“You are Sweet Briar women. The world is waiting for you!”

Family and friends from around the world gathered at Sweet Briar College for a day of celebration on Saturday, May 18.

Posted on May 18, 2024

Pride and excitement radiated brightly from parents and graduates in Upchurch Field House, despite gray skies and a light rain falling outside.

Sweet Briar conferred degrees on 90 seniors from 19 states, the District of Columbia, and three foreign countries during the 115th Commencement ceremony. The graduates also presented awards: the Award for Excellence in Teaching to Dr. John Morrissey, professor of biology; and the Award for Excellence in Service to Gloria Smith, senior administrative assistant to the dean of student life.

Presidential Medalist Abigail McAllister from Henrico, Virginia, remarked on the strength of the sisterhood that Sweet Briar graduates take with them. She said, “It’s the friendships I found that may have made me who I am today. It’s those friends who have built me up, challenged me, and relentlessly supported me that have shown me to accept who I am and to love myself. It’s those classmates who have tutored me when I didn’t understand a concept and who hyped me up for a difficult exam or assignment who motivated me to do better and encouraged me regardless. You have all fanned a fierce flame within me.”

In her charge to the Class of 2024, Sweet Briar College President Mary Pope M. Hutson ’83 acknowledged the mood of the world the graduated seniors are entering and suggested how they can use their experience at Sweet Briar as an example for others.

She said, “Make yourself heard, but do so in ways that promote civil discourse and respect the opinions of others, even if you may not agree with what they are saying. Try not to be judgmental. Be tolerant. But to be tolerant is not to be silent. Sweet Briar has helped you find your voice—be sure to use it. I’m asking you to use what you’ve learned at Sweet Briar and what you have within yourselves, to become consequential citizens, who, as described in our mission statement, are ethical leaders with the skill, compassion, and vision to create a more just and sustainable world. You can do this. You can make your mark at whatever you turn your hands to. You are Sweet Briar women. The world is waiting for you!”

Tori Murden McClure, president of Spalding University and noted explorer, gave the Commencement address and offered perspectives and advice on sex, politics, and religion, three subjects she admitted any wise Commencement speaker would avoid. Her humorous remarks included a reflection on her own graduation from the women’s college Smith and her admiration for the alumnae she called “tough old birds.”

Among the many pieces of advice she gave, Tori also warned the graduates against the quest for perfection. “If you march boldly through life, on occasion, you stumble and you will fall. Don’t worry about it. There is no failure in falling down; failure lies only in not getting up. I don’t know any perfect people, and few people are more annoying than those who think they are perfect. I am here to tell you that such people are tedious. Do not marry or become entangled with such people. Do not even bother to have lunch with such people. I have often bragged that the best thing about my faults is the joy they bring to others. It is up to us —it is up to you—to close the gap between the promise of humanity and the performance of human beings. I firmly believe that human beings are capable of traversing the distance between possibility and fact.”

In recognition of the transition from Sweet Briar students to alumnae, multiple speakers noted the amazing sisterhood the graduates were entering. Arielle Sperrazza Morgan ’15, co-chair of the Alumnae Alliance Council’s Young Alumnae Support, welcomed the graduates to their new role as alumnae and encouraged them to embrace all it has to offer.

“The bonds you forged here are more than friendships; they’re a lifeline, a source of inspiration, and a constant reminder of the incredible person you are and will become,” said Arielle. “Do not forget that Sweet Briar, your family, will always be here for you. So, Class of 2024, as you step out into the world, go forth with courage, with compassion, and with the unwavering spirit of a Sweet Briar graduate.”

2024 Commencement Awards

The Alpha Lambda Delta Award: Abigail Katelynn Lindsey

The Award For Excellence In Studio Art: Amy Elise Berta

The Jean Besselievre Boley Award: Grace Anna Quintilian

The Penelope Lane Czarra Award: Renée Catherine Taylor

The Juliet Halliburton Davis Environmental Science Award: Victoria Marie Harder

The Economics Department Outstanding Senior Award: Kaitlin Jane Navarro

The Judith Molinar Elkins Prize: Nina Renee Hugi

The Excellence In Engineering Award: Avery Leigh Jones

The Engineering Outreach Award: Dominique Marie Cunningham

The Connie M. Guion Award: Riley Ann Kawanesicayuga

The Kathryn Haw Prize in Art History: Renée Catherine Taylor

The James Lewis Howe Award in Chemistry: Shalom Argaw Beyene

The Magruder Excellence in Dance Award: Delaney Alexis Armenti

The Emily Watts McVea Scholar: Abigail Katelynn Lindsey

The Jessica Steinbrenner Molloy Award in Theatre Arts: Grace Erin Applewhite

The Poetry Prize: Jessica Layne Munley

The Presidential Medalist: Abigail Grace McAllister

The Sprague-Belcher Award in Biology: Amy Elise Berta

The Anne Gary Pannell Taylor Award in History: Avery Madigan Swartz

The Anne Gary Pannell Taylor Graduate Fellowship in History: Emily Elaine Byrne