The sun maintained a hot, steady presence at Davidson College May 19 as the class of 2019 and their families, friends and faculty celebrated the college’s 182nd commencement.
The college awarded degrees and said farewell to 476 members of the class. They will embark on careers ranging from public service to medicine to banking to teaching. Some will begin those careers immediately, others will go on to graduate programs in the United States and abroad.
“You’ve been incredibly fun to watch,” said Davidson College President Carol Quillen, who kept with the 56-year tradition of giving the commencement address instead of inviting a guest speaker. “You’ve started businesses, cooked for hungry neighbors and found jobs for refugees.
“Davidson College is stronger, more courageous and more humane because you were here.”
The graduates represented 45 states and 21 foreign countries. Latin honors for outstanding scholarship went to 250 of the graduates, with 149 graduating cum laude and 99 as magna cum laude. Henry Lawrence Brooks and Kamran Kayeum Shahbaz shared First Honors -- summa cum laude.
Commencement 2019 celebrated seven John M. Belk Scholars, which brings the all-time total to 126. The Belk Scholarship recognizes students for integrity, creativity, compassion, evidence of significant leadership, and outstanding academic achievement and intellectual curiosity. It’s one of the nation’s most generous and competitive undergraduate scholarships. The award covers tuition and fees, room and board, and provides two $3,000 stipends for special study and international travel.
“I came to Davidson in my Idaho bubble,” said Grant Koehl ’19, a Belk Scholar and political science major from Boise who studied abroad in Chile and hopes to go into politics. “Davidson opened me up to the world and to new experiences.”
Political science was the most popular major, with 84 graduates; followed by economics (73), biology (57), and English (44).
Quillen, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty Wendy Raymond and Board of Trustees Chair John Chidsey III ’83 presented the diplomas to the graduates. Some sported big smiles as they received their degrees; others wiped tears away.
And at least one wore a black cap decorated in optimism: “The Best is Yet to Come -- Becky 2019.”
The Algernon Sydney Sullivan Awards recognize people of “noble character” who serve unselfishly and put the needs of others before their own -- often without recognition. Arianna (Anna) Montero-Colbert ’19, received the student award and former Town of Davidson Mayor John Mercer Woods received the community award.
Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students Byron McCrae presented the awards, quoting passages from nomination letters written by the college community.
They described Montero-Colbert, who is an Avinger Scholar, as a talented digital humanist and sociologist in training; a warm, welcoming student; and a valued mentor and friend. She mentored first-year women of color and built “an incredibly robust network that spans emotional support and leadership development.”
One student wrote that “Moving to a new country and being so far away from family and friends has been difficult, but Arianna has been an amazing source of understanding and support.”
Woods, a long-time Davidson town commissioner and mayor, was recognized for leading Davidson through a period of extraordinary change and growth with a forward-thinking vision. He led through the challenges of growth, working toward solutions for transportation and affordable housing needs.
He was “unfailing in his determination to listen to people from every corner of our community and only after he was sure all sides had been represented fairly would he make careful and thoughtful decisions,” one nominator said.
Woods has also served on many non-profit boards, such as the Davidson Housing Coalition and the Ada Jenkins Center, and often brings his dog to The Pines retirement center to give residents time with a pet.
The Hunter-Hamilton Love of Teaching Awards went to the Edward M. Armfield Sr. Professor of English Brenda Flanagan and Chair and Associate Professor of Arab Studies Rebecca Joubin. The professors will each receive $7,500, and each gets to direct an additional $7,500 to fund a campus project of her choice.
Flanagan, an award-winning novelist, essayist, poet and playwright, has represented the United States as a cultural ambassador for multiple countries.
Students described her as “a balance of genius and humility,” and “a constant presence of joy, a mentor, an advocate for cultural diversity and an inspiration for the aspiring.” One wrote that her “desire to listen and to push me to stop at no ends for the things I most cared about gave me a refreshing sense of myself in the midst of my struggles.”
Joubin is an accomplished writer and researcher who has helped bring authors, scholars and artists from across the Arab world to Davidson. She attends weekly Arabic lunch tables and hosts regular Arabic dinners at her home. She also inspired the students who developed Davidson Refugee Support.
It was Joubin’s “Faith in me that pushed me to try harder. As a first-generation scholar, I never thought what I have accomplished at Davidson would have been possible,” one student wrote. “I think about her intelligence, modesty and everlasting encouragement,” another said. “Thanks to her I discovered a confidence in myself that transcends disciplines.”