Davidson Celebrates the Class of 2001 at Commencement
May 21, 2001
As the largest class ever of Davidson College graduates proceeded across the stage at commencement exercises on May 20, President Robert Vagt delivered one very special congratulations.
Among the 434 students receiving diplomas was the President's youngest daughter, Lindsey A. Vagt, who received a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology. In addition to his blood kinship with the group, the ceremony also marked another milestone for Vagt, because the Class of 2001 was the first to complete its entire four years under his leadership.
Associate Dean of Students Leslie Marsicano opened the ceremony with a prayer, which was followed by a hymn of praise, and a scripture reading by United Community Action Co-Chair Brent Wilson '01.
In brief remarks, President Vagt congratulated the graduates on their tremendous ability to be "28-hour a day people... with transmissions that have no neutral, but only three forward gears." He praised their ability to excel academically and achieve in extracurricular activities and community service. But he advised them to take time for themselves. He said, "It might be good to understand that the only alternatives to being swept along with the current of what seems important at this moment, or what everyone sees as right, is the capacity, the ability, to step out of that flow or to take a totally different road."
He concluded, "We wish you Godspeed, but at a moderate pace."
Justin D. Perkinson, who earned first honor as the only summa cum laude graduate in the class, is taking President Vagt's word to heart. Perkinson, a Willian Holt Terry Scholar graduating with an English major and Spanish minor, plans to take some time off by working at a tourist ranch in Wyoming through the summer. For a few months thereafter, he and a friend want to finish a rock-opera rendition of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein that they began writing this year. Next March he will renew his studies as a Rotary International Ambassadorial Scholar doing a year's study of politics and literature at the University of Buenos Aires in Argentina.
A native of Richmond, Perkinson served as chair of the college Honor Council, and was elected to membership in both the Phi Beta Kappa national academic honor society and the Omicron Delta Kappa national leadership fraternity. He received of a Southern Conference Student-Athlete award as a varsity wrestler, and had starring roles in several drama productions. He studied abroad, and used his fluency in Spanish as a volunteer translator at Strong Tower Free Medical Clinic in Huntersville.
Second honors went to Lauren N. Baird of Temple, Tex. A high honors English major at Davidson, Baird recently received the Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship to pursue a Ph.D. in English at Stanford University. She recently won Davidson's Henry T. Lilly Award for Excellence in English, and was active in several college musical ensembles.
The college presented its Hunter Hamilton Love of Teaching Awards to Doe Professor of Economics Peter N. Hess, and to the senior member of the faculty, Richardson Professor of Mathematics L.R. "Richie" King. Each professor received a personal award of $7,500, plus another $7,500 to present to a college program or department of his choosing.
King, a 1959 Davidson graduate, joined the faculty in 1964 and now has taught longer than any other faculty member. He was described as occupying "the pantheon of Davidson's most legendary professors."
King received his Ph.D. from Duke University. He is a specialist in calculus, geometry and a higher level form of geometry called "topology." He has recently been involved in creating models in oceanography and global environmental change that illustrate mathematical principles for students of calculus. He received the college's Thomas Jefferson Teaching Award in 1992.
Hess, who joined the faculty in 1980, was praised as "a gifted professor, an amateur comedian, an enthusiastic activist, and an attentive friend." His patience, clarity, and commitment in explaining economic concepts has earned him the nickname "Complete Pete." As one nominator stated, "This professor is a true idealist; for as his students attest, he believes that you, EVEN YOU, can learn economics."
Hess graduated from Bowdoin College, and received his Ph.D. from UNC-Chapel Hill, with special studies in economic demography. He teaches courses in economic development, international economics, macroeconomics, and mathematical economics. He has extensively studied the economic determinants and consequences of population growth, and published in 1988 a book entitled Population Growth and Socioeconomic Progress in Less Developed Countries. He has also co-authored two economics textbooks with his departmental colleague, Johnston Professor Clark Ross. Hess's outstanding classroom manner was recognized with the college's Omicron Delta Kappa Teaching Award in 1985.
Algernon Sydney Sullivan Awards for community service went to Laura E. Waddle of Clemson, S.C., and Rupert Barber of Davidson.
A political science major and James B. Duke Scholar at Davidson, Waddle has given exemplary service reflecting her interest in health care. She spent a summer working in a camp for mentally and physically handicapped children, and another as a Medical Missions Volunteer in Bangladesh. Last summer, she served as a hospital chaplain intern in the local area, and has also volunteered with the Strong Tower Free Medical Clinic as a Spanish translator.
