University of Mary Washington senior Brianna Reaves was presented with the Grace Mann Launch Award during the annual Eagle Awards last Thursday. Held in person for the first time since the pandemic, the event honored more than a dozen campus leaders in the University Center’s Chandler Ballroom. A newly established award was presented to Cedric Rucker, associate vice president and dean of Student Life, who will retire this June.
“Every class is amazing, but looking out at the students gathered here tonight – you’ve led our community through one of the most difficult times in its history,” UMW President Troy Paino said. “You embody the Mary Washington spirit.”
Rucker, visibly emotional throughout the ceremony, presented Reaves with the $6,900 award. “With tireless initiative, integrity, institutional investment … her leadership is deeply respected across all sectors of the University community,” said Rucker, acknowledging Reaves’ achievement as the first Black female student to become UMW Student Government Association president.
Grace Mann was a UMW leader and social justice activist who died seven years ago during her junior year. 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.
Reaves, a sociology major and social justice minor, began her Mary Washington experience by becoming elected class president during her freshman and sophomore years. After participating in a 2018 Social Justice Fall Break Trip through the James Farmer Multicultural Center (JFMC), she made it her mission to make UMW a more inclusive and welcoming community.
She helped found and led UMW’s NAACP chapter, now one of the largest and most active student organizations on campus. She was also appointed as the Virginia State Conference NAACP Youth & College Division vice president and an NAACP National Board of Directors member.
In addition, she joined UMW’s Multicultural Leadership Council, to ensure all voices on campus are heard, and helped first-year students, especially from underrepresented backgrounds, as a RISE peer mentor. Reaves also assisted with the launch of JFMC’s Farmer Fellows program, helping create curriculum materials and provide diversity education training to the UMW community.
After graduation, Reaves will attend American University, pursuing master’s degrees in international peace and conflict resolution, and theological studies.
Rucker was presented with the new Eagle Beyond Compare Award, meant to recognize an outstanding member of the UMW community who exemplifies the University’s values and ideals.
“To us, Dean Rucker is the epitome of the Mary Washington spirit with dedication to living authentically, to the fierce pursuit of knowledge and to going into the world with integrity and the spirit of goodwill to all,” said JFMC Associate Director JoAnna Raucci, who presented the award.
Since coming to Mary Washington over four decades ago as an undergraduate, Rucker has left an indelible mark on the UMW community, returning to his beloved alma mater in 1989 to serve in several roles, currently as dean of Student Life. An endowment, the Cedric B. Rucker ’81 S.O.S. Fund, was recently established to support students with unexpected and life-altering emergencies. The University Center will also be renamed in Rucker’s honor after his retirement.
Other award winners included Lu Sheikhnureldin and Sha’Lelia Moore, who earned Prince B. Woodard awards. Named for a former Mary Washington president, these honors recognize outstanding leadership and contributions to the community.
Sheikhnureldin 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. Moore, a rising senior, earned the Prince Woodard Emerging Leader Award, presented to an underclassman who has already made a difference in the campus community.
Senior Oscar León received the Clara Boyd Wheeler Award for exemplifying grace, a spirit of service and the ability to change lives.
Senior Carleigh Rahn received the Elizabeth M. Baumgarten Service Award for outstanding volunteerism at UMW and in the community.
Senior Katie Warlick received the Alex Naden Award, which memorializes 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.
Michael Middleton, assistant director of Student Activities and Engagement (SAE), was presented with the Gwen Hale Giving Tree Award, honoring a faculty or staff member who has contributed significantly to the mission of the University through direct work with students. The award was recently renamed for Hale, who served as the director of UMW’s Writing Center until she passed away last fall, and who was instrumental in setting up the Resource Closet, which now bears her name, in Anne Carter Lee Hall.
Another new honor, the In the Wings Award, went to SAE Director Sandrine Sutphin and Becky Bezdan, SAE business manager, for their roles behind the scenes.
The Mary Washington Alumni Association presented three awards:
Alumni Association Award for Outstanding Senior, Sally Burkley
Service Award for Outstanding Senior Dedicated to Community Service, Amira Akam
Bachelor of Liberal Studies Award, Ivelisse Maddalena
Other individual awards given were:
Leader in Service, Hollis Cobb
Unsung Hero, Lizzy Poisson
Several programs and organizations also received the following awards:
Outstanding Diversity Program, Taste of Asia
Outstanding Educational Program, Nonprofit Fair
Outstanding Annual Program, Rocktoberfest
Outstanding New Program, Bookmobile Fredericksburg
Outstanding New Club, UMW Girl Gains
Outstanding Overall Achievement, DiversAbility
Outstanding Community Service Program, Global Medical Brigades