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Davidson College Commencement – COVID Style

by | May 11, 2021

Member of the Class of 2021 marched onto the track in Richardson Stadium [screenshot from livestream]


Davidson College’s 184th Commencement was held on Tuesday, May 11. Instead of the traditional Sunday morning event on Chambers lawn, the college held the mid-week, COVID-compliant event in Richardson Stadium.

Originally planned as two ceremonies (10 a.m. and 2 p.m.), recent changes in COVID restrictions allowed the college to shift to a single ceremony at 10 a.m. A normal commencement is a herculean undertaking, and this year it was exponentially more difficult.

Your News of Davidson team had hoped to cover the event – even with a photographer with a telephoto lens, but the college requested that we remain off campus and view the livestream of the ceremony. We heeded their request and did just that – glued to a computer screen for several hours not to miss a moment.

Processing into the stadium under an arch of balloons.

Only graduates, faculty, designated staff members, and each graduate’s two selected ticket holders were allowed into Richardson Stadium. Beyond the two guest limit, family and friends were asked to watch the livestream.

Faculty processed in and took their places on either side of the track as most of the 508 members of the Class of 2021 walked in and under and arch of red, black, and white balloons. For those of us watching the livestream – the video operators attempted to provide views from several vantage points.

You can still view the live stream of commencement. The college has also promised to make a produced version of the video available on their YouTube Channel in few days. The college press release said that the livestream was viewed around the country, and garnered an international audience from India, China, Colombia, Japan, and other places around the globe. Members of the Class of 2021 represent 13 foreign countries and 40 U.S. states.

President Carol Quillen

Davidson continued the tradition of not having a “Commencement Speaker.” During the ceremony, graduates and guests heard from: President Carol Quillen, Senior Class President Deen Nimer Haleem II, Rabbi David Lipper, Dean Byron McCrea, Chair, Board of Trustees – Alison Hall Mauze, and Chaplain Rob Spach.

And not to take anything away from the significance of those 500 graduates receiving their diplomas, this year’s in-person ceremony also allowed the return of the presentation of several traditional awards.

Each year at the Davidson Commencement the crowd listens intently to the narratives read to introduce the recipients of the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award recipients – one a graduating senior and the other a member of the Davidson community. In 2020, the student recipient was surprised during the virtual ceremony, but not the community recipient. The same was true for the Hunter-Hamilton Love of Teaching Awards as well as the presentation of honorary degrees. As a result, there were even more surprise, pins and needles moments as the narratives teased out each of the Algernon Sydney Sullivan recipients.

The 2021 Algernon Sydney Sullivan Student Award Recipient was Emily Rounds, a Hispanic Studies major from Princeton, New Jersey. “Her brilliance is matched only by her penchant for community building,” the award says. “She demonstrates how essential empathetic leadership is now in a time where the world is reckoning with crisis.”

Algernon Sydney Sullivan Community Award Recipients:

2020 – Betsy Verhey. Chef Betsy was honored for her selfless service preparing meals for the children at the Davidson Cornelius Child Development Center and countless other community service activities.

2021 – Spence “Pat” Millen. Davidson College graduate and local resident Pat Millen was honored for his work as the co-founder of one of Davidson’s best-known nonprofits – Eliminate the Digital Divide (E2D). When Franny Millen asked her parents (Pat Millen and Eileen Keeley) how her classmates were supposed to do their schoolwork without computers or home access to the internet, she also asked them what they were going to do about it. Those questions from eight years ago spawned the creation of E2D and dramatically changed the lives of more than 50,000 students across the region.

Hunter-Hamilton Love of Teaching Recipients:

2020: Dr. Mario Belloni and Dr. Nicole Snyder

  • Physics Professor Mario Belloni, “For your skillful teaching, your extraordinary patience and generosity with students…and your ability to make subjects that are as intimidating as quantum physics not only comprehensible but fun.”
  • Associate Professor of ChemistryNicole Snyder, “For understanding your students’ hopes and dreams, for challenging those students to become better people, and for being the mentor your students hope to emulate.”


2021: Dr. David Martin and Dr. Susan Roberts

  • Economics ProfessorDave Martin “For over three decades of unwavering support of your students through the ups and downs of their journey, believing in them and realizing their potential even when they lacked confidence in themselves…”
  • Political Science ProfessorSusan Roberts “For her superior abilities as a teacher, advisor, friend and a public voice for Davidson College that brought a measure of intellectual acuity to the political arena during the last election cycle.”

The college also presented two honorary degrees, one an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters and the other an Honorary Doctor of Laws.

The first recipient was Willie Deese.

“Deese grew up as one of nine children living on a farm near Davidson. His father was a custodian for the college and his mother, a maid. His two grandfathers also worked as long-time college laborers.

He rose to the top ranks of several pharmaceutical companies and became the largest supporter of his alma mater, North Carolina A&T, where he served as a chair on the board of trustees. He’s provided numerous scholarships for students in need and been a strong advocate for affordable housing and Alzheimer’s research. Last year North Carolina A&T named the Willie A. Deese College of Business and Economics in his honor.

The citation for Deese notes: “Because you live your own saying: ‘When you get to the top, send the elevator back down; you model humane instincts and a disciplined, creative mind in your work and in your civic commitments; you honor your mother and father and their example in the way you live your life.” “

The second recipient was James E. Ferguson II.

“Ferguson co-founded North Carolina’s first integrated law firm in Charlotte in the 1960s. He led the litigation team in the landmark Wilmington Ten case in the 1970s and established a groundbreaking legal training program in Apartheid-era South Africa in the 1980s. He secured official declarations of innocence for the Wilmington Ten and others after decades of ongoing advocacy. His son Jay is a member of the class of 1992. [NoD note: his longtime law partner in Charlotte was Jim Fuller – Davidson Town Commissioner and Class of 1964.]

“Because throughout the course of your life you have sought justice, truth and reconciliation;” the citation says, “because you generously share your knowledge to empower and equip others to do the same; because you continue—persistent and unflagging—in this work of addressing inequality and injustice wherever you see it.”

The college (faculty, staff, and students) did an amazing job to pull off a wonderful commencement. And as well as it went, we hope that the 185th Davidson College Commencement will not be impacted by pandemic protocols.

[Note: some of the quoted content provided was taken from the college’s commencement article that was published late Tuesday.]

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