Commencement is full of humor, advice, White House anecdotes
BY SABRINA BROWN
A “breakup letter” to Longwood written by a soon-to-be-graduate. Worldly advice to the Class of 2015 encouraging them, among other things, to “always buy the extended warranty.” Personal anecdotes about working with former President Lyndon Johnson.
All this and more was part of undergraduate commencement on May 9.
The letter was one of several read to the crowd by Class of 2015 President Paige Rollins. She had solicited them prior to the ceremony from her fellow graduates, asking them to reflect on their time at Longwood and their imminent departure. Board of Visitors Rector Colleen McCrink Margiloff ’97 was the sage behind the warranty advice and several other suggestions for the future.
And Pulitzer-Prize winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin’s keynote address was full to the brim with anecdotes—some humorous, some poignant—about Johnson, during whose term she served as a White House Fellow, and other presidents she got to know only through her extensive research, most notably Abraham Lincoln.
No president’s story is more “compelling” than Lincoln’s, said Goodwin, whose best- selling book Team of Rivals became the basis for the 2012 film Lincoln.
“The hardest part of his self-education, he later said, was that he had few people with whom to discuss his ideas, to mentor him, to guide him. … What Lincoln would have given to have spent four years on this beautiful campus. All his life he regretted the want of a formal education, but he never stopped learning, even after becoming a lawyer.” (Listen to Goodwin’s full address)
Longwood awarded 913 bachelor’s degrees in the May 9 ceremony and 159 master’s degrees the previous evening. (These numbers include graduates who completed their studies in August and December of 2014.) Provost Ken Perkins, who is starting the next chapter of his career at Longwood this summer in University Advancement, gave the address at the graduate commencement ceremony.
Perkins urged the graduate students to be magnanimous. “I like to think of magnanimity as encompassing the habits of being graceful in words and deeds, with calmness and kindness in demeanor, and having a forgiving nature. You want others to think of you as having a big soul.”
Another era came to an end this year as Dr. Bob Webber called the last of some 20,000 graduates’ names he has announced at Longwood’s commencement ceremonies over the last quarter-century.
Heralding the moment when a beloved child, brother, sister or friend walked across the stage, Webber’s rich baritone and dramatic flair made each name special. Webber retired at the end of the academic year.
Undergraduate Commencement 2015: The Whole Story
Colleen McCrink Margiloff ’97, Rector
Board of Visitors
On behalf of the Board of Visitors, I want to say congratulations and wish you all the best of luck. And also to offer you this piece of advice: Take as many photos as your mother wants today. Humor her and your parents.
As you sit there and I sit up here, and I think back to when I was sitting in that seat, a few things have happened in my life that want to share with you, some pieces of advice or learning.
Always buy the extended warranty for appliances in your household. You never know how expensive somebody’s time is until a $5 light bulb in your oven costs $150.
Dress for the job you want, not for the job you have.
Remember kindness and patience as you’re sitting on an airplane with a screaming baby, because I can almost guarantee that one day that screaming baby will be yours.
And, from my experience, when colleagues and friends are having a problem, they typically don’t want to hear from you, “I think you should.” What helps is to say, “in my experience,” and then to share an experience of yours that will help them make the best decision.
Ladies, when a gentleman is with you in your presence and you ask him, “What’s wrong?” and he says, “Nothing,” he means it. Gentlemen, when you ask a woman what is wrong and she says, “Nothing,” you are in so much trouble. You need to go back about 10 steps and think about what has happened.
As you go into this world as citizen leaders, I want to paraphrase one of my favorite novels, Harry Potter, and say to you, “Help will always be given at Longwood to those who ask it.” We want you to come back after today. We want to see you at reunions. We want to hear your good news, and, if bad news is there, we want to be there to help you as well. We want you to come back and speak in our classrooms. We want to see you walking the streets. We want to see you bring your families back, and one day you, too, could be sitting on this platform on one of our boards.
Congratulations. Good luck, and we are so proud of you.
Paige Rollins ’15
When it came time to sit down and somehow recap the best four years of my life into one little speech, I saw the unfairness of it all. Why should I just talk about my experiences when not everyone has had the same memories? Sure, I could go on forever talking about some of my fondest memories: rolling chairs down the hallways of Wheeler freshman year, singing songs in the Rotunda with my sisters, or even just waiting in line to get those long-awaited French toast sticks at midnight breakfast. But would that be right?
Each of us came to Longwood under different pretenses. Whether we transferred in, stayed for four years, five years, or props to those who did it all in even less time- all of our memories are unique and special to each individual. So I asked for help, reaching out to my fellow classmates and asking them to write a “Letter to Longwood,” much as I did at the beginning of the year at Convocation. (Which was 240 days ago if you can believe it!) I was overwhelmed with the response. I feel as if I’ve gained such a greater appreciation for my classmates, their memories and friendships, and I hope these four letters that I’m going to share will help you all, too. I received thank-you notes; advice to incoming students; many, many, love letters; and even a break-up letter! So, here we go.
