The University of the South's 2016-17 academic year came to a close Sunday, May 14, with the Commencement ceremony for the College and the School of Letters. The School of Theology’s Commencement and the University Baccalaureate Service were held earlier in the weekend. (Read the story about Baccalaureate.)
Graduating seniors lined the sidewalk between Walsh-Ellett Hall and All Saints’ Chapel, and the procession of faculty walked through the human corridor to lead the way into the service. The procession of graduating seniors was led into the Chapel by valedictorian Tran Ly and salutatorian Courtney Saunders, as the sound of bells marked the start of the ceremony.
Courtney Saunders, an economics major from Ashland City, Tennessee, gave the traditional salutatory in Latin, addressing the vice-chancellor, faculty, and the audience before concluding with the University motto “Ecce Quam Bonum.”
Provost John Swallow announced the awards and honors, including fellowships for two members of the faculty. Emmanuel Asiedu-Acquah, assistant professor of international and global studies, and César Leal, assistant professor music and conductor of the Sewanee Symphony Orchestra, were awarded Kennedy Fellowships, given to support professional development of faculty members early in their careers.
The provost then asked Armonte Butler and Lam Ho (photo, left) to come forward to receive the 2017 Algernon Sydney Sullivan Medallion for character, leadership, and service to the University and the Sewanee community. Butler, from Washington, D.C., and Ho, from Canton, Georgia, received loud applause, cheers, and a standing ovation from the faculty and their classmates as Vice-Chancellor John McCardell presented the awards.
Tran Ly, an economics and mathematics major from Hanoi, Vietnam, began her valedictory oration with a greeting to her parents, who were watching the live stream back home. Her address reflected on ways her personal Sewanee story might mirror her class’s shared Sewanee experience. Ly shared the story of a hurtful encounter that occurred her freshman year, an encounter that became a “crucible moment” in her life.
Her talk was punctuated by applause and cheers from her classmates as Ly stated that at some point each one of them had been excluded, at one time each had not been part of a majority—and they had had to learn, to listen, to reach out to each other. She asked them to recall these crucible moments, whether good or difficult, that had made all of them who they are today.
The Class of 2017 has emerged stronger and more engaged from these moments, Ly said. “Hard work, resilience, and determination will always pay off,” she reminded them, as she encouraged her classmates to fight for a world of inclusion, kindness, and hope. Her remarks received a standing ovation. Read her full address.
The University’s School of Letters granted 10 Master of Fine Arts degrees and three Master of Arts degrees.
The University awarded 401 baccalaureate degrees, and before reading the University's charge to the "chosen and now honored youths," Vice-Chancellor John McCardell spoke to the graduates.
In his remarks, McCardell spoke of John Updike’s essay “Coming Home” and poem “Shillington” as they relate to the experience of leaving Sewanee. Updike reflects on leaving home and then later returning to his place of birth, only to discover both how much it had changed and how selective his memory of his years there had been.
The poem concludes, “The having and the leaving go on together.” McCardell acknowledged to the graduates that knowing that they are leaving makes what they have had for the last four years all the more vivid and precious. He asked that they take with them hope along with their memories—their hopes, and the University’s hopes for them. The University’s hope is that the graduates will take with them the values learned and reinforced here: service, trust, commitment, and gratitude.
He reminded them that Sewanee, like Shillington, will not remain exactly as they remember leaving it. But when they return, they will find that Sewanee, though it may change in certain outward appearances, will remain its same essential self. “May you continue to seek wisdom, to know true happiness, to continue to discern the better angels of your own nature,” said McCardell.
In a reversal of the procession, the traditional recessional took the new graduates of the Class of 2017 through the faculty now lining the sidewalk outside the Chapel and into an outpouring of applause and cheers. The graduates, families, and guests mingled and the celebration continued during a picnic in the Quad on a warm, sunny afternoon on the Mountain.