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Commencement Sends Class of 2013 Off to Claim "Life's Good Adventures"

by Bill Giduz

Watch a video replay of commencement 2013 or view photos on Facebook.

Davidson College presented diplomas to 447 members of the Class of 2013 in Commencement exercises on Sunday morning, May 19.

Vice President for Academic Affairs Clark Ross recited the name of each graduate who crossed the stage in Baker Sports Complex, where the ceremonies were held because of threatening weather.

It was the final time after 15 years of service and about 6,000 total names that Ross would have the honor. He is retiring from the vice presidency this year to rejoin the faculty as Frontis Johnston Professor of Economics. Each graduate also received his or her diploma along with a handshake from President Carol Quillen and Board of Trustees Chair Mackey McDonald.

Following Davidson tradition, there was no Commencement speaker. Instead, President Quillen offered brief remarks to the graduates. She praised the many things they did during their college years -- athletic records, record amounts of money raised for good causes, community service rendered both home and abroad.

Rather than giving advice to the graduates, she talked about lessons she learned from a stern, brilliant professor during her collegiate years. She came to realize that his demanding classroom demeanor was a means of helping students realize that the events and people of history were real and consequential in their time. To be properly honored, he felt they should evoke passion and even pain in students. He felt in class, she said, "dreadfully alone" among students who didn't share his very personal understanding of history. President Quillen concluded that great teaching is a leap of faith that risks failure, and expressed the hope that this year's graduates had learned that lesson. The text of President Quillen's remarks is available here.

The graduates represented 38 states and 14 foreign countries. 162 of the 447 received Latin honors as outstanding scholars with 105 graduating cum laude and 57 as magna cum laude. The most popular majors were political science (67 graduates), economics (49), English (47), biology (42), and psychology (41).

Senior class president Paul DiFiore '13 announced the class gift to the college's Annual Fund. He reported 90.5 percent of classmates (427 individuals) contributed a total of $8,743. That achievement, led by gift drive chairs Eli Kahn '13 and Sarah Fisher '13, allowed the class to also claim a dollar-for-dollar challenge gift from President Carol Quillen.

Commencement weekend included a luncheon for about 30 graduating sons and daughters of Davidson alumni. Graduate Corinne Hester '13 talked about the depth and sincerity of the Davidson spirit in her family. Her parents met as fellow Davidson students, and still refer to trips back to their alma mater as "going home." "I don't see a room full of strangers here today," she said. "I see a wonderful extended family."

Saturday evening Baccalaureate service during which Chaplain Rob Spach preached a sermon titled "The Good Adventure." Spach urged students to consider the age-old question "Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing?" While those questions cannot be answered, Spach assured the graduates that they all go forth toward a new stage in life with a blessing. And to be a positive force for good, he insisted they must pass it along to others, rather than hoarding it.

Earlier on Saturday, graduates Michael Bachman and Nathalya Cubas were commissioned as second lieutenants in the U.S. Army. Maj. Gen. William Grimsley, a 1980 Davidson graduate who serves as chief of staff for the U.S. Strategic Command at Offut Air Force Base, gave the commissioning address. He advised the new officers to conduct their careers in the military with an attitude of "Yes, if..." rather than "No, but..." and said the six characteristics on which their success will depend are competence, confidence, candor, compassion, commitment and courage.

FIRST HONOR

Economics major Amy Louise Pugh of Charlottesville, Va., earned First Honor for the highest grade point average in the class. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree magna cum laude with a 3.988 grade point average. Pugh will be working at Research Triangle Institute Health Solutions as an associate research economist, and ultimately plans to attend medical school.

SECOND HONOR

Two students earned Second Honor for the second highest grade point averages in the class, graduating magna cum laude with identical 3.979 grade point averages.

Claire Amer Brennan of Greensboro had a double major in economics and psychology, and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree. She will be working in management consulting at Bain & Company in Atlanta, Ga.

Chadwick James "Chad" Harper of Sylva, N.C., received a Bachelor of Arts degree with honors in his major, history, and also earned a minor in religion. He has received the college's postgraduate Smith Scholarship to pursue a master's degree in "Reconciliation" next year at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland.

