Davidson said farewell to 446 members of the Class of 2016 on a picture-postcard Sunday morning. A crowd of more than 3,500 family members raised congratulatory whoops and hollers as graduates were called by name to cross the stage and receive their diplomas from college President Carol Quillen and Board of Trustees Chair John Chidsey '83.
The graduates represented 38 states and 11 foreign countries. One-hundred-eighty-four of them received Latin honors as outstanding scholars with 105 graduating cum laude, and 77 as magna cum laude. The most popular majors for the graduates were biology (65 students), political science (63), economics (56) and psychology (49).
First honor for the highest grade point average in the class was shared by the two summa cum laude graduates—Cooper W. Karisch, a double major in economics and classics from Austin, Texas, and Ryan H. Kozlowski from High Point, North Carolina, who earned honors in physics. Karisch held a Thompson S. and Sarah S. Baker Scholarship, and won the first year GPA Award and the 2016 Pritchett Award in classics. He will be working as an analyst for UBS Investment Bank in New York. Kozlowski won the 2016 Physics Award, and will pursue a doctoral degree in physics at Duke University in the fall.
Commencement 2016 also celebrated the graduation of eight John M. Belk Scholars, bringing the all-time total to 103. The Belk Scholarship is one of the most prestigious undergraduate scholarships in the country, and covers all college expenses for its recipients, in addition to special travel grants. The Belk Scholarship recognizes students of outstanding academic prowess, integrity and passion for life who have demonstrated records of distinction in myriad areas.
As is the Davidson tradition, President Carol Quillen presented remarks in lieu of a formal invited speaker.
She began by telling the graduates they "have been a joy to watch," and listed dozens of their selfless, creative, academic, athletic, advocacy, community building and philanthropic involvements and endeavors. She applauded those achievements, saying, "You leave a formidable legacy. Davidson College is stronger, more courageous, wiser and more humane because you were here."
She told them they were enrolled at a particular moment in Davidson's history, a time when "The Davidson Bubble" burst. Students are now connected to the world whenever, and from wherever, they want to be. In addition, the college began welcoming talented people from diverse backgrounds, regions and traditions, all of whom brought new ideas to campus. In tandem with these changes, the college has seized upon opportunities to institute new curricula, facilitate entrepreneurship, develop partnerships with corporate and educational entities, and host renowned speakers.
In conclusion, President Quillen asked graduates to ponder the question, "What does community look like in an era of global connection?"
She had no pat answer to offer, but gave advice on how to enter the discussion—listen before you talk, act like a human being, approach people with empathy rather than suspicion, choose hope over fear, and "believe in a future you can't yet see."
President Quillen assured graduates that they are ready to face a complicated world and that they are not alone because they carry the love of the special community of Davidson inside them forever.
The ceremony included special recognition of five members of the community.
Davidson's 16th president, Robert F. "Bobby" Vagt '69, received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree. His citation noted the eclectic career path that led to his tenure as president from 1997-2007, and his many initiatives to make the college a better place. They included construction of the Knobloch Campus Center, a major renovation of Chambers Building, investments in technology, pursuit of diversity in the student body, doubling of the endowment, and inauguration of The Davidson Trust financial aid policy, which meets 100 percent of demonstrated financial need of accepted students through a combination of grants and campus employment, without relying on loans.
Algernon Sidney Sullivan Awards recognizing "fine spiritual qualities practically applied to daily living... for unselfish service without due recognition" were presented to graduating senior Katherine "Katie" F. Farrey and Davidson resident Andrew H. "Andy" Beard '68 .
Farrey was selected for her devotion to service of formerly homeless adults in residential facilities, and for working with people dealing with addiction, mental illness and other challenging life events. Farrey was noted to possess "a ready smile, a friendly word, and a mischievous sense of humor that bring laughter and fun into the lives of others." One of the best examples of her giving spirit was her founding of the Random Acts of Kindness Club, a group that seeks to bring happiness to students, particularly during times of high stress.
Beard was recognized as the creator and sustainer of The Spokes Group, a holiday tradition of donating bicycles to children in need in lieu of spending so much on parties and gifts. Beard began The Spokes Group in 1994 with 135 bikes purchased. It has grown into a collaborative effort by corporations and individuals that in recent years has given away more than 3,000. And the organization itself is growing. Chapters of The Spokes Group have been created in Raleigh, Charleston and towns in Eastern North Carolina. His citation noted that Beard "Does the work with a generous heart, and a relentless and devoted spirit that seeks to bring joy to worthy children at Christmas."
