There was definitely something in the water at the University of Mary Washington’s undergraduate commencement ceremony last month.
Grandmothers and grandchildren, husbands and wives, even big groups of siblings and cousins – all UMW grads – braved the rain and damp weather to prove Eagle spirit really does run in the family. UMW’s 106th commencement ceremony showcased a large legacy of love for a small liberal arts and sciences school.
Theater major Morgan “Mo” Gresham crossed the Ball Circle stage with a memory of her grandmother, who passed away last May, glued to her cap. She’d covered her mortarboard in a dainty blue and white floral fabric that looked like something her “memaw,” Barbara Hitchings Gresham ’57, would have worn, she said.
“One of the big reasons Mo selected UMW was to share in the legacy her grandmother established,” Morgan’s father, Donald Gresham, said of his mother, who would’ve celebrated the 60th anniversary of her own graduation on Saturday.
Tor and Shannon Smalling showed up for the couples. They waited side-by-side, as they have through their 17-year marriage, to receive their perspective BLS degrees.
“We have done many things together over the years,” Shannon said, including a somewhat challenging stint as lab partners in a UMW astronomy class, “but this is one of the most monumental.”
Glenn Gatzke ’12 was there to see sister Gabrielle Gatzke ’17 receive her bachelor’s degree. He braved the rain with wife Rachel Gatzke ’12 and 16-month-old daughter Jillian. But Glenn’s Mary Washington ties don’t stop there. His brother, Keith Gatzke ’13, also graduated from UMW, as did sister-in-law Tracy Frelk ’13 and cousins Rick Westerman ’13 and Cory Yeago ’11.
“I think they saw how plugged in I got,” Glenn Gatzke said of the siblings, in-laws and cousins who followed him to Mary Washington. “Not only on campus but in Fredericksburg in general.”
Martha Fuechsel ’16, M.Ed. ’17, received a master’s degree the night before her sister, Melanie Fuechsel ’17, a historic preservation and geospatial analysis double major, earned a bachelor’s.
“Being able to walk alongside each other as sisters and Eagles is something rare and special for two sisters to do,” Martha Fuechsel said.
Sociology major Alex Smith followed in the footsteps of his grandmother, Hellen Hope Harrison Mitchell ’47, who 70 years before her grandson crossed the Ball Circle stage, earned a degree in home economics. “She’s my favorite person ever,” Smith said of his grandmother, who could not make the trip from her Prince George County, Virginia, home.
Morgan James ’17 of San Leandro, California, double majored in German and environmental affairs. Growing up, she knew Mary Washington as the alma mater of her grandmother, Christine Harper Hovis, who finished back in 1955. It was a different world back then, Hovis said Saturday after commencement, while the family waited for Morgan’s brother, Harper James ’19, to finish his job ushering for the event.
From an all-women’s school when Hovis was a student to the UMW her granddaughter found when she visited with family in the fall of 2012, so much had changed. But, Morgan said, the Mary Washington magic remained.
“I fell head over heels for this campus, this community, and this school.”