When I came to Longwood I was a naïve, out-of-state, not-knowing-what-NOVA-was freshman. I had no car or way to get home to see my parents for over six months. Needless to say, it was a long year. I was a first-generation college student, and my parents had little knowledge of the college process or what I needed to do to reach my goals after graduation. They had raised me through my 12 years at grade school, teaching me my education was everything. That is the motivation I had when I came here, but, after the first year, I found myself lost, unmotivated and overwhelmed. That’s when I started to really listen to my advisor. He had the tough advice that echoed my parents’ words and gave me some direction. He has taken on the role of a friend, professor and mentor. I don’t think I would have graduated with a biology degree without him pushing me along and giving me the confidence I needed to believe in myself. I’m thankful for his sarcastic sense of humor that always gave me some comic relief when I needed it the most. I will never forget him, nor will I forget the lessons he has taught me. I think if there was one overall message to take from all the amounts of time I spent in his office it is this: Enjoy what you do in life, and don’t get bogged down by things that you can’t do. Focus on what makes you happy, and everything else will just fall in to place.
It’s not you, it’s me. As we are moving in different directions, I see that it is best if we remember all the good times we’ve had in the past as I make a departure from your life. We’ve laughed, we’ve cried, but, most important of all, we loved each other and will continue to love each other as years go on.
You are going to make someone really happy some day by having them fall in love with you the way I did, but, alas, I must leave you, for we both have bigger things to accomplish, while in our separate ways. I think it would be best if we saw other people, for I know those other people will make an impact on our lives, such as making you a better place and me a better person.
I will truly cherish my time I spent in your library, frolicking through your fountains, having you make me into a great citizen leader, but I think at this time it would be in our best interest if we just continued on as friends who see each other every once in a while.
As hard as it is for you to see me and many other Lancers leave your beautiful campus, you should know that there is and always will be a special place in my heart for you because, as they say: Once a Lancer, always a lancer.
Love, Yours Truly
I came to you in 2011 as a shy, insecure girl; I battled with depression and often contemplated suicide. Through a series of art projects and the help of the amazing art department professors, I’m happy to say that I’m doing much better. At one point in my life, I didn’t think that I would even make it to graduation, but I’m here today with great plans for the future.
Love, An Eternally Grateful Lancer
Thank you for four years of some of the best memories that I have ever known. From freshman year in the Cunninghams to senior year on Buffalo Street, I have grown to be a better man because of this school.
I have found friends through my dedication to service in the university community and the town of Farmville. Through my fraternity, I have discovered what it means to be a leader who does not seek honor for himself.
Most of all, what I have learned here was the value in being a citizen leader. Striving to be not the person who claims power or pride but to be the person who is willing to help his fellow man at any given opportunity. Leadership is truly service to the world around you. Without Longwood University, I do not know that I could fully understand that.
This school is my home and forever will be. My pride and legacy remain here with my fraternity, and my heart remains here with the love of my life. I could not be more proud that my alma mater is going to be Longwood. I would not trade the memories or love that I have found in this place for anything in the world. This school made me the man I am today, and, for that, I will be eternally grateful. I am very sad to leave this school, but I believe truly that once a Lancer, always a Lancer.
While these sentimental words and memories last a lifetime, paper and ink can fade. The Senior Class of 2015 and the President’s Office have teamed together to create a project for both our graduating class and alumni to leave their legacy and love for Longwood in a more permanent way on our campus. Throughout Senior Week, the Senior Class Council passed out small locks to seniors to decorate with their name, a group or organization’s name, or any design that shows their own personal love for Longwood. These legacy locks are located behind all of you next to the big blue fence—and will remain there until we find a permanent home for the Legacy Lock Fence. These legacy locks are a visual representation of each individual’s time at Longwood and the love for our alma mater.
Sincerely, A Lancer for Life
So in closing, I have one last letter for you, Class of 2015. It’s the very letter I read to you all at Convocation at the beginning of this year, but with a little twist:
Dear Longwood University Class of 2015,
It is with a happy heart that I am writing to you today. If you’re listening to this letter, that means you’ve experienced just about everything Longwood has to offer—and are boiling hot in your cap and gown, waiting to be handed that beloved piece of paper as a promise to your future ahead.
Think about it. If you’ve attended Longwood for your entire college career, we’ve survived four Color Wars, one earthquake, eight exam weeks, and let’s not even count how many carnival cookies from D-hall we’ve consumed. No matter how many classes we’ve taken, smiles we’ve gotten from Miss Betty, or how many CHI and Princeps droppings we’ve found— look around you. You’re surrounded by your classmates, your brothers, your sisters, your teammates, your best friends and maybe even some new ones.
And let’s not forget about the people who got you here. It may be your boyfriend or girlfriend, your best friend, sibling, or mom and dad—all of whom are here to send you off from a successful adventure at Longwood University.
As the Class of 2015, we all are the product of many sleepless nights—whether it was frantically cramming for that impossible exam, putting together the perfect recruitment, or just eating your weight in pizza and watching an ungodly amount of Netflix. We are proof that we can make a difference by our hundreds of student organizations, campus events and the amount of service we’ve done in the Farmville community. We’ve practiced hard to be here today—whether it’s a sport, instrument, dance or speech. Each moment putting our passion into reality has gotten us here, to graduation.
No matter what we’ve done in our past years at Longwood, we have the opportunity to take what we’ve learned and make life great. Whether that’s creating a life alongside someone you love, being successful in your career or field, pushing yourself further in your studies or serving our country—this life is the best and happiest with all of us Lancers in it. So my dear Class of 2015, I encourage you to take life at full charge—taking all the opportunities and chances you can, but always remembering these past few months at Longwood University as the last year and the best year.
Cheers to the Class of 2015, everyone!