William & Mary

Commencement awards celebrate excellence at W&M

  • The Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award:
    The Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award:  Daniella Rosa Aron-Schiavone and Terelle Lamar Robinson are the two student recipients of this year's award, given to those who demonstrate characteristics of heart, mind and helpfulness to others.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • The Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award:
    The Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award:  The non-student recipient of this year's award was Deborah Boykin, associate vice president for campus living and director of residence life.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • The Lord Botetourt Medal:
    The Lord Botetourt Medal:  Bernadette Marie Deschaine is the recipient of this year's award, given to a graduating senior who has attained the greatest distinction in scholarship.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • The James Frederic Carr Memorial Cup:
    The James Frederic Carr Memorial Cup:  Awarded to a graduating senior on the basis of character, scholarship and leadership, this year's Carr Memorial Cup went to Timothy Peter Beck.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • The Thatcher Prize for Excellence in Graduate and Professional Study:
    The Thatcher Prize for Excellence in Graduate and Professional Study:  Isaac David Irby is this year's recipient of the Thatcher Prize, awarded on the basis of scholarship, leadership, character and service.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • The Thomas Ashley Graves, Jr. Award for Sustained Excellence in Teaching:
    The Thomas Ashley Graves, Jr. Award for Sustained Excellence in Teaching:  One of two recipients of this year's award, Elizabeth L. Barnes, is a professor of English and American studies.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • The Thomas Ashley Graves, Jr. Award for Sustained Excellence in Teaching:
    The Thomas Ashley Graves, Jr. Award for Sustained Excellence in Teaching:  Beverly T. Sher, senior lecturer and chief health professions advisor, is one of two recipients of this year's award.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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Several awards are presented annually to graduates, staff and faculty members during the William & Mary Commencement ceremony. Below is a list of the awards that were presented during this year's ceremony on May 13. - Ed.

The Lord Botetourt Medal

The Lord Botetourt Medal was established in 1772 “for the honor and encouragement of literary merit.” In contemporary times, it is given to the graduating senior who has attained the greatest distinction in scholarship.

The 2017 recipient is Bernadette Marie Deschaine ’17.

A faculty nominator described Deschaine as “one in a million,” and her experiences at W&M would seem to back up that assertion.

She graduated with a perfect grade point average, received Monroe and Dintersmith Fellowships from W&M and won a nationally competitive Goldwater Fellowship. Deschaine also tutored her fellow students in lab techniques, volunteered at a local hospital and worked at William & Mary’s Writing Resource Center.

A faculty nominator wrote of Deschaine, “Bernadette took microbiology a year or two earlier than most students. In a class of 1009, she was the single top student; in fact, she was the top student over several years. She handles the most complex topics not only with ease, but with pleasure. Bernadette brims with enthusiasm . . . when others fear being wrong or embarrassed.”

Deschaine plans to apply to some of the nation’s finest M.D.-Ph.D. programs following a year spent researching parasitology.

The James Frederic Carr Memorial Cup

Timothy Peter Beck ’17 is the recipient of the Carr Cup, which is awarded to a graduating senior who best combines the qualities of character, scholarship and leadership. The cup is named after James Carr, who came to W&M in 1914, served with distinction in World War I and who lost his life before he could return to the university. It is understood that recipients carry within themselves a willingness to give themselves to a cause.

A native of South Dakota, Beck served two year-long tours in Afghanistan as an Army Ranger. During that time, his observations of the work provided by medics in combat greatly influenced him to become a physician.

A double major in kinesiology and health science with a minor in biochemistry, Beck achieved a 3.7 GPA through his junior year, and has been admitted to medical school.

Beck’s other activities reinforce one nominator’s evaluation of him as “relentless, determined, dedicated and completely selfless.”

He mentored transitioning veterans, was a leader in the university’s orientation efforts for new veterans, represented veterans’ needs to university leadership, and organized and participated in veterans recognition efforts. In appreciation of his efforts, President Taylor Reveley appointed him to serve on the University Working Group on Veterans and Military Affairs.

Thatcher Prize for Excellence in Graduate and Professional Study

Isaac David “Ike” Irby Ph.D., M.P.P. ’17 received the Thatcher Prize, created in honor of the 21st Chancellor of William & Mary, Margaret, The Lady Thatcher. The award recognizes an outstanding student in graduate or professional study, and is selected on the basis of scholarship, leadership, character and service. Irby graduated with joint degrees, a Ph.D. in Marine Science and a master’s in public policy.