HUNTER-HAMILTON LOVE OF TEACHING AWARDS

Hunter-Hamilton Love of Teaching Awards, the college's top teaching honor, went to Sprunt Professor of Political Science Peter J. Ahrensdorf and Professor of History Vivien E. Dietz. Each award includes $7,500 for the recipient, and $7,500 more for the recipient to designate to a college cause.

Recognized as an erudite and engaging expert in political theory and ancient Greek philosophy, Ahrensdorf earned his Ph.D. from the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago. He joined the Davidson faculty in 1989.

He has written articles on Plato, Thucydides, Hobbes and Sophocles, and has written three books -- The Death of Socrates and the Life of Philosophy: An Interpretation of Plato's Phaedo, Justice Among Nations: On the Moral Basis of Power and Peace, and Greek Tragedy and Political Philosophy: Rationalism and Religion in Sophocles' Theban Plays. He is currently working on a book on the political and moral thought of Homer and a translation of Sophocles' Theban plays.

More than his impressive scholarship, however, Ahrensdorf was cited for his eager engagement with students. "Just as much as students praise this professor's impressive knowledge and genuine concern, they appreciate the irrepressible excitement he brings to their discussions. Again and again, students marvel - and succumb to - the tremendous passion that animates his teaching."

Dietz was hailed for "boundless generosity." Her citation stated, "This professor serves as both model and mirror, showing students what the pursuit of perfection looks like while at the same time helping them recognize the talent and potential they all too often fail to see in themselves."

Dietz earned her Ph.D. from Princeton and joined the faculty in 1990. She teaches British history, and also participates in the Humanities Program. Her research interests focus on the politics and culture of late eighteenth-century Britain. She is currently completing a manuscript entitled "Before the Age of Capital: Manufacturing Interests and the British State." She also directs the Davidson Summer Program at Cambridge University in England.

ALGERNON SYDNEY SULLIVAN AWARDS

Algernon Sydney Sullivan Awards for individuals with outstanding spiritual qualities applied to daily living were presented to graduating senior Kaneisha L. Gaston and community member Richardson Professor Emeritus L. Richardson "Richie" King.

King taught at Davidson from 1964 to 2002, but was honored for his service outside the college to the entire central Piedmont region. He was referred to as "a go-to person when there was need for fair and thoughtful service on committees of responsibility and moment.

Among his many service-related activities, he has directed a church Room-in-the-Inn program, helped establish the Lake Norman YMCA and coordinated Red Cross Blood Drives. He has served on the board of the Barium Springs Home for Children for many years, and has driven a Community Food Rescue van as part of the Second Harvest program. He has shared his time and faith at the Amigos de Christo Bible School in Huntersville, and taught Sunday School at The Pines at Davidson senior center.

Gaston received the award on the same day that the Town of Davidson designated as "Kaneisha Gaston Day," recognizing her as the first African American Davidson College graduate with close ties to the town.

However, the award celebrated her compassion, leadership and community service rather than the circumstance of her local birth. Gaston was an outstanding leader in many arenas during her undergraduate career at Davidson. She held a Bonner Community Service Scholarship that involved tutoring children in an Ada Jenkins Center after-school enrichment program. In addition she was a mentor for the STRIDE orientation program for students of color, served as a hall counselor for first-year students and was president of both the Black Student Coalition and Delta Sigma Theta sorority.

Her citation read, "She is a wonderful role model and stimulates other Davidson students to get involved. She is a seemingly tireless advocate for youth empowerment through education."

Gaston graduates as an English major with an academic concentration in ethnic studies. She is currently a volunteer teaching assistant at Mary Queen of Peace Catholic School, and looks forward to becoming a high school English teacher through the New Teacher's Project in Charlotte.

Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,920 students located 20 minutes north of Charlotte in Davidson, N.C. Since its establishment in 1837 by Presbyterians, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently regarded as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country. Through The Davidson Trust, the college became the first liberal arts institution in the nation to replace loans with grants in all financial aid packages, giving all students the opportunity to graduate debt-free. Davidson competes in NCAA athletics at the Division I level, and a longstanding Honor Code is central to student life at the college.