University of Mary Washington alumna Kianna Davis ’13 was in her Westmoreland Hall second-floor room, a year away from graduation, when she created her first-ever meme.
Within 24 hours, the image she shared of a young, fresh-faced Justin Timberlake – emblazoned with a now famous play on the song lyrics to It’s Gonna Be Me – had earned tens of thousands of social media interactions. Even her friends, family and fellow Eagles were sharing it, unaware that Davis had made it.
“I had been planning my busy April calendar and posted it as a joke to my friends,” said Davis, who majored in business at UMW and helped plan concerts and other campus events through Giant Productions and the University Programming Board. Still a dedicated fan of Timberlake’s former boy band, *NSYNC, she “had no idea what the meme would become.”
Ten years later, her creation is now part of the cultural zeitgeist. While other memes have a shelf life, hers is shared worldwide each April 30 – now recognized as *NSYNC Day by fans – and can be found everywhere, from college campuses to late night television. Even the group’s own private text chain, said bandmate Lance Bass in an interview. He discovered Davis’ involvement several years ago, inviting her on his podcast in 2020.
Last year, Davis made headlines when Timberlake playfully tagged her on his social media channels, writing: “Now that it’s ACTUALLY May, I have to give props where they are due. Look what you started,” along with a laughing emoji.
The meme was all in good fun, but Davis was a serious student at Mary Washington, working closely with professors in UMW’s College of Business, and minoring in marketing and management. Hailing from Roanoke, she earned a prestigious full-ride Washington Scholarship and a spot in Mortar Board and the National Society of Collegiate Scholars.
Now an operations analyst with an education technology company called Community Brands, she has held various higher education roles in the past decade, crediting UMW for her success. And she still keeps in touch with her alma mater, even serving as part of the leadership team of UMW’s Black Alumni Affinity Group.
“Mary Washington prepared me for every job I had since graduation,” Davis said. “I’m eternally grateful for the education I received as a UMW student.”
Q: How did you learn about Mary Washington?
A: My friend attended when I was in high school. I decided to apply and received the Marilyn Mead Burke ’48 and William J. Burke Washington Scholarship. It was an honor and a blessing to be chosen, and I’ve remained connected to the Burkes’ son, Doug.
Q: When did you get into *NSYNC?
A: In 1998, when they débuted on the Disney Channel Concert Series. I watched it over and over. I never got to see them in concert, but I begged my mother for any memorabilia she saw in stores. I still have an *NSYNC blanket she gave me for Christmas 20 years ago.
Q: What was your reaction to Justin Timberlake giving you a shout-out?
A: I was in shock. I got so many calls and texts, I had to keep my phone on the charger all day.
Q: Are you familiar with the Mary Washington memes Facebook group?
A: Yes, it was a source of many laughs at UMW. Students passed around a lot of memes in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake. It was nice we could still find humor in the situation after everything calmed down.
Q: What are some of your other passions?
A: I first attended Space Camp in third grade and graduated from it in 2019. It was a life-changing experience. I love reading about aerospace and have met two of my astronaut heroes, Mae Jemison and Leland Melvin. I also love musical theatre and enjoy spending time with my 8-year-old puggle, who I’ve nicknamed Sasha Fierce.
Q: What are your favorite Mary Washington memories?
A: Planning events and celebrating holidays at UMW, especially Halloween, when Dean Rucker dressed up as Winnie-the-Pooh. He’s still one of my biggest supporters, and I’m so thankful our friendship has continued all these years.