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Commencement Pays Tribute to 449 Student Graduates and Other College and Community Leaders

(A photo gallery of images from Commencement weekend is available at Flikr.)

Davidson College presented diplomas to 449 members of the Class of 2012 in Commencement exercises on Sunday morning, May 20. President Carol Quillen presided over the occasion, and made a surprise announcement at its conclusion, reporting a $25-million gift from alumnus Ted Baker '57 to support the Davidson Trust. She noted that the Class of 2012 was the first to fully benefit from the Davidson Trust, and thanked them for embracing it through establishment of the annual "Dinner at Davidson" fundraiser.

The graduates represented 37 states and 11 foreign countries. 166 of the 452 received Latin honors as outstanding scholars with 101 graduating cum laude, 55 as magna cum laude, and two tying for First Honor who graduated summa cum laude. The most popular majors were political science (67 graduates), biology (45), psychology (58), English (58) and history (52).

Honorary Doctorate

The college presented an honorary Doctor of Laws degree to Charlotte attorney and civic leader Russell M. Robinson II. He was a founding partner of the Robinson, Bradshaw & Hinson firm in 1960, and it has grown into one of the largest and most successful in the state, specializing in corporate and commercial law. With a strong tradition of civic engagement, the firm was one of the first in the nation to be recognized with the American Bar Association's pro bono work award. Robinson has led many Charlotte nonprofit community service organizations, influencing issues ranging from education to community welfare, poverty and health. As a trustee and board chair of The Duke Endowment, he has dedicated energy and resources to strengthening programs in the fields of health care, child care, rural Methodist churches, and higher education.

Senior class president Faheem Rathore '12 announced the class gift to the college's Annual Fund. He reported 94 percent of classmates (426 individuals) contributed a total of $8385. That achievement, led by gift drive chairs Caitlin Allen and Brian Russell, allowed the class to also claim a dollar-for-dollar challenge gift from President Quillen.

First Honor

Two students tied for First Honor for the highest grade point average in the class, graduating summa cum laude with perfect 4.0 grade point averages.

Kelvin H. Bates of Seattle, Wash., had a double major in chemistry and economics, and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree. He will begin his post-graduate career by working for a summer for NASA on atmospheric chemistry.

Holly E. Sims of Fort Worth, Tex., graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree with high honors in Spanish, which was her major. She plans to pursue a doctoral degree in Spanish and teach at the collegiate level.

Hunter-Hamilton Love of Teaching Awards

Hunter-Hamilton Love of Teaching Awards, the college's top teaching honor, went to Professor of Political Science Brian J. Shaw and Dickson Professor of Psychology Julio J. Ramirez. Each award includes $7,500 for the recipient, and $7,500 more for the recipient to designate to a college cause.

In addition to his responsibilities in the political science department, Shaw has chaired Davidson's Humanities Program and its First-Year Writing Program since joining the faculty in 1982. He teaches survey courses in political philosophy, and first year and advanced seminars on such topics as the thought of Immanuel Kant, Homer and Thucydides, family policy, and urban design. His survey course on the "Foundations of Liberalism" was awarded the 2010 "Spirit of Inquiry Award" from the John W. Pope Center for Educational Policy. Articles he has written have appeared in Political Theory, History of Political Thought, The Philosophical Forum, Journal of Politics, and other journals.

Shaw was praised his unrelenting "Infectious Perkiness," his passion for teaching students how to think in and beyond the classroom, and his timeless ability to inspire students to reach their utmost potential. In class he constantly plays the devil's advocate, leading students to the most compelling strengths of the theories of political thinkers... and then poking holes in their arguments.

His citation quoted a student who said "Professor Shaw engages the material with such passion that you walk out of the room inspired to learn more." An alumni recommender said, "He made me work harder than in any of my other classes, and I thoroughly loved every bit of it."

Ramirez has taught and directed the college neuroscience program since joining the faculty in 1986. He has been widely honored over the years for promoting a pedagogy of "terching"- teaching students by involving them in meaningful research projects. He has mentored more than 100 of them as research colleagues in investigating recovery of memory function through neuronal sprouting following brain injury. That research might yield insight into means of helping humans avoid, or recover, from Alzheimer's disease. In January 2011 he received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring from Barack Obama.

One of Ramirez's recommenders said, "He engages the class through a combination of surprise questioning, poignant examples, as well as a few quirky mini-dramas depicting some major discoveries in science. The way he presents information from specific research as well as the scientific process in general, makes science seem like a much more personal and human endeavor."

Algernon Sydney Sullivan Awards

Algernon Sydney Sullivan Awards for individuals with outstanding spiritual qualities applied to daily living were presented to graduating seniors Jennifer C. Burns and Rebecca B. Weidler and community member W. Terry Laney.

Burns is a Terry Fellow and Center for Interdisciplinary Studies major from Indianapolis, Ind., who researched costs and benefits of shifting food systems from industrialized agricultural to more local and sustainable farms. She created the Food Club on campus and served on the board of the Davidson Farmer's Market.

Rebecca Weidler is a Belk Scholar from Hendersonville, N.C., who studied inequality and social policy through the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies. She was a member of the Honor Council and Student Government Association, and was notable for revitalization of Davidson's Gay Straight Alliance. She was a policy intern for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network last summer in Washington, D.C.

Laney is director of Our Towns Habitat for Humanity, which has served Mooresville, Davidson, Cornelius and Huntersville since 1988. Under his direction, Our Towns was named Affiliate of the Year in 2008 by Habitat for Humanity International. A steady and enthusiastic participant in the college's "Building Skills for Social Change" workshop series, he has said that the college "is the glue that holds the nonprofits and the community together." Laney has served as mentor to numerous students involved in Leadership Davidson and has hosted Bonner Scholars and summer interns through the Center for Civic Engagement.