She was a team leader for the Room in the Inn program for a year, helping provide lodging and nourishment to homeless people. She was the co-coordinator of the Women's Shelter program, was a tutor for Steps Into the Hispanic community. She participated in the Leadership Davidson Program, and studied abroad in Ecuador for a semester.
As his citation noted, "Barber is theatre in Davidson." A professor of theatre at the college for 35 years before his retirement in 1998, Barber has straddled town and gown in promoting theatre in the area. Besides his direction of many plays at the college, he has been heavily involved with the Davidson Community Players, and the new Connie Company for young dramatists.
He also has an enduring interest in history, and was a founding member of the Davidson historical Society. He has also been the honored guest of second-graders at Davidson Elementary School in telling the history of Davidson, and leading them on walking tours of the town. His citation stated, "In these days of rapid growth, our religion's traditions and customs are threatened to be lost forever. Our recipient has ensured that Davidson will not forget its roots."
The ceremony also included presentation of an honorary Doctor of Laws degree to Charles Clifford Cameron. A Charlotte resident and Mississippi native, Cameron has had a long and extensive career in higher education.
College Chaplain Robert Spach ended the ceremony with a closing prayer:
While Perkinson was the sole summa cum laude graduate, 37 students graduated magna cum laude, and 58 as cum laude. English was the most popular among 21 majors that the college offers students, with 72 graduates selecting that curriculum. Biology was second with 64 majors, followed by political science with 60, history with 56, psychology with 45, and economics with 35.
Sunday's Commencement concluded a full weekend of activities to honor this year's class of graduates.
Seven members of the class received commissions as second lieutenants in the armed forces during an ROTC ceremony early Saturday afternoon. Distinguished Military Graduates Ross M. Boyce and Lauren J. Schultz led their classmates toward careers in the Army and Air Force. The ceremony was highlighted by an address from retired Col. John E. Gray, a 1949 Davidson graduate who was highly decorated for front line service in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam during a 30-year Army career. Gray, now lives in Mount Ulla, N.C. He also serves as president of the "Chosin Few," an association of 4,000 American veterans of the brutal Korean War battle of the Chosin Reservoir.
Col. Gray reminded the new officers that they follow a line of Davidson military veterans that stretches all the way back to Col. William Lee Davidson, the Revolutionary War hero for whom the college was named. Though the U.S. military is not currently engaged in battle, he warned the graduates of global dangers, and called on them to be vigilant and ready to fight.
Later in the afternoon all seniors donned their robes and marched from Chambers Building to the Davidson College Presbyterian Church for Baccalaureate Services. Rev. Victor Pentz of Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, Ga., the father of graduating senior Sarah Pentz, delivered a sermon entitled "Amadeus."
Rev. Pentz compared the Biblical rivalry between disciples John and Peter to that of musicians Mozart and Salieri. He noted that the pious and good Salieri was eventually driven insane because he could not match the musical genius of Mozart, who was "a revolting punk." He cautioned graduates to be themselves, because "God knew what he was doing when he made you the way he made you." He also urged graduates to cultivate "unlikely friends," people who are "as different from yourself as you can imagine." Finally, he beckoned them to be thankful for their four years at Davidson as a time when they had the great good fortune to have their hearts "touched by fire."
Rev. Pentz is a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, and Fuller Theological Seminary. A number of his sermons have been syndicated for "Preaching Today," a national tape resource for ministers. He recently authored a chapter of The Leadership Handbook of Pastoral Theology, Volume III by Baker Books. He has also published articles in Christianity Today, Leadership Journal, and The Wittenberg Door.
College Chaplain Robert Spach followed Pentz's sermon with prayers of the people concluding with the Lord's Prayer.
Following the Baccalaureate service, graduates and their families enjoyed supper beneath the oaks on front campus. Luminary candles decorated buildings in the Historic Quadrangle for a post-supper promenade. A much-needed thunderstorm sent visitors scurrying for cover at about 8 p.m., but many made their way to performances by the Concert Choir and the Jazz Ensemble, and receptions sponsored by academic departments.
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,600 students. Since its establishment in 1837, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently ranked among the top liberal arts colleges in the country by U.S. News and World Report magazine. Davidson recently launched "Let Learning Be Cherished," a $250 million campaign in support of student financial assistance, academic resources, and community life.