Celebrating the Class of 2017: Davidson College's 180th Commencement

Thousands of friends and family members gathered on a balmy, overcast Sunday morning, May 21, to celebrate Davidson College's 180th commencement. Bachelor's degrees were awarded to 453 members of the Davidson College class of 2017 in an outdoor ceremony.

In keeping with a 54-year tradition, College President Carol Quillen addressed the graduates in lieu of a formal invited speaker.

"You leave a formidable legacy," she said. "Davidson College is stronger, more courageous, wiser and more humane because you were here."

She lauded their accomplishments on behalf of the college and the communities they've served, and implored them to navigate with intention the "tragic gap" between the world that is and the world that could be, adding that leadership is not about being in charge; it is about existing simultaneously in two different realities.

"Leadership is about learning to live, with your eyes and mind and heart open, in this tragic gap," she said. "It is about rejoicing in the unexpected, precious gifts of the here and now, even as you keep your hand on the plow and on push on, working for lasting change."

Graduates of the Class of 2017 represented 39 states and 18 countries. Latin honors for outstanding scholarship went to 188 of the graduates, with 119 graduating cum laude and 67 as magna cum laude. First honor for the highest grade point average in the class was shared by the two summa cum laude graduates—Hannah Elise Fuller '17, a Belk Scholar and French and Francophone Studies major, and Vincent Enno Thomas Hickl '17, a physics major.

Commencement 2017 also celebrated the graduation of eight John M. Belk Scholars, bringing the all-time total to 111. 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.

The most popular majors for 2017 graduates were biology (70), political science (68), economics (53) and psychology (49).

President Quillen, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty Wendy Raymond and Board of Trustees Chair John Chidsey III '83 presented diplomas to the graduates, as they crossed the stage one by one.

Commencement concluded two hours after it started with a rendition of the alma mater, "All Hail, O Davidson," sung by seniors members of the Davidson College Chorale, and a closing prayer offered by College Chaplain Robert Spach '84. Then a flock of mortar boards filled the sky as the graduates whooped and cheered, soon to be reunited with family and friends on hand for the occasion.

Special Recognitions

Algernon Sidney Sullivan Awards recognizing "fine spiritual qualities practically applied to daily living... for unselfish service without due recognition" were presented to graduating senior Nadia Glover '17 and Davidson resident and former college employee Gordon Peck.

Glover was selected for her efforts to create a more inclusive, just community, specifically for her "quiet, but decisive and impactful leadership in the Leadership, Equity and Justice intergroup dialogue which seeks to build trust and respect between white students and students of color and her outstanding service as in the Residence Life Office." Glover has been instrumental in facilitating constructive engagement among Davidson students surrounding difficult issues of race, social class, disability and gender and sexuality. One nominator said Glover's "positivity over the years has been contagious, inspiring her residents, peers and professional staff to maintain a positive perspective. Through this positivity and empathy, has created a more inclusive environment for students of color, international students, students experiencing physical disabilities and mental health concerns, and first-generation students."

Peck, who formerly served the college as an employee in the financial aid office, was recognized for "humbly and without fanfare serving the poor and disadvantaged who can often be overlooked and forgotten in this highly-educated, affluent and privileged community." Peck played a leading role in the creation of the Ada Jenkins Center, which provides much-needed services to the underrepresented in the Davidson community.

According to several nominators, Gordon spent many hundreds of hours doing unpaid labor to make the building suitable for occupancy, while also serving on committees that brought the modern Ada Jenkins Center into being. Gordon has also worked for many years to bridge the gap between Davidson's black and white communities.

He was a leader in Common Ground, a biracial group which sought to make Davidson one community, and also participates in the joint Davidson College Presbyterian Church-Davidson Presbyterian Church book club, which seeks to foster closer relations between the town's historically white and historically black Presbyterian congregations.

Class president Maria Abiad '17 presented the first annual Ben Callinder Award to Dara Ferguson '17.

The award honors beloved student and Student Government Association (SGA) president Ben Callinder '16, who passed away last May after a long battle with cancer. Ferguson, a Presidential Scholar and Africana Studies and Political Science double major, served with Callinder as vice-president of the SGA. Ferguson later served as SGA president.

Teaching Awards

Professor and Chair of Biology Barbara Lom Professor of Art Cort Savage are the recipients of the 2017 Hunter Hamilton Love of Teaching Awards. Each award includes $7,500 for the recipient, and $7,500 more for the recipient to designate to a college cause.

Lom was praised as a dynamic lecturer, attentive mentor and accomplished scholar, and for the care and compassion she exhibits in interactions with students who may be struggling personally or academically.

"The enthusiasm and integrity with which this professor conducts research, and her love of teaching and devotion to students set the foundation I try to emulate in my own career," a former student wrote.

Lom teaches light microscopy, neuroscience of exercise and developmental biology. Her research focuses on how individual neurons wire themselves together into a precisely interconnected and functional nervous system. Lom earned her doctorate from Northwestern University, followed by postdoctoral work in biology and neurobiology at the University of California, San Diego and Los Angeles respectively. She began teaching at Davidson in 2000.

Savage, who came to Davidson in 1992 to participate in the construction of the Belk Visual Art Center, has been teaching drawing and sculpture here ever since.

Alumni and current students, majors and non-majors, noted Savage's ability to challenge and inspire. From making "sure everyone in the class was involved" to "helping us achieve remarkable things," his students are pushed "to examine our ideas in the context of history, philosophy, and greater intellectual depth." As one alumnus put it, "more than he has taught me how to be an artist, he has taught me how to think and contextualize the complexities that permeate every aspect of life."

Savage has received support for his work from the National Endowment for the Arts, among others, and was most recently awarded the Arlin Meyer Prize from the Lilly Fellows Program. His work has been exhibited throughout the United States.

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  • May 21, 2017