William & Mary

Commencement awards honor best qualities of W&M

  • The Thatcher Prize for Excellence in Graduate and Professional Study:
    The Thatcher Prize for Excellence in Graduate and Professional Study:  Yi Hao was this year's recipient of the Thatcher Prize, awarded on the basis of scholarship, leadership, character and service.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • The Lord Botetourt Medal:
    The Lord Botetourt Medal:  Emily Martell was 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 Corey York.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • The Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award:
    The Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award:   Jerome Shaen was one of 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:  Zauhirah Tipu was one of 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 Thomas Ashley Graves, Jr. Award for Sustained Excellence in Teaching:
    The Thomas Ashley Graves, Jr. Award for Sustained Excellence in Teaching:  Chancellor Professor of Law Lynda Butler (center) and NEH Professor of English and American Studies Susan Donaldson (right) were the 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 11. - Ed.

Lord Botetourt Medal

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

The 2019 recipient was Emily Martell ’19.

Martell has spent the past few years growing her understanding of macroeconomic theory, applied mathematics and computer programming, according to the citation for her award. She was a member of the Botetourt Chamber Singers and a cappella group Double Take and chief staff writer for The Flat Hat.

Martell achieved a 3.98 GPA by asking questions often, attending office hours regularly, taking careful notes and demonstrating a deep passion for the subject she is studying, according to the citation. Assistant Professor of Economics Nathaniel Throckmorton, Martell’s honors advisee, said she is the most enthusiastic and dedicated student he has ever taught, and that he doesn’t think there is anything she is not capable of learning.

Martell’s deep passion for macroeconomics led to a summer internship at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, where her performance was so exceptional that she was offered a job for after graduation before she even started her senior year, according to the citation. That same summer, she began work on her honors thesis.

Martell chose to work on a project that would hone her programming skills since that is crucial to policy analysis. She successfully implemented two popular algorithms in the field of macroeconomics, compared their accuracy and has made a recommendation to macroeconomists on the pros and cons of each algorithm.

Donald Campbell, CSX Professor of Economics and Public Policy, said Martell’s love of learning, ability to write good prose and extraordinary intellect redounded to his great benefit and that of anyone who reads the third edition of his book Incentives: Motivation and the Economics of Information. As Campbell’s research assistant, Martell helped identify glitches and passages that weren’t sufficiently clear. In the preface of his book, Campbell writes that he owes his greatest debt to Martell, and that her research and critique of the manuscript were exemplary.

James Frederic Carr Memorial Cup

The Carr Cup is awarded to a graduating senior on the basis of character, scholarship and leadership. The recipient should be a well-rounded student, have good standing in all three of these respects and carry within the spirit of willingness to sacrifice and give oneself to a cause.

This year’s recipient was Corey York ’19.

A former U.S. Marine, York stepped in to lead the Student Veterans of William & Mary, immediately assuming the vacant role of president, then recruited his fellow student veterans to join the group, according to the citation for his award.

Under York’s leadership, the group has grown in size, its contributions on campus increased and spread, and campus lives of student military veterans have markedly improved. Orientation for new veteran students has been streamlined and more activities for student veterans have been planned and successfully executed.

York accomplished this while maintaining a near-perfect GPA as a government major, according to the citation. He earned an internship at the Pentagon, where he learned and worked alongside Department of Defense officials on U.S. relations with Syria.

York was chosen as one of President Katherine A. Rowe’s student aides, and was in on discussions with the president and her staff to discuss establishing a veterans’ center on campus. York also helped launch the campus’ Green Zone training to support military-affiliated students; partnered with the dean of students’ office to resolve campus-wide registration issues for veterans and with the office of undergraduate admission to track veteran student applications, deposits and matriculations; and organized campus events.

Thatcher Prize for Excellence in Graduate and Professional Study

The award recognizes an outstanding student in graduate or professional study, and is selected on the basis of scholarship, leadership, character and service.

The recipient of the 2019 Thatcher Prize was Yi Hao Ph.D. ’19.

During her time as a graduate student, Hao has distinguished herself through her service to the School of Education and to the wider campus community, according to the citation for her award.

Before deciding to pursue her doctorate in education at W&M, Hao worked at the university’s Confucius Institute as a Chinese teacher. As a student, she proved to be passionate about her studies and intentional about making connections within the greater university community.

Hao’s scholarly contributions include five peer-reviewed articles, a co-authored book and 20 national peer-reviewed presentations. Coming into the program seeking a scholarly career as either a faculty member or researcher, Hao was strategic in her course selection and took advantage of every opportunity she could to help bolster her preparation, according to the citation.

Hao was an American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education Holmes Scholar and a Social Justice and Diversity Graduate Research Fellow. She also served as a co-organizer of writing retreats for students at the School of Education and has been heavily involved in the W&M Educational Review, rising to editor-in-chief.

Hao was selected to the International Student Advisory Board, received the School of Education’s International Student Achievement Award and volunteered as a peer leader at the International Student Orientation. She also completed the 200-hour training to become a yoga instructor and aimed to help the W&M community to use yoga as a means for self-reflection and connection with others. She achieved all of this while maintaining a 3.93 GPA.

Thomas Ashley Graves, Jr. Awards for Sustained Excellence in Teaching

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

The 2019 recipients honored for sustained excellence in teaching were Susan Donaldson, professor of English and American Studies, and Lynda L. Butler, chancellor professor of law.

