Rain fell relentlessly over the Fredericksburg region this morning, but at the University of Mary Washington’s 111th Commencement, a rainbow of umbrellas signaled bright skies ahead for nearly 1,200 graduates.
Back on Ball Circle for the first time in three years, the signature ceremony marked the culmination of years’ worth of work by students earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UMW’s Colleges of Arts and Sciences, Business and Education. A procession that began at the Bell Tower, the austere sounds of the Eagle Pipe Band, the Grand Marshal and other traditions returned in full force, but something a little bit different hung in the air.
“Each graduating class is special and deserves this moment, but I don’t think there’s another class that deserves it more than the Class of 2022,” said Mary Washington President Troy Paino, who was attending his own daughter’s graduation and spoke via video. “You have earned this moment, and our entire community needs this moment.”
Soon-to-be grads echoed these sentiments as they gathered on Jefferson Square before the event, anxious for their milestone moments. Environmental science major Reid Brown called it “surreal.” Philosophy major Hendrick Castillo chose the word “dreamlike.”
They’d been only sophomores when COVID-19 sent them home and forced classes completely online. When they finally returned to campus as juniors, pandemic protocols – masking, social distancing, testing and attestation – clouded their college experience.
“It was the longest and shortest four years ever,” said psychology major Kristina Rigsby.
Faculty representatives, Board of Visitors (BOV) members and deans joined the persistent, resilient degree candidates as they snaked along Campus Walk and found their way to their seats on the lawn. A series of speakers, including Interim Provost Timothy O’Donnell, Chief of Staff Jeff McClurken and BOV Rector Heather Crislip ’95, addressed the crowd, filled also with faculty and staff, family and friends.
“In a world full of uncertainty and instability, UMW has been our constant, something that has always been and will continue to be there for us when we need it,” said Class of 2022 President Kathryn N. Warlick.
The Colgate W. Darden Jr. Award for students and the Mary W. Pinschmidt Award for faculty were announced, as were the names of the faculty and administrators who received emeritus status.
Sheila L. Shadmand ’95 – a partner with the Jones Day law firm and trailblazer for women in the Middle East – delivered the Commencement address, urging grads to use the shared experience of surviving a worldwide pandemic as a bridge to understanding others and a way to connect. She implored them to be open and explore the unknown, remain confident, smile during times of adversity and resist ill will.
“Congratulations, University of Mary Washington Class of 2022,” Shadmand said. “I wish you all the kindness, laughter, excitement and unknowns that life is sure to bring you.”