Shenandoah University celebrated its 2022 Commencement on Saturday, May 21, in the James R. Wilkins, Jr. Athletics and Events Center. The ceremony celebrated 237 August 2021 graduates, 348 December 2021 graduates, and 752 May candidates for degrees.
Following a welcome message from SU President Tracy Fitzsimmons, Ph.D., and remarks were made by W. Michael Perry, Board of Trustees chair; Anne Popp Lewis, president of the Alumni Association Board of Directors; and Armani Cheilchani, Student Government Association president.
Cheilchani shared the inspirational story of her mother, who, despite her own parents’ incomplete education and a rejection in her initial quest to become a licensed practical nurse, is entering her 30th year as a registered nurse.
“The main reason why I’m standing here today is because of her perseverance, because she didn’t give up,” Cheilchani said through tears. “I’m grateful for her because she never let me give up, and she never gave up on me. Even when a door was shut in my face, she always still believed in me. … Because she didn’t quit, I won’t quit. And you all, don’t quit.”
Later in the ceremony, Shenandoah awarded Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy with an honorary Doctor of Law degree in recognition of his commitment to the defense of his country against unprovoked Russian invasion and to the values of freedom and democracy. SU is one of over 20 American colleges and universities to jointly offer honorary degrees to President Zelenskyy and in honor of the Ukrainian people this spring.
Shenandoah University 2022 graduate Nataliya Kril, who was born in Ukraine and became an American citizen earlier this spring, accepted the honorary degree on behalf of President Zelenskyy and her country. Though Kril moved to the United States eight years ago, her mother, father and brother still live in Ukraine.
Upon accepting the honorary degree, Kril thanked the American people and the Shenandoah University community and stated that Americans and Ukrainians alike believe in freedom, democracy and “being able to decide on our own future.”
Kril, who walked across the stage to receive a Bachelor of Business Administration later in the ceremony, told the commencement audience she woke up to a video call from her parents in the middle of the night on Feb. 24, the day Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine.
“All I heard was a hysterical scream that my city that I grew up in, and a whole country, is under missile attack. At that moment, I felt like my whole life shattered,” Kril said, adding that it “truly hurts” to see your brother and father get drafted with no military experience and your mother forced to make Molotov cocktails to protect herself while left home alone.
Kril also noted the resiliency of the Ukrainian people and spoke about the importance of being able to keep moving forward, even in the face of darkness, fear and grief. She added that “every Ukrainian will remember the love and support that America has given them.”
I was touched by the amount of love and support I received from Shenandoah University. It is our deed to stand up and support those who need it the most. … I would like to leave you with one thing: don’t take anything for granted. We never know if tomorrow is going to be just another day or a whole other life. Tell your family and friends that you love them and thank them for everything, because they matter the most. They are the light in your darkest days. Stay resilient, stay good, and never give up on your dreams.”
Nataliya Kril, Shenandoah University 2022 graduate
Attendees gave Kril a rousing standing ovation as she concluded her speech by proclaiming, “Slava Ukraini (Glory to Ukraine)!”
Dr. Fitzsimmons also announced that Shenandoah University was working to admit three Ukrainian students whose educational experience was disrupted due to the ongoing conflict with Russia.
Shenandoah awarded presidential medals to representatives of the Faculty Senate and Staff Council, who received the medals on behalf of all faculty and staff at the university. Krista Humphries; Michael Magro, Ph.D.; David Meyer, D.M.; and Jason Rockwell received the President’s Medals, which were awarded to recognize the collective effort of faculty and staff to keep Shenandoah University open through the pandemic.