The University of Mary Washington honored two graduates, Sally Burkley and Vanessa Fickes with the Colgate W. Darden Jr. Award for earning the highest grade-point average (GPA) in the undergraduate program. The awards were among the top honors presented at the University’s 111th Commencement ceremony, held on Ball Circle on Saturday, May 7.
In addition, Associate Professor of Historic Preservation Christine Henry was recognized with the Mary W. Pinschmidt Award, for having had the greatest impact on the lives of the members of the Class of 2022.
Burkley and Fickes both finished their college careers with a perfect 4.0 GPA, graduating summa cum laude, the highest academic distinction. Both members of UMW’s Honors Program, they have also been inducted in Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s oldest and most prestigious academic honor society.
Burkley, who is from Virginia, double majored in political science and communication and digital studies, earning honors in both disciplines. A computer science minor, she wrote a significant study on the politics of Twitter that one of her research mentors described as “every bit as good as the best work being produced by the nation’s leading professional scholars.”
Professor of Political Science Stephen Farnsworth, who heads UMW’s Center for Leadership and Media Studies and co-authored several works with Burkley, said: “She was fully prepared for every conversation, every presentation, every paper, every exam, a true rarity among students – and a joy for a professor.”
A student-athlete who led the UMW women’s swim team to a conference championship, Burkley was also recognized as this year’s Outstanding Major in Communication and Digital Studies. Her advisor, Assistant Professor Emily Crosby, called Burkley’s academic curiosity “contagious.”
Burkley completed multiple internships in Washington, D.C., while at UMW, including one as a legislative affairs intern with the Federal Communications Commission. She plans to attend William & Mary Law School next year.
Fickes, who is from Pennsylvania, majored in English. Professor and Chair Gary Richards described her as “a model of careful, thorough scholarship that navigates sensitive material with brilliant deftness.” He advised Fickes for her capstone project, “Christian Imagery in the Short Stories of Flannery O’Connor,” which earned her departmental honors.
Another advisor described Fickes – who delivered a pair of presentations on Shakespeare at the English department’s Kemp Symposium last month – as “meticulous and curious, with a high ethical integrity and an unusually strong sense of self.”
Fickes, who served as president for UMW’s Student Education Association and as a RISE peer mentor during her time at Mary Washington, plans to pursue a master’s degree in UMW’s College of Education next year before beginning a career as a high school teacher.
Henry, who began teaching at UMW in 2015, received the Mary W. Pinschmidt Award, named for a former biology professor who passed away in 1998. The only faculty award selected specifically by the graduating class, the honor is given to a professor who embodies Pinschmidt’s enthusiasm for teaching and connection with Mary Washington students.
“This year’s recipient has tremendously impacted their students,” Hannah Iezzi ’22 said of Henry during today’s ceremony. “She is always willing to work with any student for any reason and is always the first person to check on her students.”
Described as outgoing, energetic and passionate, Henry has earned a reputation for demonstrating compassion, and for supporting students through their academic experiences, as well as their personal struggles.
“I know I’m not the only one who has seen her kindness,” one student said of Henry, while another shared, “Her class helped shape me for my future career.”