His dissertation combined his interests in environmental computer modeling and regulatory policy. His scholarly research is already having a significant impact on Chesapeake Bay management policy, largely because of his ability to synthesize complex computational analyses into a succinct message that is understandable not only by his numerical modeling colleagues, but also by environmental managers and state representatives.

According to a faculty nominator, “Ike is so successful at communicating science, technical advisors at the Environmental Protection Agency have requested that he routinely present them with updates on his research, thus assuring his results are already directly informing managers and decision-makers in the Chesapeake Bay region.”

Irby’s accolades include many awards and recognitions. He was the regional champion of the NASPAA Climate Change Policy Simulation Competition, and was selected for the highly prestigious President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology internship, housed within the Office of Science and Technology at the White House. Through this position he developed reports to advise President Barack Obama on pertinent issues encompassing all aspects of science and technology.

Irby led the Virginia Institute of Marine Science’s Graduate Student Association and served as the VIMS representative to the W&M Graduate Council. He was also a founding member of the W&M Graduate School of Arts, the Science Journal Club and the university’s chapter of Out in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, a national organization for LGBTQIA members of STEM fields.

Irby plans to pursue a career in science policy at the national level.

Thomas Graves, Jr. Awards for Sustained Excellence in Teaching

The Graves Award is named for the university’s 23rd president and selected annually by the president of the university from nominations submitted by each of the academic deans.

The 2017 recipients honored for teaching excellence were Elizabeth L. Barnes, professor of English and American Studies, and Beverly T. Sher, senior lecturer and chief health professions advisor in Biology.

Elizabeth L. Barnes

Barnes teaches and works in the area of 19th and early 20th-century American literature, with a particular interest in the ways literature both reflects and shapes social and cultural categories like gender and age.

Her undergraduate students in the English department, the graduate students she works with in the American Studies Program, and her colleagues all attest that two key words from the title of her first book — sympathy and democracy — characterize her teaching.

Barnes’ passion for connecting with the literary works she studies and teaches; for connecting with her students; and for connecting her students to the literature they read, to themselves, and to one another, affects all deeply, according to nominators. And this effect runs from those who have chosen to pursue graduate degrees in literature themselves, to those who have gone on to medical school, to those who have found she gave them the ultimate teacher’s gift, the “license to shape my own education and to ask my own questions.”

Barnes' students said they are inspired by her erudition.  They see her “creativity, originality, risk-taking and effort” as a teacher-scholar as the high standard she asks them to reach for.  But they also see and highly value how carefully she guides and supports them, individually and collectively, in that aspiration.

“Your capacity to inspire, challenge and engage your students is striking,” said Reveley. “Students feel they are learning as they’ve never learned before when they take a class from you.”

Barnes’ mastery of teaching extends beyond the classroom to mentoring. Students recounted moments during office hours or chance encounters on campus during which she showed them important things about themselves by sharing herself, both intellectually and emotionally.

This effect resonates beyond the university to the readers of her scholarship and to other teachers.

“I often refer to her articles as models,” wrote one of her former students, now in graduate school and an apprentice teacher. “I am very grateful for [her] pedagogical example.”

Beverly T. Sher

Sher teaches the university’s most popular freshman seminar while mentoring and teaching almost all of its premedical students.  With an academic background in immunology and medicine, she also has 20 publications on teaching.

“You bring your skills and joy for discovery to the classroom,” Reveley said.

In her Emerging Diseases freshman seminar alone, she has inspired more than 1,000 W&M freshmen in the past 20 years, receiving evaluations consistently at the highest level.

Three current and former department chairs applauded Sher’s “excellence in teaching for 25 years with unsurpassed loyalty and commitment.” Each heard from numerous students that “Dr. Sher is the best teacher I have ever had.”

In the words of several students, “teaching is her joy, and she is delighted by the successes of her students. Professor Sher guided our class through carefully-directed analysis of text, figures and tables. In class, she challenged us to understand, and never just accept words in a published paper.”

