The Austin College community will celebrate the graduation of the Class of 2020 as well as the Class of 2021 during Commencement exercises Saturday, May 22, at 8:30 a.m. on Clyde L. Hall Graduation Court, weather permitting. The Class of 2021 includes nearly 250 bachelor’s degree candidates and 18 MAT degree candidates. The Class of 2020 includes 280 Bachelor of Arts graduates and 20 Master of Arts in Teaching graduates.
As members of the Class of 2021 celebrate the completion of their undergraduate education, many members of the Class of 2020 will join them as their Commencement ceremony was postponed last May due to Covid restrictions. Though many 2020 graduates are unable to attend the exercises, having left the region for graduate study or careers, all 2020 diplomas were mailed last May. The Class of 2021 will be well-represented as members have just completed the spring term and finals and will receive their diplomas as they cross the stage.
President Steven O’Day oversees the Commencement exercises along with Board of Trustees chair David Corrigan, who approves the conferring of degrees for students on behalf of the board. Corrigan, a 1981 graduate of the College, is president and CEO of Corrigan Investments, a commercial real estate development and investment firm in Dallas.
Events of the Morning
The number of guests per student is limited this year so the crowd of well-wishers might be a bit smaller than usual, more distanced across campus, and adherent to Covid precautions—yet will surely be full of anticipation and excitement. The procession of graduates through the campus by Williams Founders Plaza and onto the Clyde Hall Graduation Court will be led by three bagpipers and College Marshal Nate Bigelow, professor of political science, carrying the official Austin College Mace. Before the day’s activity gets underway, Reverend Jamye Cook, family care coordinator at Southwest Transplant Alliance, will offer the invocation.
After welcoming remarks from President O’Day, all will hear from two speakers, then look on as President O’Day, Corrigan, and Dr. Beth Gill, vice president for Academic Affairs, recognize several individuals for special honors. Student honors will include recipients of the Kidd and Robinson Medals, two outstanding scholars in the class, with no distinction between them, based on the student’s entire academic record as reflected on the transcript, the balance in course distribution, cumulative grade point average, and credits earned.
Victoria Star Gilbert, Class of 2021 and elected by her classmates, will present the Senior Address. A Dallas native, Victoria came to Austin College to pursue a multi-disciplinary education and career. She has completed majors in both East Asian Studies and International Economics & Finance, as well as a minor in Art. She has made her mark on campus as vice president of Black Expressions, executive council member of Student International Organization, an intern for Marketing and Communications, and founder and president of the first Austin College campus book club for students.
The Commencement Address will be presented by Dr. Helen Lowman, a 1988 graduate of Austin College and the president and CEO of Keep America Beautiful, a leading community nonprofit that works to inspire and educate people to act every day to improve and beautify their community environment. She has worked around the world as a leader in international diplomacy and development—in the Foreign Service, with FEMA, and as regional leader of several Peace Corps sites.
Finally, the moment for student degrees will be on the agenda, and Dr. Beth Gill will begin to announce the graduates—first the Master of Arts in Teaching degrees, then the Bachelor of Arts degrees for the Class of 2020. Then, that process repeats for the graduates of the Class of 2021. Austin College Alumni Board president Clint Buck, Class of 2007, will offer words of welcome to the new alumni on behalf of the Alumni Board, representing the full alumni of the College.
President O’Day will offer closing remarks and good wishes to graduates as he sends them out into the world. Chaplain John Williams will offer the benediction, followed by the traditional choral response, Lutkin’s “The Lord Bless You and Keep You,” by members of the A Cappella Choir, current and former, to close the event. The bagpipes will begin again to call the recession to action.
More About the Speakers
Victoria Star Gilbert– Senior Speaker
Victoria Gilbert was a semi-finalist for a Fulbright grant to study this fall in the Master of Arts Program in Brand and Fashion Management at Fu Jen Catholic University in Taiwan. She began teaching herself Mandarin during elementary school, later had a private tutor, used software to learn, and took all the Chinese classes she could at Austin College. She also spent a semester abroad in intensive language study program while at Austin College. Victoria’s life mission is to build inclusive environments that welcome and represent diverse, global, and under-represented groups.
