First-Year Convocation digitally celebrates the “coronavirus class” of 2024

By Victoria Gill-Gomez

News Editor

In lieu of a traditional in-person ceremony, Washington College honored the Class of 2024 at the digital 2020 First-Year Convocation, hosted through Zoom and Facebook on Friday, Aug. 21.

The remote event began with a greeting from the outgoing Provost and Dean of the College Dr. Patrice DiQuinzio. Joining her was senior and Student Government Association President Elizabeth Lilly, Chair of the Board of Visitors and Governors Steve Golding ’72, Vice President for Enrollment Management Dr. Lorna Hunter, and Lab Instructor in Biology Dr. Suzanne Thuecks.

Lilly was introduced as the first speaker of the evening. After greeting the new class, Lilly said that over the past few months of quarantine, she empathized with the mutual melancholy of there being “no clear answer of what to expect next of the world.”

However, Lilly said that students should consider a different perspective of this remote semester.

“There are only as many special occasions in life as you choose to celebrate,” she quoted from an old birthday card.“To the Class of 2024, today we celebrate you.”

Following Lilly was Golding, who said that the Class of 2024, who made history as the first “coronavirus class” at WC, have shown their resilience as they missed high school milestones such as prom and graduation. Regardless of the environment they currently foster, they have much to look forward to during college experience. This includes learning how to muster a sense of community while remote.

“No one else is more uniquely qualified to navigate this new terrain than you,” Golding said.

Following these greetings to the new WC class, speakers began recognizing the alumni, student, and faculty recipients of several awards.

Suzanne Hughes ’91, chair of the Alumni Board, presented the 2020 Alumni Horizon Ribbon Award to Latish Pledger ’14. The award formally identifies and recognizes an outstanding alumnus in a specific area of leadership, service, and scholarship.

Pledger, a biology major and political science minor, joined the Peace Corps following graduation where she was assigned to Liberia. There she taught science to school children and became a role model for empowering young women to recognize their self-worth.

Pledger currently lives in Washington, D.C., serving as secretary on the Board of Directors of Friends of Liberia, a non-profit that strives to positively affect Liberia through education, social, economic, and humanitarian programs, as well as through advocacy efforts for marginalized communities.

Dr. Thuecks, who is also the coordinator and president of the Theta chapter of Phi Beta Kappa at WC, then awarded the First-Year Scholarship Award to 24 sophomores who attained the highest academic averages for the class of 2023 throughout their freshman year at the College.           

Dr. DiQuinzio highlighted several other academic awards: the Alumni Medal, Visitors and Governors Medal, Middendorf Scholars, Interfraternity-Panhellenic Council Awards, and the Eleanor Taylor and Francis ’44 Taylor Chemistry Prize.

The 2020 Alumni Association’s Award for Distinguished Teaching was presented to Dr. Alisha Knight, associate professor of English and American studies.

Dr. Knight’s studies center on an interdisciplinary summation of archival research with geographical information software that illuminates African American literature and print culture at the turn of the 20th century.

Considering the past, Dr. Knight mentioned the people and circumstances that inspired her to pursue a career in higher education, as she comes from a family of educators. According to Dr. DiQuinzio, Dr. Knight is known to mentor her students to become careful, critical readers and astute analytic writers.

Dr. Knight mimics her own mentors’ gentle but firm ways of demanding excellence from students. Just as she was taught at her alma mater, Spelman College, Dr. Knight said that “we must use our God-given talents to help other people.”

Dr. Knight said that even with her high expectations of excellence for herself, she sometimes — and especially now — feels too weary for this pursuit.

As one of two black professors at the College who are tenured, Dr. Knight quoted Zora Neil Hurston when she said that she feels “most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background.”

In a country struggling to contain a pandemic, reeling from economic insecurities, and being torn by racial injustice, Dr. Knight said that these are clearly difficult times, and WC is not immune to them.

“I know students of color…here and across the country, likewise contend with being hypervisible one minute and invisible the next. They are being put in the position of having to protest for more diverse and generally inclusive campuses when they would rather be studying in pursuit of excellence,” Dr. Knight said.

The weariness is receding as she is excited to continue pursuing excellence and supporting this new class of students, according to Dr. Knight.

To end, DiQuinzio introduced her successor, Interim Provost and Dean of the College and John S. Toll Associate Professor of Business Management Dr. Michael Harvey.

Dr. Harvey expressed his eagerness to meet the new members of the WC community. He stressed that people at this College are here because they love WC and its mission to have students learn more about the world, each other, and themselves.

“You have been called together; we have all been called together. We cannot wait to get to work. The joyous work of teaching and learning,” Dr. Harvey said.

Featured Photo caption: The First-Year Convocation ceremony was held online for the first time in Washington College history. The event was hosted through Zoom and streamed live on Facebook for participants to watch. Pictured in the top row (right to left) are senior and President of the Student Government Association Elizabeth Lilly, Lab Instructor in Biology Dr. Suzanne Thuecks, and former Provost and Dean of the College Dr. Patrice DiQuinzio. Pictured in the middle row (right to left) are Vice President for Enrollment Management Dr. Lorna Hunter, Chair of the Board of Visitors and Governors Steve Golding ’72, and Associate Professor of English and American Studies Dr. Alisha Knight. Pictured in the bottom row is Interim Provost and Dean of the College and John S. Toll Associate Professor of Business Management Dr. Michael Harvey. Photo by Victoria Gill-Gomez.

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