Graduating seniors at Washington and Lee University today were asked to remember and live by the high ideals and standards that have guided them over the past four years, as they are leaving "a community that cares a great deal about these matters and entering a world that increasingly does not."
Having the university president give the commencement address is a custom that dates back to the 1930s. This will be current President Kenneth P. Ruscio's 10th such address, and his last before he steps down from the presidency at the end of 2016.
"Civility matters," Ruscio said in his address. "It makes possible conversations and debates where the purpose is to understand, not to prevail. Civility is the mark of those who have something to say, but can respect others who also have something to say."
Ruscio asked the 444 members of the Class of 2016 to brace themselves, to constantly and consciously call upon their experiences at W&L, and to remember the habits of the heart and mind they have developed as students.
"You acquired a sensibility that leads you, from instinct and habit, to behave in certain ways toward others, to pursue your own passions and interests while helping others pursue theirs," he said. "A finely tuned moral compass guides you."
"Don't succumb to the cynicism and meanness of the age in which we find ourselves," he said. "Don't seek refuge from a complex world in the safe harbors of simplicity and slogans. Act with dignity, decency, and civility. Become known as the Washington and Lee woman or man who offers reasonable and reasoned positions in the midst of chaos. And most of all, be someone who cares about others more than yourself."
Read the full address >
Lauren R. Howard, an economics major from South Glastonbury, Connecticut, spoke on behalf of the Class of 2016 as its representative to the Executive Committee of the Student Body. She reminded fellow graduates that their graduation day is an opportunity consider how they might be able to change the world. Howard encouraged her classmates to pause, reflect and thank those who have guided them.
"Today, when we receive our diplomas," Howard said, "We must take them for what they are: physical manifestations of our potential to do something, with and for others, something that matters."
Among Washington and Lee's graduates were 14 who earned both a bachelor of arts and a bachelor of science degree. Altogether, the Class of 2016 earned degrees in 34 majors. Nearly a third of the class completed more than one major, with two students completing three majors, and 35 percent of the class completed at least one minor.
Michael Watkins Holt of Henrico, Virginia, was named valedictorian. Holt achieved a perfect 4.0 grade-point average while earning a B.S. in mathematics and computer science. Holt is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Omicron Delta Kappa National Leadership Honor Society, Pi Mu Epsilon Mathematics Honor Society and Phi Eta Sigma National Honor Society.
Holt was a recipient of Washington and Lee's Johnson Scholarship, the J. Brown Goehring Sophomore Award, the Luther Seevers Birely Award, W&L's Taylor Mathematics Scholarship. He was a two-time recipient of the James McDowell Scholarship and a three-time recipient of the James D. Davidson Memorial Fund Scholarship.
A notable student athlete, Holt received the McHenry Male Scholar-Athlete Award after earning four letters with the men's tennis program. He is a three-time All-ODAC honoree and a two-time All-American in doubles. Holt has received the ODAC/Farm Bureau Scholar-Athlete of the Year Award three times and he is a two-time Third Team CoSIDA Academic All-American. Holt finished his career ranked fifth all-time at W&L with 76 doubles wins (76-26). He also went 54-25 in singles in leading W&L to four ODAC titles.
The university awarded an honorary degree to Robert C. Vaughan, III, president and founding director of the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and a 1966 Washington and Lee graduate. In presenting the degree, Provost Marc Conner recognized Vaughan as an "intellectual, distinguished leader in the field of education, [and] peerless advocate for the humanities in the Commonwealth of Virginia," and praised Vaughan for his "stirring career of dedicated service to the humanities."