Shenandoah University presented one of its top honors, the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award, to seniors Mariagracia Rivas Berger and Joshua Walker as well Senior Director of Advancement Brad Snowden during the university’s Commencement ceremony held on Saturday, May 11.
Sullivan awards are given each year to one graduating woman and one graduating man, as well as one non-student selected from the faculty, staff or board of trustees. The awards are given to individuals of “noble character” whose “fine spiritual qualities” are “practically applied to daily living.” The awards are presented to those who go “outside the narrow circle of self-interest” and invest themselves in the well-being of others – individuals who are “constant reminders to us of those high qualities which ennoble and beautify living.”
The award was established in 1925 by the New York Southern Society, which specifies the criteria for the award should be understood as “distinct from high scholarship, athletic achievement, success in business, professional ability, political leadership or mere worldly prominence in any calling.”
Rivas Berger, a native of Falls Church, Va., earned a Bachelor of Music in performance with a minor in piano. She is the founder, president and executive board member of LIBERATE, a student group aimed at raising awareness about gender related-issues on campus, in the community and around the world.
During her time at the university, she served as a resident assistant, Spanish and music theory tutor, peer sexual assault educator, volunteer for Shenandoah’s [Not Just] Women’s Center, Phone-a-thon caller and member of the Hispanic Awareness Month and Student Success Campaign committees.
Rivas Berger also performed and toured with the Conservatory Choir and the City Choir of Washington under the direction of Grammy award-winning conductor Robert Shafer. She is a member of Sigma Alpha Iota, a women’s music fraternity that focuses on community service.
“Never in a million years did I imagine I would be nominated for the award, let alone receive it,” said Rivas Berger. “I am still so surprised and humbled to be the recipient of this magnificent award, that words can’t really explain how I felt and still feel. I am honored, exalted, surprised but mostly humbled. I’m just thankful I’ve had the opportunity to do the things I have done at this university and meet the people I now consider family.”
Walker, a native of Prince George County, Va., earned a Bachelor of Science in environmental studies and biology with a minor in Spanish. He is active in the environmental studies community at Shenandoah, having served as both a student assistant and research technician. In these roles, Walker assisted with preparations for departmental operations and classes, trained new student assistants, surveyed ecological communities in the Abrams Creek Wetlands and assisted in the study of wood turtle nesting success.
He has interned with the Blue Ridge Wildlife Center in Millwood, Va., and Piedmont EarthWorks in Briery Creek Forest near Charlottesville, Va. Walker has done volunteer work with The Salvation Army, Frederick Douglas Elementary School and Amor y Paz. He is also an active member of Shenandoah’s Students Helping Honduras group.
“Winning the award was a great honor. Not only have I made an impact on a local and national scale, but my work was recognized to help inspire others to strive for this type of recognition,” said Walker.
Snowden, a Shenandoah University staff member since 2002, practiced law for 17 years in Winchester, Virginia and the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia before beginning his career in advancement. In his role at Shenandoah, Snowden relays student success stories to potential donors in order to raise funds for various development projects. He works in the area of planned giving and serves as the chair of the Steinway Initiative, a $3 million fundraising campaign to qualify the university as an All-Steinway School.
He is involved in a number of civic and professional organizations including the Clarke County Rotary Club (past president), Wayside Theatre Board of Directors, Tri-State Planned Giving Council, the Tri-State Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (president), Conference Caucus of the Virginia Fundraising Institute, Musselman High School Soccer Booster Association (past treasurer) and Musselman High Band Boosters Association.
He is treasurer of Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Arden, W.Va., where he has also served as council member, council president, stewardship chairman and budget chairman. Snowden volunteers with Immanuel’s Table, an interdenominational meals program for the homeless and disadvantaged in Martinsburg, W.Va., as well as with Loaves & Fishes in Martinsburg and Congregational Community Action Project (CCAP) in Winchester, Va.
“At first I thought they were calling me to the stage because I had left something there in connection with volunteering on graduation day,” said Snowden. “Once I realized I was an Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award winner, I was overwhelmed, humbled and stunned that I would even be considered to be in the company of past winners. I think of all the incredible people here at the university and am honored to be counted among them.”