Andrew Gilliam, a mathematics major, is the honorary student speaker for Commencement 2018. The Jonesville, Virginia native graduated from Thomas Walker High in Lee County before beginning his college career at UVa-Wise. The 22-year-old has plans to attend graduate school soon to meet his goal of teaching mathematics.
“I have wanted to teach math since I was in sixth grade,” he said. “I never had a bad math teacher, so I just want to pay it forward and teach. To me, math is like solving puzzles, and I hope that I can turn a reluctant math student around one day.”
Gilliam certainly made his mark at UVa-Wise during his four years on campus. He was a sought after math tutor in the Tutor Connection Office. He worked as a teaching assistant in the Mathematics Department. He served as president of the SVEA, is a member of the National Society for Leadership and Success, a member of the Darden Society and is a member of the Sigma Zeta, the mathematics and science honor society. Gilliam has also performed on the stage of the Gilliam Center for the Arts in a production of Marisol. He has also performed in the “Trail of the Lonesome Pine,” Virginia’s official outdoor drama.
During Gilliam’s stint as president of the Student Virginia Education Association and as the Southwest Virginia representative for the SVEA State Board of Directors, UVa-Wise won the Ultimate Award and Best Chapter in Virginia.
Gilliam’s journey to UVa-Wise began when Winston Ely, a former member of the Office of Development and College Relations team, spotted him at a football game in Lee County. Gilliam was there with his family to watch his brother play football. The UVa-Wise administrator noticed Gilliam working hard on his math homework as the others watched the game.
“He asked someone who I was, and she told him that I was the valedictorian of Thomas Walker High,” Gilliam said.
Ely began recruiting Gilliam for UVa-Wise. Although Gilliam still had other colleges in mind, the deal was sealed when he called one school’s financial aid department to see what scholarship packages he could receive. After a lengthy phone session that required him to give his account number several times as he was transferred from desk to desk, Gilliam decided to ask the same questions at UVa-Wise.
“I called UVa-Wise’s financial aid office and they said ‘hey, Andy, how’re you doing?’ I was immediately recognized and they knew me.”
He landed several scholarships, including the Thomas Walker Class of 1950 and the Chancellor’s Scholarship, Riggs Family Scholarship, Hank Johnston International Scholarship, Lauren Wallace Fields Scholarship, Thelma Meade Hancock & Robert C. Hancock Memorial Scholarship, Miners’ Family Scholarship, and the William H. Starnes, Jr., & Sofia M. Starnes Scholarship
Gilliam reflected on his decision to come to Wise, and he knows he made the right choice.
“My instructors were wonderful,” he said. “If I ever had questions or problems, they would help me,” he said. “I got to go to Rome and study abroad on scholarship, and that was an amazing experience for me.”
Gilliam also served as an usher for Commencement for three years. Today, he gets to enjoy Commencement 2018 with his fellow classmates.