Shenandoah University held its 2023 Commencement on Saturday, May 20, in the James R. Wilkins, Jr. Athletics & Events Center. This year’s ceremony celebrated 206 August 2022 graduates, 315 December 2022 graduates, and 775 May candidates for degree conferrals.
Commencement featured a welcome message from SU President Tracy Fitzsimmons, Ph.D., and remarks from W. Michael Perry, chair of Shenandoah University’s Board of Trustees; Anne Popp Lewis, president of the Alumni Association Board of Directors; and Tigist Maxson ’23, president of the Student Government Association.
During their addresses to the crowd, Dr. Fitzsimmons and Maxson noted that many of Shenandoah’s 2023 graduates had to navigate the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic during the early years of college and found solace in the programs, friendships, sporting events, conservatory performances and many other experiences at Shenandoah.
“You pushed through. You persevered,” Fitzsimmons told the 2023 graduating class. “You are now Shenandoah alumni. You’re going off to graduate appointments or residencies. You’re going off to jobs. Ten years from now, I fully expect you to be the principal or superintendent or the teacher of the year, to be the lead pharmacist, to be the one who is overseeing all of the occupational therapists in the department, to be the charge nurse. I fully expect to see you performing on the stage or to read your names in the play notes doing extraordinary things back of house. You are going to be running the businesses or owning the businesses – that might be local or international-level businesses. You are going to do extraordinary things. And most of all, we know you’re amazing people and you’re going to make our world a better place.”
Maxson, who commended the way Shenandoah University found a way to open its doors to students during the pandemic, told her classmates that “we proved our thirst for knowledge could transcend” the challenges they faced to define their college experience.
As we stand here on the cusp of a new chapter in our lives, let us remember that our resilience in the face of the pandemic has prepared us to tackle anything head on. As a result, we have the power to shape our futures and impact the lives of those around us. As we move forward, let us carry the lessons we have learned, the bonds we have formed, and the spirit of unity that has defined our class. Together, we will rise above the storm and make a lasting impression on the world.”
Tigist Maxson ’23, Student Government Association president
Prior to the awarding of degrees, President Fitzsimmons presented a posthumous diploma to the family of Richard Covington, an environmental studies student who passed away unexpectedly in October 2022 after complications from a scheduled surgery. Covington would’ve graduated from Shenandoah in May 2023.
“He is missed by so many of you who knew him and loved him, and by his faculty members who hold him so dear, including his adviser, Ally Degrassi,” Fitzsimmons said. “While he is greatly missed here today and will be for a long time, his legacy will continue through the lives of his loved ones, as all of us try to follow his example of holding a deep capacity to love the people and the world around him.”
Also during the ceremony, Fitzsimmons awarded a President’s Medal to Dean Emeritus and Professor Emeritus Charlotte A. Collins ’85, Ed.D., in recognition for extraordinary service to the university, the Shenandoah Conservatory and the world of music.
Dr. Collins joined SU in 1958 and spent over 50 years as a conservatory faculty member at Shenandoah University. She became chair of the music education and theory divisions in 1965 and served as dean of the Shenandoah Conservatory from 1972-2006. Collins helped develop programs in music therapy, composition, piano pedagogy, piano accompanying and jazz studies at SU, and the conservatory grew to encompass the dance and theatre divisions (previously part of the College of Arts & Sciences) during her time as dean. Collins also launched the Shenandoah Conservatory Arts Academy and Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre.
Collins and her husband, Professor Emeritus Verne E. Collins ’84, Ed.D., are the namesakes of the conservatory’s Collins Music Learning Suite for undergraduate and graduate music education students.
“I’d like to express how honored and humbled I am by the presentation of this award. A total surprise – something I never, ever expected,” Collins said. “It is really an outstanding thing for me, but it also represents the work of our many, many faculty members over the years. No one does something like this all by themselves.”
The full 2023 University Commencement is available for viewing on Shenandoah University’s YouTube channel.