Susan Donaldson

Donaldson has been an outstanding teacher at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, known for her creativity and dedication, according to the award citation. She has taught a range of courses in both departments, including freshman seminars on women writers of the American South, core courses on American literature from 1912 to the 1960s, a major author course on William Faulkner and upper-level courses on 20th century American women writers.

Students say that Donaldson’s lectures “electrify” them, moving flawlessly from her ideas to engaging students in lively discussions.

“Professor Donaldson’s classroom becomes a place where students want to participate and take ownership of the material and discussions,” one student commented in the award citation. “Every time she walks into the classroom, normally carrying a huge stack of books, I could not help but smile. Her excitement is infectious.”

Part of the reason for her success, the citation says, is that she makes an individual connection with each student. She believes that good writing and a deep understanding of an academic field are inseparable from good research. She integrates her own research into her courses and shows the students how her discoveries have shaped what and how she teaches.

“It is my hope,” wrote one of her students, “that as a professor, I can inspire and change the lives of my own students the way Professor Donaldson has changed mine.”

Lynda L. Butler

Butler teaches and writes in the areas of land use, climate change and property law. During her four decades at W&M , she has taught thousands of future lawyers. Many of them rave about her knowledge and passion and consistently comment on how inspiring it is to learn from a professor who is both a nationally recognized expert on property law and who clearly loves to convey that knowledge, according to the award citation.

One of her students recently explained, “Professor Butler is extremely knowledgeable and is a master of the material,” according to the citation. Another noted that “she is whip-smart but knows how to deploy humor. She makes the complex understandable.”

Butler also teaches with a compassion that hasn’t gone unnoticed. One property law student wrote, “I really liked how Professor Butler seemed to care about her students’ well-being, and that she emphasized with us throughout the semester by mentioning her own experiences in law school.”

Outside of the classroom, Butler has been a tireless servant of the Law School and of W&M , the citation says. She has served as interim dean, vice dean, president of the Faculty Assembly, co-chair of the W&M Committee on Sustainability and countless other positions.

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. It was established by the New York Southern Society to perpetuate Sullivan’s memory.

This year, the winners are Zauhirah Tipu ’19 and Jerome Shaen ’19.

Tipu’s contributions to W&M include bringing Tarana Burke, founder of the #MeToo Movement, to campus; serving as the Secretary of Diversity Initiatives in Student Assembly, where she oversees all diversity programming; and participating in the Phonathon, where she worked as a supervisor to raise critical private funds for the university.

But some of Tipu’s greatest achievements have been through her work as president of the Muslim Student Association, according to her award citation. She worked endlessly with the administration to create prayer spaces on campus, obtain Halal meat in dining halls, create accommodations for Muslim students fasting in Ramadan during finals. She has been an advocate for Muslim students, working with residence life to ensure housing accommodations for Muslim students and working with the Board of Visitors to ensure a place for Muslim students on campus, the citation says. She is even working on fundraising for a Muslim Community Center in Williamsburg.

In her position as secretary of diversity initiatives in Student Assembly, she has overseen Queer and Trans Awareness Week, Interfaith Harmony Week, First Generation Appreciation Week and much more.

Jerry Shaen exemplifies what it means to be liberally educated, according to his award citation. A business major with a concentration in marketing and a minor in art, he is among the university’s most recognized campus leaders.

For the Office of First Year Experience, Shaen was selected for a coveted orientation area director position and worked for more than a year to plan orientation schedules, select and train orientation aides and to execute an intensive five-day-long orientation program, the citation says. In the area of Fraternity & Sorority Life, Shaen led by serving as an executive board member of his own chapter of Delta Chi and this past year as president of the InterFraternity Council, the governing body for the university’s 16 recognized chapters.

Shaen’s dedication to the wellbeing of fraternity men was evident in his creation of a new IFC executive position, vice president for health and wellness, the citation notes.

Passionate about serving those in need, Shaen has been the co‐executive director of TribeTHON, a campus‐based dance marathon that raises funds for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. Applying his marketing know‐how with his leadership skills, TribeTHON is the top fundraising organization on campus with more than $144,000 raised over four years.

Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award (non-student)

Robert Trent Vinson was this year’s non-student recipient of the Sullivan Award.

The Frances L. and Edwin L. Cummings Associate Professor of History and Africana Studies, Vinson studies the continent of Africa and the African Diaspora. At the university, he has found bright students who have genuine interest in his area of study and an institution that supports his teaching and research, according to the award citation. 

Vinson came to W&M in 2006 and has taught courses such as History of Africa before 1800, The Rise, Fall and Legacies of Apartheid and the History of Pan-Africanism, to name a few.    

Throughout the semester, Vinson is said to empower students to think creatively and work together to learn, the citation says. A student nominator admired his ability to captivate and focus students for 80 minutes straight, saying that despite having had many wonderful professors at W&M, few compare to Vinson. He memorizes every student's name on the first day of class and has a powerful way of making students of all backgrounds feel welcome. 

Vinson’s research often involves traveling to Africa and other parts of the world. Students often assist him with his research, usually through fellowships that facilitate student-faculty summer research. 

Vinson strives to connect with students on a personal level, according to the citation. A nominator said, “I often find myself going to his office for help with serious questions about race, purpose, friendship and more. I never doubt that he will be there to help me sort through important questions and concerns. I truly cannot say enough about his wisdom, unparalleled character and passion for knowledge.”