Hunter-Hamilton Love of Teaching Awards were presented to Professor of Economics Fred Smith and Brown Professor of Political Science Shelley Rigger. Each award includes $7,500 for the recipient, and $7,500 more for the recipient to designate to a college cause.
Smith was praised as a master lecturer, tutor and motivator of student interest, and for his ability to forge connections between theory and socioeconomic issues relevant to students' lives.
His nominators emphasized that "Professor Smith takes uncommon care to create a classroom that welcomes all students, takes seriously their questions, and teems with a sense of shared intellectual inquiry."
Smith teaches introductory economics, intermediate microeconomics, urban economics and economic history. His research focuses on the forces that shape cities over time, and he is currently engaged in a project that focuses on New York City from the Civil War to the present day. Smith earned his doctorate from Vanderbilt and began teaching at Davidson in 2000.
Rigger, a specialist in East Asian politics, earned her doctorate from Harvard and joined the Davidson faculty in 1993. Her nominators described her as "fascinating, knowledgeable, and entertaining." She was praised for creating a thriving classroom full of active give and take. Known among students as the "Queen of Metaphors," or the "Professor with the Hello Kitty watch," Rigger engages students with a vivid sense of humor.
Rigger has studied East Asian politics since her undergraduate years at Princeton. Her doctorate at Harvard concerned Chinese politics and Islamic minorities in China. Since that time she has turned her focus from China to Taiwan. As a widely respected scholar on that subject, she has become a valuable consultant to U.S. government politicians and military officials. She has testified many times before congressional committees, and in 2011 wrote a definitive book on Taiwan, titled Why Taiwan Matters: Small Island, Global Powerhouse. She is currently engaged in a study of the effects of cross-strait economic interactions on Taiwanese people's perceptions of mainland China.
Commencement activities began Friday evening with concerts by the choir and jazz ensemble, with special recognition by conductors of the senior class performers.
The college's alumni office also honored graduates on Saturday at a luncheon for the approximately 37 students whose parents or other close relatives are alumni.
Graduate Connery O'Brien of Lakemont, Georgia, was keynote speaker at the event. She began by noting that her Davidson roots were shallow compared to many in the room. Her only Davidson legacy was her mother, Sandy Fossett '83. However, O'Brien continued, "I have come to realize that my Davidson family goes far beyond my immediate family. All of my mom's friends are amazing, but her Davidson friends stick out to me the most. There is something different about them-something that I cannot exactly put a finger on. But what I do know is that they are an exceptionally kind, intelligent and ambitious bunch."
Addressing her peers, she continued, "We were drawn to Davidson because we saw something in our family members that we strove to achieve in ourselves. We saw their unbreakable friendships and perhaps their desire to spread the Honor Code values to new communities. We saw the genuine desire to learn from the people around them. We saw passion, and the relentless pursuit of that passion, whatever it may be."
On her way to a job at a Wyoming ranch, she expressed a little anxiety, but said, "I am confident that my beloved cross-generational Davidson family will continue to grow. And maybe one day I'll be lucky enough to see my kids build a Davidson community of their own."
The traditional Saturday evening Baccalaureate service in Belk Arena featured a sermon by college chaplain Rob Spach '84. Referencing Jeremiah 6:16, and verses from Matthew 5 and 7, Spach titled his remarks "A More Radical and Dangerous Memory."
Spach said there is a journal book in the meditation room in his office for students to write their reflections. One student wrote, "I pray that God will show me the light, set me on the right path, and give me courage to face the fears of the future."
Spach acknowledged that the step away from college can be daunting, and repeated a question of Frederick Buechner: "Why do any of us ever leave places and times and worlds? What is the ultimate motive that underlies the movement of our lives?"
Buechner proposes that the reason for movement is not to do something, but to become "who we were created to be."
Spach also invited the audience to seek guidance from the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah, who suggests "Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it and find rest for your souls."
Spach cited words of wisdom from several world cultures to conclude, "Truth be told, what we as human beings most deeply long for and need is not so much accomplishment but wholeness, not so much power but strength, not so much money in the bank and a nice house, but rather a just and inclusive community that we've helped created. In sum, rest for our restless souls."
He concluded, "As you seniors stand at this crossroads, you have the opportunity to pursue the ancient paths. We can choose, each in our own way and within our own cherished communities, to look and ask for them. Whatever road you walk down as you graduate, may you walk with confidence and hope that you will be shown light, and that you will be set on a right path. Knowing you aren't alone but are accompanied by the One who is the source of life, and of love, may you grow in courage to face the fears of the future, as you become, through divine grace and your own deepest integrity, the exquisitely human person you were created, and most hunger and thirst to be."