University of Lynchburg Commencement festivities culminated this past weekend in a series of graduate ceremonies. With temperatures in the mid-90s, Friday evening’s master’s ceremony was moved indoors.
On Friday morning on Shellenberger Field, Lynchburg’s Doctor of Medical Science program celebrated 257 graduates and 125 degree candidates, who will complete their studies by the end of the summer.
In the afternoon, the Doctor of Physical Therapy program graduated 40 students, while that evening, 76 master’s programs graduates and 105 candidates were recognized. Both ceremonies were held in Turner Gymnasium.
On Saturday morning, the Doctor of Education in Leadership Studies celebrated six graduates and 12 candidates in Schewel’s Sydnor Performance Hall.
The first ceremony on Friday was a reminder that COVID-19 is still here and on the rise again. Speaking from quarantine in his downtown Lynchburg hotel room, Dr. Richard Handley, chief operating officer at Wells World Service, urged DMSc graduates to use their training for good.
His pun- and joke-riddled address included references to the film “The Matrix,” Elon Musk, and John Lennon.
“When it comes to the state of the U.S. health care system as a whole, with rare exception, we are not at all well,” Handley said. “There is so much work to be done, so many vulnerabilities, so many deeply challenging problem sets yet to be conquered.
“My challenge to you today is to go boldly into your organizations and doggedly fight for the high ideals of balanced accountability and just culture, which exist to encourage you and your personnel to always look for and self-report human error, near misses, and system failure whenever and wherever possible, without fear of retaliation of losing one’s job or livelihood.
“In championing this kind of humble transparency and self-awareness, we continue to improve health care quality and patient safety. … Be a Neo — stay humble, vulnerable, transparent, honest, kind, graceful, inclusive, and go fight for your crews, your teams, and ultimately, your patients.”
In his address to fellow graduates in the Doctor of Physical Therapy program, Dr. Andrew Van Haren ’19 MSAT, ’22 DPT argued that a physical therapist’s most important skills are not learned in class, but with their patients.
He recounted his own experience teaching a COVID-19 patient, whom he called “John,” to walk again after a long and nearly fatal hospital stay.
“What you really need to know to start your career is not what you learned in school,” Van Haren said. “Yes, knowing the upward rotators of the scapula is important, but really everything you need to be successful you learned outside of school. Things like perseverance, capitalizing on every opportunity, and being grateful. These are the things John taught me.
“Persist regardless of difficulty and always keep your goals in mind. … Make the most of this opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life. … And finally, show gratitude. Recognize where you came from and make sure that those that helped you get there know you value them. We have so much to be grateful for.”
Van Haren ended his speech by thanking the faculty and staff, family and friends, and his peers.
“This faculty has prepared us, our experiences have prepared us, and we have prepared ourselves. Now go out and do big things. Thank you and congratulations, Class of 2022!”
A series of student awards followed the keynote, including one for Van Haren.
The address for the Master’s Programs Commencement Ceremony was delivered by longtime faculty member and administrator Dr. Julius Sigler ’62. Sigler came back to Lynchburg in the mid-60s, shortly after the then-College began offering master’s degree programs, including an MS in physics. Since then, thousands have graduated with advanced degrees from Lynchburg, Sigler noted.
“You have earned more than a piece of paper and whatever prestige you gain from your master’s degree,” he said. “You have demonstrated flexibility and the ability to learn on your own. That may well be the most important skill you take away from the University.”
Sigler, a first-generation college student who enjoyed tremendous support from his parents, as well as his wife of 57 years, invited the graduates to think of three people — not counting family — who helped them get where they are today.
“As you think of the people you would name, resolve to thank them, if possible, while you still can,” he said.
Sigler’s picks included his 9th grade math teacher, his PhD advisor, and former Lynchburg dean Dr. James Huston, who “taught me a great deal of history, stoked my love for the humanities, and set an example of academic leadership that one could only hope to emulate.”
Sigler speculated that most of the master’s graduates would end up in some sort of service position — health care, education, or social work.
“Service is a good thing,” he added. “If service is not part of your professional life, make it part of your community life. Service has been a tradition at the University of Lynchburg since its beginning.”
With a new degree also come “expectations for expertise and expectations for leadership,” Sigler said. “Use your intelligence and skills for the good of your community and nation. Use your research training to determine what is true and what is specious. Step forward to lead when you see the need for leadership.”
He encouraged the graduates to take risks, suggesting they would likely regret the things they didn’t do much more than the things they did do.
“You carry with you the strong imprint of this University,” he concluded. “Even if your undergraduate degree was earned elsewhere, you are now a full-fledged Hornet. We dream about your future along with you and we look forward to your successes. Be proud of your accomplishment and be confident in how far you can go.
“You likely will not be able to totally or even approximately predict the course of your life’s journey, but don’t be afraid to raise your sails to the wind and enjoy that journey. Be bold and Godspeed.”
During the Doctor of Education in Leadership Studies Hooding and Ceremony the next morning, President Dr. Alison Morrison-Shetlar praised the graduates’ resilience over the past two years.
“These are extraordinary times,” Morrison-Shetlar said. “A pandemic that has turned our lives upside down, political and racial turmoil that have rocked the very foundations of our republic, an escalating war in Ukraine, and an uncertain economy that has us all worried.”
Through it all, the graduates “persevered and even thrived,” she added. Urging them to use what they’ve learned both in and outside the classroom, For her part, Morrison-Shetlar said she learned to “value every human interaction,” that “mental health and well-being are more important than just about anything,” and to live in the moment.
She added that she hoped the graduates would remember these lessons and “build [their] futures atop the University’s three pillars of servant leadership, diversity, and innovation.”
The former is especially relevant for EdD graduates, she noted.
“Here at the University of Lynchburg, the doctorate in educational leadership is the pinnacle of leadership development,” Morrison-Shetlar said. “I am proud that our graduates serve as teachers, counselors, administrators — leaders all — in practically every school district in the commonwealth.
“Leadership development is a hallmark of the Lynchburg student experience and today the world welcomes a new crop of talented, young leaders.”
Their time at Lynchburg, and every experience along the way, would serve them well on their new journey, Morrison-Shetlar said.
“You will make a difference in our world, community, and family. You will change lives. … I wish you a passionate and purposeful life and I hope that you will stay connected and remain engaged in the life of your University.”
The 2022 Kenneth R. Garren Award for leadership, presented by President Emeritus Dr. Ken Garren himself, went to Jyoti Aggarwal ’18 MEd, ’22 EdD and Tracy Mallard ’22 EdD.