Birthday Convocation honors alumni and employees’ dedication to service

By Heather Fabrtize

News Co-Editor

 George Washington’s Birthday Convocation celebrates the accomplishments of community members each year — for 2024, the event, held on Friday, Feb. 23, recognized those who best exemplify Washington College’s foundational commitment to service.

 Provost and Dean Dr. Kiho Kim stepped up to Decker Theatre’s podium and opened the acknowledgements with the Cromwell Award for Innovation in Teaching, which honors instructors who exhibit new ideas in pedagogy. The recognized parties for 2024 were Chair of Education Dr. Sara Clarke-De Reza and Chair of Communication and Media Studies Dr. Meghan Grosse.

The professors won for their co-development of the qualitative and descriptive methods in the social sciences course. The class encourages students to collaborate with their peers, faculty, community leaders, and historians to understand how the College prepares students for future civic leadership.

Barbara Cromwell ‘55, who President of the College Dr. Michael Sosulski described as devoting herself to fostering collaboration at WC, is the award’s namesake.

“[She] is indeed a shining illustration of love and dedication to the mission of this institution,” Dr. Sosulski said. “It is hard to turn a corner on our campus without finding some large or small way in which Barbara and her late husband George dedicated themselves to lifting up our college.”

His recognition of her long-term efforts was followed by the announcement of a new Convocation honor: the Barbara Townsend Cromwell ‘55 Chair in History designation. After contributing $2 million to the Department of History, the College created the award in her name.

Associate Professor of History Dr. Clayton Black became the first to hold this title due to his dedication to serving the community; in the past, he worked toward the tenure and promotion of his colleagues and sat on the Board of Visitors and Governors’ ad-hoc committee on shared governance.

“The additional support offered by the Barbara Townsend Cromwell ‘55 Chair in History will allow Dr. Black…to spark more fascination with the field that he and Barbara both love so much, and better our community’s understanding of the ways that our history informs our present, and how we can use its lessons to create a better future,” Dr. Sosulski said.

The President then presented the three winners of the Joseph L. Holt Distinguished Service Award, which recognizes employees of the College who display a commitment to service and improve the campus in a substantial manner. Thomas V. Mike Miller Director of Civic Engagement Dr. Patrick Nugent; Vice President for Planning and Policy and Chief of Staff Dr. Victor Sensenig; and dining hall staff member Janet Thompson each took home the honor and a large plaque.

Next to take the podium was Chair-Elect of the Alumni Board K. Edward Raleigh ‘08, who granted Glen Beebe ‘81 and Lindsay Cram ‘00 with the Alumni Service Award. The honor designates Beebe and Cram as consistent and essential supporters of the College through multiple avenues.

The final award of the evening, the President’s Medal, honors those who demonstrate an exceptional and lasting impact on the local community. Dr. Sosulski first recognized Robbi Behr and Matthew Swanson for their long-term work with the Busload of Books program, traveling across the nation to promote literacy in schools.

“Their wide-ranging positive influence extends far beyond their storytelling and illustrating prowess,” Dr. Sosulski said. “It resonates deeply within the hearts of children, families, educators, and the entire Chestertown community.”

Dr. Truman Semans, who is an emeritus member of the Center for Environment and Society’s advisory board and one of the founders of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, was the second medal recipient. He helped to raise more than $10 million for the academic building that carries his name and, according to Dr. Sosulski, has “lived a life defined by service to others.”

The ceremony ended with Convocation speaker Caryn York ‘06 detailing her commitment to service as the President and CEO of the nonprofit Baltimore Corps. After graduating from WC with a degree in International Studies, York set out to help her community through governmental office.

“As excited as I was, I found myself very quickly frustrated as I learned how policymaking could create a sense of distress, apathy, and eventually complacency,” York said. “In too many instances to name, I found that those chosen to represent the interest of the community were actually the farthest removed from the communities they were chosen to serve.”

She decided to leave politics and instead dedicated herself to policy advocacy and community organizing. She worked for over a decade at the Job Opportunities Task Force, helping low-wage workers progress to high-wage jobs. She also advocated for criminal justice reform and helped to pass over 20 laws eliminating educational and employment barriers.

At the end of York’s tenure, she was the Chief Executive Officer — and the first Black woman to ever hold that position.

She finished her speech to implore the WC community to think intentionally and deeply about the various forms that serving one’s community can take.

“I love serving the community,” York said. “I love being challenged by the community that I serve. I love being challenged by my community to be better. As a result, my community loves and protects me in ways I could never imagine.”

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