Davis & Elkins College senior Ava Willis had a choice to make – whether to attend her graduation ceremony or pitch for the Senator softball team in the Mountain East Conference tournament, both occurring on the same day. Ultimately, she got the next best thing to both.

Between a double-header on Saturday afternoon, Provost Dr. Rob Phillips – dressed in full academic regalia – joined her on the pitcher’s mound to symbolically award her diploma. Willis topped her uniform with her commencement gown and affixed her mortar board cap she had decorated with crayons.

While the elementary education major is proud of her academic accomplishments and is looking forward to a teaching career, she says at this time her team has to come first.

“It was not a hard decision for me to make at all,” Willis said of choosing tournament play over her commencement ceremony. “In my four years here, this is my first time making it to conference tournament. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

The special ceremony was arranged by Willis’ mother, Colleen Willis, College administrators and head softball coach Elle Fracker.

“I thought it wouldn’t hurt to ask,” Colleen Willis said of her idea for the ceremony. “I think Ava was really excited by this because I think she was a little disappointed that she would miss the pomp and circumstance of graduation. This way she got to don her cap and gown and have her whole team here. Next week they can get to work on the field.”

Several friends and family members were also able to attend, including Ava Willis’ father, Jesse Willis, her sister, Ella Willis, and grandparents Sam and Diane Harris and Jan DeMaine, along with her Falls Church High School softball family, James, Trish and Sarah Paige.

While the Willis family has attended some home and road contests, the Harrises made a trip from their California home to watch a game in-person for the first time. The family plans to travel to Salem, Virginia, for the tournament.

“I am very lucky that I go to such a small school, and they put this on for me,” Ava Willis said. “It means the world to me. I have worked hard during my time at D&E and everyone made me feel very special. I just want to thank Coach Fracker, Coach Kellsi (Peterson), my amazing family and I can’t forget my teammates. My senior year has been so amazing, and I feel so lucky to be able to finish out my college career with them.”

The ceremony wasn’t the only highlight of the day. The Senator softball team was successful in sweeping Concord in both games, winning 5-4 in game one and 8-5 in game two. The team currently stands at 26-25 overall and 22-10 in the MEC.

Dr. Rob Phillips and Ava Willis

Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Rob Phillips presents senior Ava Willis with a graduation certificate between a double-header softball contest Saturday. Willis, a pitcher for Senator softball, and her team will play in the Mountain East Conference tournament scheduled for Commencement Weekend in Virginia.

Ava Willis family

Davis & Elkins College senior Ava Willis is congratulated by her family and friends who attended the Senator softball games Saturday and had a chance to witness the mini graduation staged especially for Willis. From left are, high school teammate Sarah Paige, grandmother Jan DeMaine, mother Colleen Willis, sister Ella Willis, Ava Willis, grandparents Diane and Sam Harris, Paige’s parents Trish and James Paige, and father Jesse Willis.