6/14/2016 Daniel R. Porterfield

Vitality and Voice

This magazine article is part of Spring 2016 / Issue 85

Commencement is a gift to all who love and support education. When we witness in procession black-robed students we have taught and mentored, cheered on by their proud families, we are reminded of each one’s arc of growth. I experienced this again this year at F&M with the Class of 2016, when I had the honor of handing our students their hard-earned diplomas, recalling in a flash their journeys since they arrived.

There was Carolina Giraldo, whose parents fled the Colombian drug wars thirteen years ago so that she and her little brother Luis could grow up safe and free. Then, Carolina’s father died suddenly her freshman year.

She picked herself up from this tragic loss, vowing to persevere. Sophomore year she made all-conference as a rower. As a junior, she took up art and won the campus award for best painting—a rendition of the eye of Michelangelo’s David. And in May, Carolina graduated cum laude with a major in biochemistry and molecular biology on her way to medical school.

Then there was Giovan Shepard, who considered transferring to a West Coast college to be closer to the single mom who raised him. I couldn’t tell him what to do, but knowing his integrity, I did say that I had faith he would make a distinct mark and create friendships for life at F&M.

Which is just what he went on to do, choosing to pledge a fraternity that had few black members. This decision allowed his leadership to flourish. He recruited additional men of color, brought the fraternity together, stressed campus citizenship, and was elected president—creating a model for how Greek communities can renew themselves for the society we live in now. Giovan now claims his next powerful leadership platform with Teach For America in Miami.

Then there was Morgan Kincade, the 2016 Williamson Medalist, who I met during her first year at a prayer dinner held by F&M’s Muslim Student Association. A self-described introvert, she’d come that night wanting to listen and make new friends.

Such open-mindedness defined her college learning. Blending French, Arabic, religious studies, and study abroad in Jordan and Paris, she earned summa cum laude, but high grades were only a product of her commitment to thinking deeply about these subjects. It was a joy she took in ceaseless exploration as she tried to harmonize two values—the pursuit of knowledge and the development of empathy—which, together, can inspire a more inclusive and peace-minded humanity. Next, she’ll cross borders once more to represent the United States in Turkey as a Fulbright Teaching Fellow.

These fine human beings are the future of our planet, embodying the extraordinary value of a rich college education. It hurts a bit to think of our campus now lacking their vitality and their voices.

As always, we watch our enriched students step away, holding onto the hope that the best work we’ve done together—expanding minds and hearts—will live long beyond us as a gift for all creation.

The beauty of F&M is that we know they’ll take an extraordinary college education with them and come back often to the campus that they love.

“These fine human beings are the future of our planet, embodying the extraordinary value of a rich college education.”
Daniel R. Porterfield, Ph.D.
President Daniel R. Porterfield
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