Undergraduate seniors gathered with their families and friends on Saturday morning during a busy graduation weekend to reflect on their Mary Baldwin journey and to recognize their outstanding accomplishments. Students performed, offered advice to fellow classmates, and received awards during MBU’s first baccalaureate ceremony in decades, held in First Presbyterian Church.

The baccalaureate — a traditional practice of many college and university year-end activities that originated at Oxford University in the 15th century — was revived this year at Mary Baldwin to call special significance to the undergraduate experience as the university continues to diversify its programs and welcomes its first doctoral degree graduates to the Commencement stage on Sunday.

“Our goal was to create a reflective, non-denominational celebration that honored students in our core undergraduate programs and encouraged them to take a moment to realize how far they have come,” said University Chaplain Katherine Low, who penned an updated litany and worked with President Pamela Fox to determine what would be included in the ceremony.

Members of the Class of 2017 were featured throughout the lively program. Senior Class President Rashadea Hale and Senior Class Vice President Kelsey Allen led the audience in the call-and-response litany; vocalist Emarii Lopes was accompanied by President Pamela Fox on piano for a moving rendition of Ave Maria; and four students were invited to share their “moment of defining courage,” reflecting on the university-wide theme adopted during their freshman year, Courage.

“I’ve been known to tell people that life is like an equation — it has to make sense. But what happens when it doesn’t make sense? That’s when my courage comes to the forefront,” said student speaker Tiara Bowling, explaining the challenges she encountered during her education.

Senior Jasmine Duran began by ripping up the piece of paper on which she had started to write her remarks, saying, “During my time at Mary Baldwin, I have been mostly a shadow. I have quietly done my work and been involved, but not in the spotlight. Being up here, asked to speak to all of you, is truly my moment of courage, and I am going to be myself.”

After heartfelt reflections from Madeline Stout and adult student Anna Wright, and a tribute to the graduates from Assistant Professor of History Rick Potter, undergraduate honors and awards highlighted the class’s best and brightest.

Biology major Brooke Wiles earned the Martha Stackhouse Grafton Award as the senior with the highest cumulative grade point average. As a senior, Wiles worked as an intern at Institute Pasteur’s molecular retrovirology unit and served as president of MBU’s biological honor society. With the future goal of working for the World Health Organization, she will continue studying this fall in New York University’s Master of Public Health program, which will take her to Washington DC, Ghana, and Abu Dhabi.

The Outstanding Baldwin Online and Adult Student Award was given to Robyn Evans, who regularly travelled to campus several times a week from her home in Bath County, Virginia, to complete her degree in math while raising two children.

Sharanya Rao received the coveted Mary Keith Fitzroy Award, which recognizes high academic standing and exceptional leadership and citizenship. A class marshal, Student Government Association secretary, peer mentor, writing center tutor, and president of the psychology club during her MBU tenure, the psychology major also developed an expertly researched senior thesis that draws attention to the need for legislation reform to protect sexual minorities in her home country of India.

All undergraduates on the Senior Honors List and Phi Beta Kappa roster, as well as those who received individual awards, will be named again during the Commencement ceremony, along with award winners from Mary Baldwin graduate programs.


Image (top): Pamela Fox congratulates graduates after the Baccalaureate Ceremony at First Presbyterian Church during commencement weekend at Mary Baldwin University.