University of Mary Washington senior Nehemia Abel received the Grace Mann Launch Award during the annual Eagle Awards ceremony, presented virtually Friday evening. This event honors student leaders and outstanding campus organizations. New this year was the James Farmer Defining A Legacy Award.
As one of the emcees for the video awards ceremony, Brianna “Breezy” Reaves put it: “Though we cannot be together, we will come together in spirit. During this very uncertain time, we want to take every opportunity to appreciate everyone who makes UMW the place we like to call home.”
Abel, a first-generation student from Fredericksburg, paid it forward by becoming a mentor with the RISE program (Resources Inspiring Student Excellence). A RISE mentor had helped him adjust to life as a college student, Abel said.
In presenting the Launch Award, Dean of Student Life Cedric Rucker described Abel as “an outstanding advocate for change” and an ambassador for “doing the good Grace would have done.”
Junior Grace Mann was a UMW student leader and social justice activist who died five years ago. Her parents established an endowment for an annual financial award to be presented to a graduating senior who exemplifies Mann’s commitment to social justice, equality and advocacy.
Abel said his mission is to improve lives by changing attitudes, behaviors, laws, policies and institutions. “I am truly motivated by the story of Grace Mann, and I am honored to be considered a student leader that strives to do the same.”
Abel will join the Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Summer Enrichment Program, a collaboration between Howard University and the U.S. Department of State designed to give students a deeper appreciation of current issues and trends in international affairs. Later plans call for work as a Peace Corps volunteer and a project manager for UNICEF.
Abel, a marketing major, said his proudest accomplishment at UMW was founding an organization called Ubumwe, which has as its mission to unify and empower Burundian individuals as they pursue higher education and careers. A member of numerous campus organizations, Abel received the Citizenship Award for Diversity Leadership, through which he served as a voice for underrepresented students.
The new Defining A Legacy Award, in honor of civil rights icon and former UMW professor Dr. James L. Farmer Jr., is designed for a student, staff or faculty member who creates a direct action project, overcomes a substantial obstacle, challenges an oppressive system, and spreads their cause. The inaugural winner was Kelsey Chavers, a December 2019 graduate who helped found a campus NAACP chapter and served as its first president.
Other Eagle Award winners included ceremony emcee Brianna Reaves and Elisabeth “Lis” Heras, who received Prince B. Woodard awards. Named for a former UMW president, these awards recognize outstanding leadership and contributions to the greater community.
Heras received the Prince Woodard Outstanding Leader Award, presented to a graduating senior who has made a substantial impact on campus and beyond, while exemplifying honor, leadership and service. A biology major, she served as campus sustainability coordinator and as student co-chair on the President’s Council on Sustainability. Of Heras, Associate Sociology Professor Eric Bonds said, “She’s an eloquent spokesperson for the climate. She has tremendous poise and never fails to inspire.”
A rising junior, Reaves earned the Prince Woodard Emerging Leader Award, presented each year to an underclassman who has already made a difference in the campus community. At the mid-point of her UMW tenure, she has served as president of her freshman class, and as vice president and president of the UMW NAACP chapter. She also was elected vice president of the Virginia NAACP Youth and College Division.
“Ms. Reaves is widely respected by her peers, UMW staff and faculty due to her impeccable character and ability to lead with conviction,” said James Farmer Multicultural Center (JFMC) Assistant Director Chris Williams.
Jeremiah Ward received the Clara Boyd Wheeler Award for exemplifying grace, a spirit of service and the ability to change lives. Elisabeth DellaRova earned the Elizabeth A. Baumgarten Leadership Award for outstanding service to the university and community. The Alex Naden Award went to Anna Beth Tanner. This award memorializes Naden, a senior class officer and member of the rugby team who graduated from Mary Washington in 2003, and lost his life in an accident later that year.
The Alumni Association presented three awards:
Award for Outstanding Senior – Anushah Hassan
Service Award for Outstanding Senior Dedicated to Community Service – Nicole Haynes
Bachelor of Liberal Studies Award – Tricia Rampersad
Other individual award winners were:
Allison Grant, Leader in Service
Sam Taylor, Unsung Hero
Program awards went to:
NAACP, Outstanding New Club
African Student Union, Overall Achievement for a Club
Talking Women’s Issues, Outstanding Diversity Program
One Love Week, Outstanding Educational Program
Mary Rock, Outstanding Annual Program
James Farmer Tribute, Outstanding New Program
Head Start Gift Box Drive, Outstanding Community Service Program
One Love Week, Outstanding Collaborative Program
Lauren McMillan, assistant professor of historic preservation and director of the Eagle Pipe Band, received the Giving Tree Award, which honors a faculty or staff member who has contributed significantly to the mission of the university through their work directly with students.
The 2020 Eagle Awards were presented by the JFMC, Student Activities and Engagement, and the Center for Community Engagement.
Last year’s Giving Tree recipient, JoAnna Raucci, JFMC associate director, produced the video. “It was truly heartwarming to see students celebrating one another as the Eagle Awards results went live on YouTube,” Raucci said. “This year, during a time of so much uncertainty, our UMW community really stepped up and showed how active, generous and vibrant it is.”