It’s a wrap! No, I have not just returned from a Hollywood movie set. Rather, the 2022-23 academic year at Davis & Elkins College ended this past weekend in grand style.
On Friday evening we gathered to praise God and celebrate our graduates in a baccalaureate service. We welcomed as our preacher the highest-ranking elected official in the Presbyterian Church, USA, the College’s sponsoring denomination. Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson delivered a powerful and prophetic message to our graduates as he told them to both go love the world and shake it up.
As an academic hood is placed over the head of a graduate during this service of worship, we witness the quintessential moment that defines Davis & Elkins College. It is the power of an embrace. As each walk onto the stage, the faculty, or staff member of the graduate’s choice, chosen because of their significant influence of this student, places the academic hood over his or her head. From my unique vantage point just a few feet away, I can watch the graduate turn and embrace his or her mentor. Witnessing the embrace, hearing the words of gratitude, and detecting many teary eyes, this moment crystalizes the relationship and bond that has developed. Over four years, strangers become friends and lives of both students as well as faculty and staff are profoundly affected. As Dr. Nelson commented to me following the service, “…that is a powerful moment.”
I believe that embrace is the reason Davis & Elkins College exists. I offer the following as my reasoning for this statement. The professors, coaches, and staff members tangibly represent the combination of the academic, leadership, social and athletic building blocks that are the foundation of D&E. The genuine emotion reflects the result of four years of personalized attention that moves way beyond the defined roles of professor/student or coach/athlete. As some will remember from the old television show “Cheers” at D&E everybody knows your name. However, beyond that simple act of humanity, we come to know and love our students, guiding them when they falter and celebrating with them when they excel. That is a result, partially, of the size of our enrollment, but also intentionally the culture of this campus.
Then came Saturday. The 114th Commencement ceremonies of Davis & Elkins College were an uplifting celebration of the graduates and this institution. Pride and joy were the overwhelming emotions. Sarah Biller, the daughter of a 1964 D&E graduate, served as our Commencement speaker. An entrepreneur, educator, and visionary in the financial technology world, Ms. Biller challenged our graduates to meet life’s challenges by applying their knowledge, ability, and ingenuity to any challenge and to never shy away from committing to audacious goals. She shared how Davis & Elkins College had been the spark for achievement in her father’s life, who then passed that spark to her.
The newest alumni of D&E make us all proud, and their futures are bright in no small part because of their years on this campus. Now it their time to go and shake up the world and do great things!
It is time for a summer hiatus for this weekly labor of love I call “Reflections Along the Journey”. May we all find time for joy, rest, and rejuvenation over the coming months.
The journey continues…
Chris A. Wood
Davis & Elkins College