Dr. Helen Lowman — Commencement Speaker
Dr. Helen Lowman has been President and CEO of Keep America Beautiful since 2017, offering abundant leadership experience in areas of international diplomacy and development, youth engagement, environmental education, disaster resilience, global leadership, volunteerism, social justice, and human rights.
From 2010 to 2017, Dr. Lowman served as an appointee of the President of the United States in the senior foreign service and the senior executive service, working at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in Washington, D.C. She held several roles in the Peace Corps, including directing the agency’s largest U.S. headquarters’ office and working with leadership on strategic reforms related to volunteer recruitment and admittance. She earlier served as Regional Director-Europe, Middle East, and Asia, Peace Corps’ largest geographic region.
Dr. Lowman earned her master’s degree and Ph.D. in Leadership and Change from Antioch University and a master’s degree in International Economics and Development from the University of Denver, Joseph Korbel School of International Studies. She served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand for three years upon graduation from Austin College in 1988. Lowman will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Austin College during the Commencement ceremonies, as will three additional honorees.
Additional Honorary Degree Recipients
Rev. Amos Jerman Disasa, who presented the Baccalaureate sermon Friday evening, will receive an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree. Rev. Disasa is senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Dallas and previously was co-pastor of Downtown Church in Columbia, South Carolina.
Known for compelling and challenging sermons, Rev. Disasa is described as a tireless advocate for those on the margins of society and helped to start several organizations serving the homeless in South Carolina. Today, he serves with others as a steward of The Stewpot, a pioneering ministry of First Presbyterian Church of Dallas, responding to the unmet and emerging needs of the homeless and at-risk in Dallas.
Rev. Amy Poling Sutherlun is co-pastor of First Presbyterian Church of San Marcos, Texas, with her husband, Joshua, a 2001 graduate. They met at Austin College, where Amy graduated summa cum laude in 2000 and earned a Master of Arts in Teaching degree in 2001.
Amy and Josh attended Princeton Theological Seminary and soon married. Upon completing her degree and her ordination, Amy spent eight years as Associate Pastor of Young Adults at First Presbyterian Church of Huntington, West Virginia. The family moved to San Marcos in June 2013. Amy says her passion in ministry is exploring and witnessing the intersection between people’s stories and the unfolding story of God’s work in the world.
President Steven P. O’Day became the 16th president of Austin College in October 2017. Under his leadership, the College has completed a record-setting $125 million fundraising campaign, achieved record first-year enrollments, implemented new curricular and co-curricular initiatives, realized important capital improvements, and welcomed the first minority/majority population on campus—all part of a bold strategic vision designed to position Austin College for enduring success.
The Austin College Board of Trustees has chosen to honor the President with the honorary degree due to his “extraordinary leadership” throughout the pandemic and the seemingly constant challenges that arise each day regarding health and safety, technical needs, and the delivery of the quality Austin College educational experience. Even as he led the College through the daily questions of Covid, President O’Day also brought the College successfully through the February 2021 winter storm that crippled much of Texas and left the College with no water for a week. He was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.
Austin College, a private national liberal arts college located north of Dallas in Sherman, Texas, has earned a reputation for excellence in academic preparation, global awareness, pre-professional foundations, leadership development, committed faculty, and hands-on, adventurous learning opportunities. One of 40 schools profiled in Loren Pope’s influential book Colleges That Change Lives, Austin College boasts a welcoming community that embraces diversity and individuality, with more than 50 percent of students identifying as persons of color. The residential student body of approximately 1,300 students and an expert faculty of more than 100 educators allow a 12:1 student-faculty ratio and personalized attention. Related by covenant to the Presbyterian Church (USA), Austin College cultivates an inclusive atmosphere that supports students’ faith journeys regardless of religious tradition. The College, founded in 1849, is the oldest institution of higher education in Texas operating under original name and charter.