Davidson College welcomed hundreds of friends and family members of the class of 2018 to campus on an overcast Sunday morning, May 20, to celebrate the college's 181st commencement. Bachelor's degrees were awarded to 467 members of the class in an outdoor ceremony.
In keeping with a 55-year tradition, Davidson College President Carol E. Quillen addressed the graduates in lieu of a formal invited speaker.
"We are so grateful you chose Davidson College," Quillen said. "Over the past few years, you have turned your ideas, friendships, voices and bodies into compelling works of art–on the stage and the canvas, online and on the street, and in the lab, the library and the Union, on the track, the field, the court, the course and in the pool. You have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for breast cancer detection, AIDS research, refugee services and The Davidson Trust."
Quillen explained she would offer no platitudes or pithy phrases, instead opting to share with the graduates a story that demonstrated the way fleeting opportunities to connect can open people up and help them move beyond fear.
"There are limits to what humans can know, and truths we have always believed can turn out to be so wrong," she said. "No single story can do justice to the complexity of this world, and other people can transform us if we let them in. Begin not with suspicion, but with empathy, and you will come to know and grow in love."
Graduates of the class of 2018 represented 41 states and 19 countries. Latin honors for outstanding scholarship went to 244 of the graduates, with 153 graduating cum laude, 88 as magna cum laude and two earning First Honors–summa cum laude graduates Riley Jackson League '18, a philosophy major and Bryan Scholar, and Nathaniel Jay Tenpas '18, a mathematics major.
Commencement 2018 also celebrated the graduation of eight John M. Belk Scholars, bringing the all-time total to 119. The Belk Scholarship is one of the most prestigious undergraduate scholarships in the country, and covers all college expenses for its recipients, in addition to special travel grants. The Belk Scholarship recognizes students of outstanding academic prowess, integrity and passion for life who have demonstrated records of distinction in myriad areas.
The most popular majors for the graduates were political science (77), economics (62), biology (50) and English (43).
After a bittersweet rendition of the anthem "Entreat Me Not to Leave You," sung by the Davidson College Chorale, Quillen presented an honorary doctor of humane letters degree to Jennings F. Bryant Jr. '67. Bryant is distinguished professor emeritus at The University of Alabama. Prior to his retirement in 2010, he was communication and information sciences distinguished research professor, holder of the Reagan Endowed Chair of Broadcasting, and associate dean for graduate studies and research.
Quillen, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty Wendy Raymond and Board of Trustees Chair John Chidsey III '83 then presented diplomas to the graduates, as they crossed the stage one by one.
Commencement concluded two hours after it started with a rendition of the alma mater, "All Hail, O Davidson," sung by senior members of the Davidson College Chorale, and a closing prayer offered by College Chaplain Robert Spach '84. The sun broke through the clouds as cheers echoed over Chambers Lawn and graduates sought out friends and family in the crowd.
Algernon Sidney Sullivan Awards recognizing "fine spiritual qualities practically applied to daily living... for unselfish service without due recognition" were presented to graduating senior and Terry Fellow Jonathan Sheperd-Smith and Davidson resident and former college employee William Roland Giduz '74.
Sheperd-Smith, a Bonner Scholar and Education Scholar, was lauded by one faculty nominator as someone who "clearly has the intellect, the passion, and the empathy to create sustainable social change." A scholar-athlete, Sheperd-Smith's involvement and leadership in the community and on campus extends to organizations including Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, the Davidson College football team, the Black Men's Union, the Charlotte Rescue Mission, Charlotte-Mecklenburg School System and Project LIFT.
Sheperd-Smith's leadership in service can best be seen by his commitment to the DuBoisian World Scholars Society, a student service organization he founded that has galvanized more than 40 Davidson students around issues of equity and social justice. The organization works with students from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, with a focus on West Charlotte High School. One nominator noted Sheperd-Smith and his peers have clearly made an impact among the high school students who are now considering possibilities they never would have conceived of otherwise.
Giduz, who retired last year following a more than 30-year career with the College Communications Office, was recognized for his "unfailing willingness to advance the cause of affordable housing in Davidson and our region." Giduz has served on the board of the Davidson Housing Coalition for more than 12 years and has used his skills as a writer and photographer to "tell the powerful story of our residents."
Giduz has given freely of his time and talents to Habitat for Humanity, Rotary Club, Davidson Cornelius Child Development Center, Davidson United Methodist Church and News of Davidson. All of Giduz's nominators agree that his "generosity of spirit, his humility, his love of others and his devotion to family and community" embody the essence of the Algernon Sidney Sullivan Award.
Professor of Theatre Joe Gardner '69 and Associate Dean for Teaching, Learning and Research and Beverly F. Dolan Professor of Biology Verna Case are the recipients of the 2018 Hunter Hamilton Love of Teaching Awards. The awards include $7,500 for the recipient, and $7,500 more for the recipient to designate to a college cause.
Gardner, who recently retired after nearly 45 years, was heralded by colleagues and alumni for his "open, welcoming embrace of every student, the genuine interest, the willingness to spend time making a connection."
Gardner is described by nominators as both "totally humble and yet so infinitely gifted." "A great listener," who "could make anyone feel wonderful, intelligent, and capable of achieving anything." His teaching practice is extraordinary: "In class [this professor] forged a close-knit group of students who collaborated on sophisticated projects ... each one more demanding than the last."
Gardner taught a range of courses, including playwriting and play analysis, but his set designs are his signature–he is a master at creating the infrastructure that frames and supports the life and plight of hundreds of characters. He also has designed lighting, costume and sound, has acted in a few plays and directed others, including his swansong last spring, "Cabaret." Gardner earned his doctorate from Florida State University and began teaching at Davidson in 1974. He served as chair of the Theatre Department for 13 years.
Case was lauded by a nominator as among the first Davidson professors to promote and encourage interdisciplinary study. One student wrote of her efforts to foster critical thinking outside of disciplinary lines: "She demonstrated how we may learn to think critically beyond traditional boundaries and ask questions we never before considered."
Beyond her exceptional work in the classroom, Case has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to making Davidson a more diverse, inclusive institution. As a result, she has dedicated countless hours striving to make first-generation and POSSE students feel welcome and supported by the Davidson community. A gifted scientist, Case's efforts to support student research through the Davidson Research Initiative have ensured that dozens of students have had the research experience they need for careers as scientists or physicians. One student wrote, "She realized that most if not all Davidson students could obtain their dream of becoming a doctor if offered the right words of encouragement and advice." For nearly two decades, Case has taken students to Mwandi, Zambia, for a month-long experience that focuses on health care.
Case's commitments to teaching excellence and fostering student achievement have been instrumental in the success of the Center for Teaching and Learning, and she continually helps her colleagues to improve their skills in the classroom through her workshops on inclusive pedagogy.
Case earned her doctorate degree from Pennsylvania State University.