One student went on to add that after class, Sher would return students’ discussion points covered with insightful comments, sometimes with papers stapled to them, and perhaps even a recent research paper that echoed one of their ideas.

“Her teaching breathed into us a sense of wonder,” the student added. “Dr. Sher’s classes are boundless.”

Sher also was described as a wonderful teacher and mentor outside the classroom. A former student wrote, “In class, I always felt that Dr. Sher was teaching the course material just for me. Out of class I was amazed at her quick responses to my questions and concerns. And I was amazed by her ability to make me feel unique and special — something I also heard from many other students.”

A former chairperson described her as “a font of wisdom for students” and “priceless in value as a dedicated advisor who provides wise advice on the challenging pathway to a career in the health professions."

Algernon Sydney Sullivan Awards (students)

Named in honor of Algernon Sydney Sullivan, a lawyer and activist, the Sullivan Awards are distributed each year to two graduating students and one non-student in recognition of their influence for good, taking into consideration such characteristics as heart, mind and helpfulness to others. This year’s student recipients were Daniella Rosa Aron-Schiavone ’17 and Terelle Lamar Robinson ’17.

According to the award citation, Aron-Schiavone is described as “an elegant leader whose inner core thrives on giving herself to others … Her ability to enact change is not limited to the individual scale. Dani’s inherent drive for compassion is clearly visible through her involvement in organizations both on and off campus.”

As one of the founders of the popular website Humans of William & Mary, Aron-Schiavone connected students to one another by sharing their stories, thoughts and beliefs. During her time at W&M, Aron-Schiavone also founded a Williamsburg-based non-profit called Revelo Photography, which donates funds to HOPE Lodge in New York City for patients battling cancer.

Her summers have been spent in service to those in need, too: Aron-Schiavone worked as a counselor for Camp Starfish, an organization that caters to children struggling with emotional, mental and physical disabilities, and as an intern for a veteran support group in Washington, D.C.

Perhaps what made Aron-Schiavone most deserving of the award was her willingness to help without expecting anything in return. According to the citation, “she shares her ideas with humility and she draws in others with her warmth and maturity. She doesn’t help in order to make herself feel good. She doesn’t help so that people will like her. She helps because it is her purpose to live and love healthfully.”

Robinson overcame many obstacles in his early life in order to fulfill his dream of one day graduating from W&M. After earning his associates degree from Richard Bland College, Robinson transferred to W&M and has been a fixture on campus ever since.

According to the award citation, “Terelle has been able to forge and nurture relationships with all sorts of people, from his friends and peers, to professors, school administrators and members of the community. He cultivates those relationships by being forthright and honest, willing to share his own perspectives and being interested in other people’s experiences.”

As an orientation aide and mentor to other African American males with the African American Male Coalition, Robinson made it his mission to inspire others to succeed at W&M. He was also highly engaged in the community, from his participation in the Ebony Expressions Gospel Choir to his work as a fellow in the Washington Center’s Leadership and Community Engagement Institute.

Robinson is currently taking steps to pursue a degree in law. As one faculty nominator said, Robinson is “always on the move, smiling, ready with a hug, surrounded by friends and just happy to be at his dream college.”


Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award (non-student)

Deborah Boykin ’76, M.Ed. ’82 was this year’s non-student recipient of the Sullivan Award.

As the associate vice president for campus living and director of residence life, Boykin has been a mainstay on campus for four decades, including her time as a student.

According to one nominator, “Deb leads with compassion, fairness and a sensitivity for doing what is right for students. It doesn’t matter if you are a new professional, a confused freshman, a custodial worker, a faculty member, a colleague, a concerned parent or a frustrated student; Deb listens and makes those around her feel valued.”

Boykin has been instrumental in a number of initiatives that make campus life more enjoyable for students. Under her direction, new buildings were added, including Lemon and Hardy Halls, and existing buildings renovated for student use. She’s played significant roles in shaping student opportunities, policies and programs, and has made it a point to meet and interact with every student staff member within Residence Life.

Boykin’s talents extend outside of W&M, too. She has served on national committees offering professional guidance and has traveled to South Africa to help the university system there develop college housing. 

As one nominator said, “Deb handles herself with a personal grace and humility, leading by example and by her caring attitude. She truly loves the work she does, the students she does the work for, the colleagues she does the work with and the university she does the work within.”