Commencement 2017 was special for Donna P. Henry, Chancellor of The University of Virginia’s College at Wise.

When Henry became chancellor in 2013, she welcomed a group of freshmen to campus. She handed them their diplomas when they walked across the stage on Saturday, May 6.

“Now I get to confer their degrees,” she told their family and friends who gathered in the David J. Prior Convocation Center for Commencement 2017.

She reminded the 270 graduates that UVa-Wise alumni are leaders in medicine, business, law, politics, education, community service, military service, science and the arts.

“You have a promising future ahead,” she said. “You have choices to make and much work to do. Graduates, explore and endeavor to make sound choices. Shoulder the necessary responsibilities, and lead yourself, your colleagues and your community in making a better world.”

She urged the Class of 2017 to look for and commit to the essentials of life, nurture their families, friends and spirit as they take on the world.

“Graduates, I speak for all members of our College community when I tell you how very proud we are of you,” she said. “Remember, you are not leaving UVa-Wise behind. You will always be a part of the UVa-Wise family. Your achievements, service to others and loyalty will contribute to the greatness of UVa-Wise. You have our best wishes for success and happiness throughout your lives.”

University of Virginia President Teresa A. Sullivan and University Vice Rector Frank “Rusty” Conner III also addressed the graduates. UVa-Wise is the only off grounds division of the University of Virginia.

“The University of Virginia in Charlottesville and the College at Wise are connected in many ways, perhaps most importantly by our shared commitment to a set of values—the values of academic excellence, honor, integrity and respect,” Sullivan said.

She told the students she hopes they carry the values they learned on campus with them as they leave UVa-Wise.

“You will need them,” she said. “In the years ahead, you will experience moments when it might be easier to keep quiet when truth is obscured; to argue the easy point rather than the true point; to follow blindly rather than sticking to your convictions. At those moments, I encourage you to remember the values you learned at UVa-Wise. Those values will guide your path as you navigate your future.”

Conner said UVa-Wise prepared the Class of 2017 for tackling complex problems they will face in the 21st century economy.

“As you leave this campus to take on new challenges, you take with you the accumulated wisdom and advice of all the teachers, advisors and mentors who have shaped your life and learning at UVa-Wise,” he said. “You can face the future with confidence because of the excellent education you have received here at UVa-Wise.”

Marcia A. Gilliam, a 1982 graduate of the College and chair of the UVa-Wise Board, also addressed the Class of 2017.

“You have prepared for your future here at UVa-Wise, both emotionally and professionally, and are ready to face the challenges and goals you have set for yourselves,” Gilliam said. “Nothing can or should stop you. Remember that courage is an outgrowth of who you are. Exterior supports may temporarily sustain, but only inward character creates courage.”

Henry, Sullivan and Conner also paid tribute to the late Joseph C. “Papa Joe” Smiddy. Smiddy, the College’s first chancellor, passed away on May 1 at the age of 96.

“He played an essential role in establishing this College and guiding it through its early years,” Sullivan said. “From a personal standpoint, getting to know Papa Joe over the last few years was a great joy, and it was obvious why he was such a beloved figure in this community.”

The Class of 2017 also heard remarks from Student Government Association President Cassidy Strange and honorary student speaker Gabrielle Smith. ROTC cadets Thomas Bauserman, Jeremiah Cooke, Karla Degener, Zachary Evans and Logan Mullins were commissioned as Second Lieutenants in the U.S. Army during Commencement 2017. The College has now had 22 commissioned officers since the ROTC program began in 2009.


photo by Tim Cox