Boldly Baldwin word mark

It will still be another year before Murphy Deming College of Health Sciences professor Kai Kennedy takes graduate students to Haiti, but her new elective course is coming to fruition.

Transfer lab 051“It was important for me to make sure I developed the right program for the students here,” said Kennedy, director of clinical education for the physical therapy program and assistant professor. “I wanted them to come right back to rural Virginia and be able to effect change.”

Kennedy said it has been critical to keep an open mind while developing the course, as the scope has changed quite a bit since her first MBC-related trip to Haiti in early 2013.

“Initially, we thought that the area we visited around Cherident would benefit from rehabilitative services, but its health care system does not support that yet,” she said. “They are seeking more primary care services and ongoing management of chronic diseases. I hope to revisit the possibility of working with the medical community in Cherident when the physician assistant program is up and running.”

Kennedy’s most recent trip in February took her to a new nursing school on the Haitian island of La Gonave. At Wesleyan University of Haiti, she found ideal opportunities for physical therapy (PT) and occupational therapy (OT) graduate students to work with undergraduate nursing students.

Slated for summer 2016, Perspectives in Global Health Care will encourage PT and OT students — and those in the physician assistant program in coming years — to analyze a health care system in another part of the world and share ideas about how rehabilitative services are both taught and carried out in clinical settings. Kennedy is carefully crafting the syllabus to ensure that students approach the course as a genuine exchange of ideas. She also wants the trip to take place as students finish their second year at Murphy Deming, after they complete a required community service practicum. Upon their return, Kennedy envisions students giving collaborative presentations to the Mary Baldwin community as well as to local organizations and church groups that have established partnerships in Haiti.

Mary Baldwin’s relationship with Haiti has strengthened since the country’s devastating earthquake in January 2010, and students, faculty, and staff members have made meaningful connections in the small Caribbean nation. Several factors make the country a powerful learning laboratory.

“We have finally connected with a partner community with an expressed interest in rehab skills and a definite need,” Kennedy said.


Members of this year’s graduating class wanted their gift to the college to create a long-lasting tradition while serving as a physical representation of their time on campus. When the chimes of a new, bronze bell ring following Commencement on May 17, they will know they have succeeded.


Senior Class President Meagan Barron

“Ringing the bell will represent our message to the world that we are coming and we are ready to accomplish great things,” said senior class President Meagan Barron. The plan is that MBC President Pamela Fox will give the bell — which will be located on the front lawn of the Administration Building — its inaugural ring to kick of Commencement Weekend on May 15. Seniors will then be invited to tug the cord for a gratifying “gong” after picking up their diplomas right after the Sunday ceremony.

The 14-inch, 44-pound bell will be produced by Scanmix Corporation in Maine and cast in Sweden, said Brent Douglass, director of facilities management. It will hang inside a brick structure designed by architects from Kahler Slater to reflect Mary Baldwin architecture and the recently constructed college sign at the corner of Coalter and Frederick streets, a gift from the Class of 2014. The inscription, “To these halls where Wisdom reckons,” from A Hymn for Mary Baldwin, circles back to the college theme during the class’s freshman year, Wisdom. A plaque noting the gift and new tradition is also slated to accompany the bell structure.

Douglass has been happy to provide connections and help with the execution of several class gifts during the past few years. He is impressed with students’ initiative to enhance the campus before they depart. The projects overseen by Douglass include an ornate lectern gifted by the Class of 2011 (first used at Commencement 2013), a fire pit near Pannill Student Center from the Class of 2013, and the college sign.

“Each class has been very creative and thoughtful in deciding how to leave its mark at MBC,” Douglass said.

“We wanted a gift that would be interactive, meaningful, and live on after our time here,” said Kathryn Laflin, senior class vice president.

The Class of 2015 plans to hold several fundraisers this semester to cover the gift’s $2,000 price tag. The Split Banana downtown hosted a successful event to benefit the group in February, and the next fundraiser will be held 1–5 p.m on March 29 at Tropical Smoothie.

Watch the Mary Baldwin College Facebook page for fundraiser details, progress updates about the bell and photos when it is delivered and installed, and more Commencement 2015 information, and check out all posts related to graduation at #MBCgrad2015.


Christian Peele ’05 is familiar with reaching milestones at a young age. Barely past her 14th birthday when she entered the Program for the Exceptionally Gifted (PEG) in 2001, Peele became the youngest person to earn a master of divinity from Duke University Divinity School at age 20. Not long after, she embarked on the first of two positions on President Obama’s White House staff, and she is now preparing for a career shift to oversee development activities at one of New York City’s premier churches.

Christian_commence2015On May 17, Peele will tuck yet another “youngest” distinction under her belt, when she delivers Mary Baldwin College’s Commencement address at age 27, shortly after marking her 10th Reunion. She was humbled by the invitation from the Class of 2015 — members voted for Peele as the alumna that they would most like to hear speak about how her MBC education influenced her professional life.

“I learned about Ms. Peele and her accomplishments when I was applying for an internship at the White House,” said Kathryn Laflin ’15, senior class vice president. “Then the Class of 2015 voted for her as the alumna that it would most like to hear speak about how her MBC education influenced her professional life.”

“Being 10 years out from graduation gives me some perspective to see all the ways in which my Mary Baldwin education weaves through my life path,” said Peele. “In addition to the solid foundation in religious studies, Mary Baldwin is the place where I was introduced to critical thinking, pushing boundaries, conveying messages clearly, and the concept that one can better understand an idea by discovering how it is connected to other ideas.”

As soon as MBC President Pamela Fox convinced Peele that she was the top choice of the graduating class, she began to think seriously about her message to graduating seniors. Peele is not taking her latest MBC assignment lightly.  Although she hasn’t settled on a topic yet, she has been regularly jotting down stories that seem worth sharing and moments that taught her valuable lessons.

