Picture perfect day: Roanoke College graduates celebrate commencement with professors, loved ones

Aerial shot of the commencement ceremony.

Years of hard work paid off for approximately 460 Roanoke College students on May 4 in the John Turbyfill Quad.

A first happened in the school’s 177-year history last Saturday – three science majors in Cody Dillon-Owens, William Lambert and Matthew Johnson each earned the honor of valedictorian. Biology major Natalie Logan Cox, physics major David Biagio and psychology major Noelle Annette Warfford earned salutatorian honors.

“Our diplomas are not the trophy at the end of the race,” said Johnson who will attend Harvard Medical School in the fall. “They are our running bibs that direct us to the starting line, just as our education was not the contest, but merely the training for the challenges we will soon face. Get ready to run.”

Said Dillon-Owens, who plans on continuing his education at UNC-Charlotte for his Ph.D. in health psychology, “I know that I still have many battles along the way. Next year, I’m going to have to counsel my fellow students at UNC-C about why they shouldn’t be afraid to go to class every day. But I’m one step closer to becoming the person that they deserve because of the beautiful examples that have been given to me.”

A Staunton native, Lambert will attend Virginia Tech for his Ph.D. in aerospace engineering in the fall.

“We were all made with a purpose in life and were given spiritual gifts to achieve that purpose,” he said. “Each of you was uniquely made, and I am positive that you could not and would not be sitting here today if it weren’t for that gift.”

The day prior to commencement, the Roanoke College Baccalaureate, featuring the Rev. Christopher Bowen as the speaker, took place in the Cregger Center Arena.

Olivia Contakes graduated with a degree in Environmental Sciences. The Williamsburg native feels that Roanoke College has adequately prepared her to enter the next phase of her life.

“In high school, I only applied to two schools – Roanoke College and Virginia Commonwealth University. There’s no doubt in my mind that my collegiate experience would have been vastly different if I had spent the last four years in Richmond,” she said.

When asked to name her favorite college administrator, Paige Warner, an Ohio native, mentioned Professor Kevin Baker who teaches business administration and economics.

“He really wanted everyone to do their best and supported you the whole way through. You could call him at any hour of the day, and he was happy to answer any question that you had,” said Warner before adding, “Roanoke College has taught me to trust myself. At the end of the day, if you were able to experience some moments of laughter, then I think you can go to bed at night with a positive perspective no matter what you are going through.”

Nicole Sabilia chose Roanoke College, in part, because of the “college architecture” and “bucolic scenery.” After receiving her college degree, she said, “I cannot begin to describe how salient Roanoke College has been to my growth personally, professionally and academically. I would not be who I am today without accessible professors, encouraging bosses at on-campus jobs and friends who have truly become my family.”

The College presented two honorary degrees on May 4 to Morris Cregger Jr., owner and CEO of the Creggar Companies, and his wife, Sheila Cregger, CFO and controller of the business since its inception.

Dr. Ali Nazemi, professor of business administration, and Dr. Michael Heller, professor of English, received the Simon Carson Wells Medal. Dean Richard Smith, President Michael Maxey and Morris Cregger, chair of the Roanoke College Board of Trustees, presented the retiring administrators with the medal named after Roanoke’s longest-serving faculty member.

The Class of 2019 represents 31 states and five countries. Each Maroon’s journey to getting their college degree was unique. The newest graduates join more than 16,000 Roanoke College alumni all over the world.


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