On Sunday, May 14, the College of Arts and Sciences held a Convocation for the Conferring of Degrees to 375 undergraduates. Convocation Bulletin.
University Chaplain Peter Gray opened the service welcoming the Class of 2023 and referenced to Psalm 30, “Weeping may endure for a night … but joy cometh in the morning,” and Psalm 126, “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.” Turning to the students, he said, “Class of 2023, you’ve known your share of grief. You have sowed with tears. So let joy come this morning. Reap joy.”
Sarah Elisabeth Hall, an English and creative writing double major from Tennessee, then gave the traditional salutatory in Latin, addressing the acting vice-chancellor, faculty, and the audience before concluding with the University motto, “Ecce Quam Bonum.”
Acting Provost Scott Wilson asked Assistant Professor of French and French Studies Julian Ledford to stand at his seat in the choir of All Saints’ Chapel and then announced—to the applause of his faculty colleagues and guests—that Ledford had been awarded the Kennedy Fellowship for 2023-2026. Established in 2001 by the Kennedy Foundation of Chattanooga, the fellowship supports talented early-career faculty in the College during the formative years of their Sewanee career by providing three years of funding for research or professional development opportunities.
Acting Provost Wilson also announced the awards and honors for academic excellence in various disciplines, athletic achievement, and community service. This year marks the initiation of a new award, the Dean’s Scholar awards given to select seniors who have explored and discovered, pushed boundaries and taken risks, all in the pursuit of learning and growth. The inaugural winners of the Dean's Scholar award were: Elizabeth Brooks De Wetter, Alexander Price Robinson, Madison Marie Sellers, Kalia A’Janique Thompson, and Gary Michael Satin.
The acting provost then asked Peggy Owusu-Ansah to come forward to receive the 2023 Algernon Sydney Sullivan Medallion for character, leadership, and service to the University and the Sewanee community. Owusu-Ansah, from Virginia, received loud applause from the faculty and her classmates in All Saints’ Chapel and from family members and guests on the Quad as Acting Vice-Chancellor Nancy Berner presented the top undergraduate award given during Commencement.
See the complete list of 2023 awards and prizes.
Kristina Romanenkova, an environmental studies: arts and humanities major from Russia, offered the valedictory address. Congratulating her fellow graduates and welcoming families and friends to Sewanee, Romanenkova posited that a liberal arts education promises to challenge, stretch, deepen, and humble students and then quipped that, for the Class of 2023, Sewanee has certainly fulfilled that promise, perhaps too much. “Sewanee has taught us, made us acknowledge and feel our inseparability from the rest of the world. To recognize our close and often painful connection with familiar and not yet familiar others.” She observed that events around the world often made her feel uncertainty and grief, but she found connections and kindness from those in the Sewanee community and even found solace in the company of salamanders on the Domain. Romanenkova closed, "Grief can be a powerful source of connection. We all have something that we grieve. We can let it break us open. Let us believe that our Sewanee experiences did not break us, but broke us open so that we could live more fully, love more deeply, and be more genuine and grateful."
Following Romanenkova's address, Dean of the College Terry Papillon read each graduate’s name, and the acting vice-chancellor presented each diploma on the stage outside on the Quad. The backdrop for the presentations was an array of the flags of each of the eight countries represented in the College graduating class: People’s Republic of China, Egypt, Finland, India, Hungary, Nepal, Romania, Russia, and the United States.
Before reading the University's charge to the "chosen and now honored youths," Acting Vice-Chancellor Berner wished all the mothers and grandmothers in attendance a happy Mother's Day while also thanking all parents and families for the support they provided to these graduates along the way. Berner recognized the class of 2023 as "my graduating class" as she will be stepping down as acting vice-chancellor on June 30. She reminded the graduates that this is only the end of the beginning of their Sewanee experience and that there is an entirely new set of experiences to look forward to. Berner recognized the challenges this class endured attending college during the pandemic and thanked them for the deep care they displayed for one another and this place, challenging them to spread that goodness across the world wherever they go.
After the singing of the alma mater, the faculty procession led the way out of All Saints’ Chapel and into the traditional applause line along University Avenue to congratulate the Class of 2023.
See photos and watch the Commencement video.