rather, demonstrating resilience includes emotional pain and suffering.
“We all know resilient people,” she continued. “I am looking at a crowd full of them now. You persevered, you overcame, and you summoned your inner strength using the tools and people around you to keep pressing forward.”
Graves stated that she did not believe that “we can ever over-reflect. Self-reflection is the process of bringing your attention to what’s happening in your life in a mindful and open-minded way. Self-reflection helps us make sense of things. To continue to learn and grow, you have to take significant steps toward loving and accepting yourself – you – in all your beauty – and it starts with making self-reflection an everyday practice.”
Resilience and reflection require a lot of work, Graves said, and she cautioned the class of 2020 that “you are going to get tired – and I want to encourage you to rest. We greatly undervalue rest. Studies have shown that in addition to improving our health, rest can make us less stressed, it can deepen our relationships, it can present opportunities for reflection, it can make us more balanced, increase our productivity, and it can allow us to build up a reserve for when unexpected emergencies happen and rest is not an option.”
Graves shared her aspirations for the class of 2020 by quoting the children’s book, I Wish You More by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenfield:
I wish you more ups than downs
I wish you more give than take
I wish you more tippy-toes than deep
I wish you more we than me
I wish you more hugs than ughs
I wish you more woohoo than woah
I wish you more can than knot
I wish you more snowflakes than tongue
I wish you more pause than fast-forward
I wish you more umbrella than rain
I wish you more bubbles than bath
I wish you more treasures than pockets
I wish you stories than stars
“I wish all of this for you, because you are everything I could wish for and more,” she concluded.
Following Graves’ remarks, Hollins University Trustee Sandra Kiely Kolb ’70 presented her the degree of Doctor of Laws honoris causa for her commitment to “the fight to secure justice for all.”
In her address, Class of 2020 Senior Class President Alex Lesniak noted, “We have the unique perspective of ‘graduating’ with two years of post-undergraduate life experience, which allows us to view our time at Hollins with a different lens.” She encouraged the class to “let this graduation ceremony highlight the things we’ve gained and accomplished,” adding, “We’ve all learned things in the wake of COVID-19, we’ve learned that life is precious, to forgive easily and show grace. We’ve learned to step outside ourselves and try to be as global and community-minded as possible, because you’ll never know when you will need something to be paid forward for you. We’ve learned how to show up for each other even when it’s hard and know that the siblinghood we have inherited by graduating from Hollins University will never dissipate.”
Lesniak reminded her classmates that “completing your undergraduate degree in the midst of a global pandemic is a milestone achievement. Not only will our senior year be memorable, but our time at Hollins as a whole. We were the largest class in many years, we experienced political upset and social and racial unrest, and finally, COVID-19. If anything, continuing to roll with the punches through these intense life events, one right after the other, should serve as a positive predictor about our class’s ability to withstand and thrive in swiftly changing environments.”
Other highlights of the 178th 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 2020, was presented to April Little (French/creative writing). Madeline Clevenstine (gender and women’s studies) received the Second Faculty Award for Academic Excellence for earning the second-highest academic standing.
Megan Caldwell (international studies/history) 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.
The Annie Terrill Bushnell Award was given to Reilly Swennes (political science). 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 Leemu Jackson (biology).
Watch Hollins University’s 178th Commencement Exercises in their entirety.