Class of 2023 Brings Hope to a World That Needs Them

Graduation caps in air during ceremony

Their first year upended by a global pandemic, they finished their college days in the normalcy of tradition.

On Sunday, Davidson College bid farewell to the Class of 2023, who have weathered pandemic restrictions, economic uncertainty and the rise of TikTok. They also made lifetime friends and countless memories.

The warm and dry spring morning allowed the 502 graduates, their loved ones, professors and college community to gather on the front lawn of Chambers to celebrate the successful conclusion to their time at Davidson.

Onlookers could barely contain their excitement as the graduates processed down the steps of Chambers toward the stage—on multiple occasions, proud parents jumped into the procession for one last pre-ceremony hug or a quick selfie.

Lawn of chairs and people seated in them outdoors under a canopy of trees
Student smiles and waves while wearing graduation regalia
Group of students in caps and gowns huddled up and smiling
President Hicks addresses the crowd at graduation

It was the college’s 186th commencement, and the town of Davidson, recognizing how the graduates overcame tumultuous pandemic times and went on to thrive, issued a proclamation declaring May 14 as Class of 2023 Day.

“You are the only class that had a so-called normal start of college before COVID, suffered the debilitating conditions of the pandemic and then emerged to create and recreate community among yourselves and everyone gathered here,” Davidson College President Doug Hicks ’90 told graduates.

On Sunday, Davidson College celebrated its 186th commencement and bid farewell to the Class of 2023.

Making a Better Davidson—and World

The graduates represent 20 countries, 39 American states and Washington, D.C. They’re off to serve the world in a variety of fields. Their most popular majors were biology (80), political science (68), economics (67), computer science (53) and psychology (53).

Fourteen graduated with the highest Latin honors of summa cum laude; 201 magna cum laude, and 132 cum laude.

The class includes eight John M. Belk Scholars, bringing the Belk alumni total to 156. The Belk Scholarship recognizes students for leadership, creativity, compassion, integrity, intellectual curiosity and outstanding academic achievement. The award, which covers tuition, fees, room, board and two $3,000 stipends for special study abroad, is one of the country’s most competitive and generous undergraduate scholarships.

Hicks took a moment to remember two Class of 2023 classmates who died in the past two years.

“On this day of rejoicing, we are also mindful of two members of this class who are no longer with us—Del Barnhill and Collin McGuirt,” Hicks said. “We hold the families of Del and Collin close to us today.”

Collectively, the Class of 2023 worked to help refugees, low-income students and local families in need. They’ve broken athletic records and researched pressing problems ranging from Alzheimer’s disease to educational inequities to the pandemic’s effect on mental health.

They enter the wider world seeking solutions to climate change, cures for illness and increased opportunities for the less fortunate. Some will head straight to the work force; others will start graduate programs and begin fellowships in the United States and around the world.

This is a milestone moment when it’s very fitting to talk about hope. Not because the world that earlier generations are leaving you is in great shape; on the contrary, there are plenty of public problems that easily lead to despair. But hope is a better way; let us understand hope as seeing the world exactly as it is, and yet envisioning—and working for—a better reality.

President Doug Hicks '90

Hicks said their resilience, quest for fairness and justice—and sense of humor—has made Davidson better.

“Just as Davidson will always be part of you, you will always be a part of Davidson,” Hicks said. “Instead of saying congratulations, I prefer to say thank you for the hope that you instill in all of us.”

Teaching & Service Awards

The college also handed out awards to professors and community members. They include:

Hunter-Hamilton Love of Teaching Award

Students nominate professors for the annual award. The professors will each receive $7,500, and each gets to direct an additional $7,500 to fund a campus project of their choice. This year’s recipients are:

Burkhard Henke, Chair and Professor of German Studies

“For your encouragement of students and kindness to them, your dedication to their seeing the world through a lens of cultural immersion, and your commitment to their wellbeing.”

Sharon Green, Professor of Theatre

“For your unwavering faith in the abilities of each student, your compassion for your students, your passion for the arts, and the sense of social justice you nurture in your students.”

Algernon Sydney Sullivan Awards

The awards go to one graduating student and one member of the larger Davidson Community who exemplify “the fine spiritual qualities practically applied to daily living, usually going to persons who have given unselfish service without due recognition.” 

Student Award: Isabelle Lorah '23

From volunteering as an English tutor for Spanish speakers, to researching and advocating for sustainable environmental solutions, to serving as a senior class gift co-chair, “Isabelle exemplifies qualities of leadership and service.”

“Isabelle assists her peer students in their work without hesitation, handles difficult conversations with empathy and kindness, and finds joy in helping others, whether that’s her fellow team members or concerned alums seeking answers or resources.”

“Isabelle is innovative, dynamic and passionate about the work she does; her service is vast and far-reaching.”

Community Member Award: Motria Procyk and Russian Studies Professor Amanda Ewington (Shared)

“For their tireless work on behalf of the people of Ukraine since the invasion by Russia.”

The two teamed up to form Davidson 4 Ukraine, an organization comprised of students, faculty, staff and the local community. They held information sessions and fundraisers, and helped Ukrainian families with food, clothing, housing, transportation, and jobs. Their weekly Saturday coffee gatherings offered traumatized refugees a time to socialize with each other and their new American friends. 

“The weight of the refugees’ suffering is hard to imagine, yet Motria and Amanda have not flagged in their efforts, even as the war in Ukraine has dragged on for over a year. Their fundraising, consciousness-raising, and direct assistance have enabled our Ukrainian neighbors to build a community in the most unlikely place and to feel the empathy and support of people for whom Ukraine was distant and unknown barely a year ago. Their work really does embody ‘putting service of others before self-interest.’”

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Miss the Class of 2023 commencement?

Check out the recording of Sunday's ceremony.