Averett University Holds Spring 2024 Commencement

Posted on May 4th, 2024 by Cassie Jones

More than 200 graduates walked the stage in Averett University’s Spring Commencement Ceremony this morning.

With a packed house of loved ones brimming with pride and eager to cheer them on, 210 graduates receiving their bachelor’s or master’s degrees spanning offerings from the University’s traditional and online programs participated in the graduation exercises.

Graduates from August 2023, December 2023 and May 2024 were eligible to participate – marking a total of 341 Averett degrees conferred over the course of the academic year. The graduates ranged in age from 19 to 66 years old, and included 15 veterans, as well as 19 international students from 11 countries including Argentina, The Bahamas, Belgium, Ethiopia, Finland, Germany, Mexico, Norway, Panama, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

Introducing the commencement speaker whose “aspirations had him aiming for the stars, literally,” and “whose leadership has taken us to the farthest reaches of the universe,” Averett President Dr. Tiffany Franks welcomed Dr. Gregory L. Robinson ’93, retired NASA pioneer and Averett alumnus.

Robinson, who earned a Master of Science degree in business administration from Averett in 1993, is best known as the turnaround leader of the James Webb Space Telescope. He is credited with transforming a program that was billions over budget and years behind schedule into one of NASA’s greatest achievements of the 21st century.

On being asked to lead the Webb program, he first doubted himself.

“Although I knew that I was technically and programmatically prepared, I still asked the question, ‘Why me?’ After long consultations with my wife and some trusted mentors, my wife said, ‘Why not you?’

“I never thought in a million years that I would lead such a high-profile, global program as Webb. However, my education and career experiences had adequately prepared me. Of course, I can say that now! You will ask yourselves many times, ‘Why me?’ but I can assure you, you are well prepared.”

Robinson is the recipient of a number of prestigious awards and honors, including being named one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2022 and receiving the TIME100 Impact Award, which credited Robinson’s leadership on Webb as “bringing us closer to understanding the universe.” He was named the NASA Presidential Rank Distinguished Executive, the Presidential Rank Meritorious Senior Professionals and Executives Award, the 2022 Federal Employee of the Year, and the NASA Distinguished Service Medal. He was also an Averett Distinguished Alumni Award recipient in 2023.

“Although there were numerous contributors to my career success, Averett University played a huge role,” said Robinson. “In addition to my math and engineering training, my Averett MBA provided me the fundamental subject matter expertise in business and collaboration skills within a very diverse community, which was necessary for my success on Webb.”

He encouraged graduates to look beyond their doubts, and find confidence in their preparation to tackle challenges big and small in their lives.

“As a little black boy growing up sharecropping, living on a dirt road, and attending segregated elementary school in Pittsylvania County Virginia, college didn’t appear possible. I went to school on a football scholarship, and experienced many hardships along the way,” he recalled. “My journey is a significant achievement; however, each of you has a story…I know that the world will never be the same because of you and how Averett University has prepared you.”

Dr. Franks presented Dr. Robinson with an Averett Presidential Medallion, reserved only for those who have achieved in extraordinary ways in their lifetime.

Also making remarks at the podium was Senior Class President Talia Prosper ’24 – the first student to address their peers during Averett’s commencement exercises.

“Class of 2024…be sure to embrace every moment of today. For many of us, this is our very first time walking across a graduation stage that isn’t virtual. When your name is called, walk across the stage with confidence. Own it, completely.”

In addition to her heartfelt words, Prosper left a gift for her peers under their seats: “a seed, to remind you of growth and new beginnings; a penny, so you’ll never be broke; a playing card, to remind you always to make the best of what life deals you; a match, to light your fire when you’re burnt out; a rubber band, to remind you to stay flexible; and lastly, a toothpick, to pick out your very best memories from Averett University.”

She recounted the collective times of challenge and unity this graduating class has experienced.

“From the very beginning, I personally saw the impact of ‘One Team, One Averett’ [Averett Athletics motto]. This mindset has been shown through the many ups and downs we as students have faced during our college career,” said Prosper. “From the days of Zoom classes and quarantine due to an international pandemic in our freshman year, to the unexpected losses of beloved professors and staff our senior year, ‘One Team, One Averett’ has been lived through every student experience I’ve had.”

Where the faculty sit were two open seats representing those faculty members who passed away this spring semester.

“One of the seats would have been occupied by Professor Barbara Kushubar 75’, who served Averett for 36 years and who passed away just five weeks ago,” said Franks. “The other open seat is in honor of Dr. David Hanbury, who passed away just seven weeks ago. Professor Kushubar and Dr. Hanbury were consummate teachers, endless mentors and beloved by our Averett Family.”

Both were to be the mace bearers at today’s ceremony as the 2023 Faculty Members of the Year Award recipients. English Professor Dr. Marc Muneal carried the mace in their honor.

The ceremony included the traditional bagpipe processional, an invocation and benediction from University Chaplain Rev. Sean Timmons, and performances of “The National Anthem” and “Averett Alma Mater” by the Averett Singers. Emma Maddux Kozlowski, vice chair of the Averett Board of Trustees, welcomed graduates and guests on behalf of the Board. Vice President for Academic Affairs Virginia Henderson presented the graduates and recognized those receiving awards, including:

Traditional Undergraduate Awards (Highest GPA):
Mary C. Fugate Award: Caleb Dawson Adams
Grace V. Crenshaw Award: Cody Benjamin Payne

Averett Online Awards (Highest GPA):
Malcolm Knowles Award: Samantha Raychelle Dalton
Frank Campbell Award: Corey Schmidt and Dawn Mitchell Bushley (tied)

Curtis Bishop Award (Extraordinary Service to University)
Alyssa Jordan Nelson

American Legion Citizenship Award:
Daniel Marcellino Cancro

C.L. Davenport Award for Excellence:
Eben Parker Leigh

Elizabeth and James Bustard Distinguished Award for Graduate Studies:
Timothy Goldsmith and Talia Prosper

View the full recorded ceremony here, and find more photos from the day here.