June 8, 2023

Words of Wisdom for the Class of 2020

Dr. James L. Farmer Jr. once said, “Courage, after all, is not being unafraid, but doing what needs to be done in spite of fear.”

This quote from the late civil rights icon and Mary Washington history professor has a special meaning for Marion Sanford, director of the James Farmer Multicultural Center. She shared Dr. Farmer’s words with the Class of 2020 – many of whom were born the year he retired from the institution where he taught during the final years of his life.

Due to COVID-19, Mary Washington’s commencement has been moved to this fall, but the University community will still come together over the weekend – virtually – to celebrate its graduating students. Sanford was among the UMW faculty, staff and administrators who contributed advice and congratulatory remarks in an online tribute to the Class of 2020, who would have had their degrees conferred this Saturday.

In a semester that began with the entire campus community coming together in person for the centennial celebration of Dr. Farmer’s birth, and carried on through a worldwide pandemic and distance learning, one theme prevailed throughout the sentiments – UMW graduates have shown they can persevere and be flexible and resilient with whatever life hands them, no matter the circumstances.


Here are words of wisdom shared by the UMW community:

“Class of 2020, the lessons you learned from the great challenges you faced during the spring semester will serve you well after Mary Washington. We’re very proud of you. Congratulations!” – Keith Mellinger, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences

“Be confident in your abilities, and always be prepared to walk through unexpected or unplanned doors of opportunity.” – Cedric Rucker ’81, associate vice president and dean of Student Life

“Continue to be your true self. There is no one else like you in the entire world and that is what makes you – and all of us – so beautiful.” – Crystal Rawls, assistant director of Student Activities and Engagement

“Congratulations to the history-making Class of 2020! We look forward to hearing about all your future accomplishments!” – Special Collections and University Archives, Simpson Library

“You’ve learned about the accomplishments of the greats that came before you. Now it’s your turn. Your degree is the key to unlocking the world. Explore it and make your mark.” – Tevya Zukor, director of the Talley Center for Counseling Services

¡Bravo! You did it! My best wishes to each one of you in this important new stage of your lives. You are an Eagle, and have proved you are ready to fly.” – Maria Laura Bocaz-Leiva, associate professor of Spanish

“Listen to your heart – and your mom.” – Anna Billingsley, associate vice president of University Relations

“It seems like yesterday I was greeting you and your families at the front gate during Move-In. I’m proud of what you’ve accomplished at Mary Washington, especially during these unusual times. Even with the difficulties, I am confident you will continue as a trailblazer. You may well become the new definition for true grit.” – Mike Hall, UMW chief of police

“Congratulations, Class of 2020! We are so proud of you and all you’ve accomplished. Please stay in touch – we are always here for you.” Julia DeLancey, professor of art

“Many employees work hard and often experience criticism from your peers. Writing letters of appreciation will encourage mentors to continue their efforts that will have positive outcomes for the students that follow.” – Milton Kline, student painting program manager

“Don’t measure yourself by anyone else’s definition of success.” Melissa Jones, associate dean of Student Involvement

“Be well. Do good. Keep in touch! Congratulations and best wishes on your graduation.” – Rosalyn Cooperman, associate professor of political science and international affairs

“Take time to travel [when it’s safe to do so]! Seriously, use your vacation! Keep in touch with your UMW friends. And make sure you have health insurance.” – Sarah Moran, study abroad coordinator, Center for International Education

“The word ‘passion’ is overused nowadays, but everyone should have one – some overriding interest that gets a person up in the morning, eager to face the day. Everyone is more than just a job and a paycheck. Find something else to keep you emotionally grounded.” – Jack Bales, reference and humanities librarian

“Be open to any opportunity that comes your way. It may not be your dream job or one you would have considered previously … but sometimes those jobs shape your life in ways you couldn’t have imagined.” Dave Fleming, assistant dean for Residence Life and Housing

“Congratulations to the Class of 2020 and your families. I’ll miss applauding each of you as you would have processed down Campus Walk this weekend, but at the same time, I’m so encouraged by who you’ve shown yourselves to be … full of heart and courage with a willingness to overcome obstacles and challenges. YOU ARE READY to make a difference. Keep in touch and we’ll see you again soon.” – Sabrina Johnson, vice president for Equity and Access and chief diversity officer


Though the UMW community cannot gather in person this Saturday to honor the Class of 2020, we are doing our best to virtually convey some of our powerful and time-tested traditions. Go to umw.edu Friday through Sunday for comprehensive commencement coverage. You can submit messages to graduates in a live feed and read interesting stories about this extraordinary class. By Saturday morning, you will be able to view the names of graduates as well as a video that brings home the richness and poignancy of a Mary Washington graduation. 

We are asking alumni, parents, faculty and staff, and friends – anyone with a Mary Washington connection – to submit congratulatory notes this weekend. Give kudos to a specific graduate, cheer for the class as a whole, or share memories of your graduation day or advice for the future. Messages will be ​prominently featured on the UMW website. You have three options:

·      Complete this form, which can be submitted anytime from now through May 9

·      Use Instagram – make a public post that includes #UMW2020 on May 8 or 9

·      Use Twitter – send a public tweet that includes #UMW2020 on May 8 or 9

While new posts cannot be accepted after midnight on Saturday, messages already received will still be on display May 10. You may submit multiple messages.