More than 160 Graduate from Averett University in Winter Commencement Exercises

Posted on December 14th, 2019 by Cassie Jones

The E. Stuart James Grant Athletic and Convocation Center on Averett University’s North Campus was brimming this morning with joy and pride from more than 160 graduates and their families in the Winter Commencement exercises.

The 164 graduates range in age from 19 to 60, with 13 veterans and six international graduates from Argentina, Finland and Uzbekistan. More than 75% of today’s graduates are adults who completed their degrees through the University’s Graduate and Professional Studies (GPS) program. The University conferred degrees at both the baccalaureate and master’s level.

Following the procession with music from the AU Cougar Band, an invocation from University Chaplain Skyler Daniel and performance of the national anthem by student Libby Rodriguez, Averett President Dr. Tiffany M. Franks welcomed graduates and guests, reminding them how they got here today.

“You planned, you did, you asked for help and you repeated,” she said. “And this is how you should attack your future. Plan. Do. Ask for help. Repeat.”

She reminded graduates that they are now in the pool of more than 27,000 Averett alumni that span the globe, crossing all 50 states and 50 foreign countries.

“It’s huge, it’s talented and it’s always supportive…you have the entire Averett Family to turn to.”

Rev. Dr. Daniel Carlton, chair of the Averett Board of Trustees, echoed that sentiment.

“It’s my honor to bring you greetings on behalf of the Averett Board of Trustees…Stay in touch with us. A lot of people have invested in you being here today…Let your success be our successes.”

Introduced by Franks as a brilliant lawyer, a gifted judge, an advocate for Virginia private colleges, a proud mother and overall a wonderful woman, honorary speaker Elizabeth A. McClanahan followed with a message of inspiration for graduates, detailing personal experiences as a breast cancer survivor and as a professional.

“The endless cups of coffee,the  countless hours of tests, the homework…they’ve all paid off. For those of you under 22, you are ready to start ‘adulting.’ Some of you are ready to start your second career. The veterans here are ready to transition from the battlefield to civilian life.

“For all of you, remain flexible. Know that there will be surprises and some unplanned events.”

McClanahan reflected on her breast cancer diagnosis in 2006 – most certainly an unexpected life event – and the life lesson she gained from her cancer treatment journey that she calls the “72-hour lesson.”

“The toughest times were the unknowing. I frankly hate not knowing, but the testing of our faith produces perseverance and teaches life lessons. It took 72 hours to set aside the pain, weakness, nausea and sickness from the cancer treatments. This, too, can be applied to life.”

She suggested waiting 72 hours to respond when angered or hurt.

“Reflect for 72 hours before sending that email, posting that Instagram post or tweeting that comment. You will often find your perspective changes drastically. This allows your hurt to heal, your temper to cool  and allows you to reevaluate.”

She shared tales from a couple of uphill schooling battles from her undergraduate years throughout law school, and some rough first weeks at new jobs.

“Guide your life with the ‘three Gs: Grateful, Give, Goals.’

“Everyday, find one thing to be grateful for. Give, no matter the day and no matter the circumstances, determine to give something every day. And I don’t have to tell you all about goals; that’s why you’re here today graduating,” McClanahan said.

“These three Gs fit together like a mathematical equation. When you are gratetful and give back, you can achieve your goals.

“I am grateful for the contributions I know all of you will make in the world,” she finished.

McClanahan recently returned to her small hometown in Buchanan County, Va., to work at Appalachian School of Law as the dean (CEO) and the Street Distinguished Professor or Law after 35 years of legal experience. She served on the Court of Appeals of Virginia and the Supreme Court of Virginia for a combined 16 years. Prior to being appointed to the bench, McClanahan served as the Chief Deputy Attorney General for Virginia, responsible for managing the daily legal operations of the Virginia Office of the Attorney General.

Franks returned to the podium for one more special recognition, presenting Averett Trustee Mary M.G. Riddle with an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters for her distinguished service in business and society.

Riddle retired in 2016 from a lengthy career at The Coca-Cola Company, where she climbed the ranks as a buyer and manager of the flavor purchasing department, then later became an assistant vice president and ultimately the vice president of Coke’s board of directors. During her tenure, she managed the supply chain for more than 4,000 confidential ingredients and won several awards for her leadership.

Seven years ago, Riddle served as Averett’s commencement speaker, and her address focused on passion.

“Passion has been at the heart of your distinguished life and career,” Franks said to Riddle. “Your passion and amazing generosity are simply unmatched. Mary, we want everyone to know what a remarkable career you’ve had and what an incredible person you are. Your success and servant leadership are truly an inspiration to others.”

A Pittsylvania County resident, Riddle has served on the Averett Board of Trustees for more than two decades. She and her husband of more than 40 years, Bill, have been Averett Society members for almost 25 years.

“I don’t think that Dr. Franks, the president’s council, faculty or staff ever make a decision without passion for Averett,” Riddle said. “As a result, we have watched year after year, Averett becoming a better University and inspiring students, and a wonderful influence in this community and this entire region. What a privilege for me to be a part of Averett; I have loved it.”

Dr. Timothy Fulop, vice president of academic affairs and student success, presented the graduates and recognized those receiving awards, including:

Traditional Undergraduate Awards:

  • Mary C. Fugate: Teemu Olavi KarhapÄÄ
  • Grace V. Crenshaw: Brianna Leigh McCarter

Graduate and Professional Studies (GPS) Awards:

  • Malcolm Knowles Award: Lisa Marie Backer
  • Frank Campbell Award: David Enos Kessel, Jr.