“More than anything, I want my words to be memorable. I realized that the speeches that stayed with me have a few things in common: they were relevant to me, taught me something I didn’t already know, were sprinkled with humor, and proposed a risky idea with conviction. That’s the model I’m trying to reach,” said Peele, who will join notable alumnae Commencement speakers such as advertising executive Louise Rossett McNamee ’70 and Federal Reserve Bank Chief Information Officer Margaret E. “Lyn” McDermid ’95.

A native of Goldsboro, North Carolina, Peele majored in religion and minored in art history at Mary Baldwin, and she participated in two outreach trips to Jamaica to lead Bible study, music, and art classes and work at a Christian summer camp. She earned undergraduate accolades including the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award, the Rita Dove Frontrunner Scholarship, and the Charlotte Forten Grimke Award, recognizing her scholarship, spiritual qualities, and service to the community.

In the decade since her graduation, Peele has creatively interwoven theology, leadership, and social welfare through a range of positions. She worked with families as a program coordinator at Harlem Children’s Zone after earning her master’s degree, pursuing a calling into ministry that she first began to consider when she entered MBC. In 2009, Peele landed a coveted internship at the White House in the Office of Management and Administration, and she served as director of the White House Internship Program from May 2011 to June 2013, working to create a robust professional and academic experience for interns and increase the program’s diversity. For the next year and a half, she served as deputy director for operations at the White House, managing a team of people that ensured resources for technology, strategy, facilities, and buildings were used creatively and distributed responsibly.

While preparing for her Commencement appearance, Peele is also getting ready for her next professional role. March 16 will be her first day as director of stewardship and development for The Riverside Church in Manhattan. The 1,750-member progressive Christian church describes itself as “interdenominational, interracial, and international,” and Peele is eager to support its mission of outreach, education, social justice, and peacemaking.

“It’s energizing to me to be involved with an organization that is at the intersection of social justice and faith. I’m also excited to help Riverside’s first ever female pastor realize her vision and make her mark,” she said.

Commencement will be held at 10 a.m. May 17 on Page Terrace at Mary Baldwin College (10:30 a.m. at Expoland in Fishersville in the event of inclement weather). The ceremony will be streamed online at

ethiopian_peacemakerEthiopian peacemaker the Rev. Tsanganesh Ayele Asele will visit Mary Baldwin College next week, kicking off her fall series of appearances around the country as an International Peacemaker for the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA). An ordained clergy member with extensive experience in gender and diversity studies, Ayele Asele will speak in several classes and give college-wide presentations during her residency September 22–26 (see schedule below).

As director of the women’s department of PCUSA, Ayele Asele has special training in the roles of women in peacemaking efforts and has led courses and workshops for women in Ethiopia. Her tenure with the International Peacemaker program also includes trips to St. Mark Prebyterian Church in California, Presbytery of Plains and Peaks in Colorado, and Cameron Presbyterian Church in North Carolina.

Ayele Asele’s visit is co-sponsored by the Shenandoah Presbytery as well as MBC’s Spencer Center for Civic and Global Engagement, the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, the Quest Interfaith Village, the peacebuilding and conflict resolution and women’s studies minors, and the international affairs major.



September 22

  • Class discussion: Politics of Developing Nations

September 23

  • Class discussion: Gandhi and Non-Violence
  • Class discussion: Post-Conflict Development
  • Quest Interfaith discussion

September 24

  • Class discussion: History and Theories of Leadership
  • Public event: International Café: Challenges and Opportunities in Ethiopia Today. 12 p.m., Spencer Center.
  • Public event: Community Service Speaker Series: Building Community in Ethiopia. 1 p.m., Miller Chapel.

September 25

  • Class discussion: International Relations
  • Public event: Teaching Peacemaking to Women in Ethiopia. 7 p.m., Miller Chapel.

Ralph Alan Cohen, Mary Baldwin College’s Virginia Worth Gonder professor of Shakespeare and Performance and director of mission for Staunton’s American Shakespeare Center (ASC), recently became the first American to receive the prestigious Sam Wanamaker Award from the London-based Globe theater.

“Like Sam [Wanamaker], Ralph passionately believes in making Shakespeare accessible to as wide an audience as possible,” said Patrick Spottiswoode, director of education at the Globe, when introducing Cohen at the award ceremony June 14. “[Ralph] is determined to eradicate what he calls ‘ShakesFear.’”

The award recognizes Cohen’s contributions to the study and appreciation of Shakespeare in the States and worldwide. After establishing the successful traveling troupe Shenandoah Shakespeare Express in the late 1980s, Cohen was instrumental in the vision and creation of the Blackfriars Playhouse in downtown Staunton, and he co-founded the American Shakespeare Center headquartered in that building. The same year that the Blackfriars venue opened, the first students enrolled in MBC’s Master of Letters and Master of Fine Arts program, guided by many of Cohen’s ideas. Cohen has been a member of the Mary Baldwin faculty since 2003. He also launched the Blackfriars Conference to draw Shakespeare scholars from around the world to Staunton, and he has directed more than 30 productions of plays by the Bard and his contemporaries.

“I hope that Sam would have liked the fact that this year the award … goes to an American,” Cohen said. He added that ASC actors and educators, the Blackfriars Playhouse, and Mary Baldwin’s MLitt and MFA students are all “children of Sam Wanamaker’s vision.”

He was also quick to point out that the award — established in 1994 in memory of the American actor and director who moved to Great Britain and spent a quarter-century campaigning for the creation of the Globe — was an honor for the American Shakespeare Center as a whole, not just himself.

The Wanamaker Award is the latest in a series of notable recognitions Cohen and others associated with the ASC have earned:

  • 2008: Governor’s Arts Award (Cohen and ASC co-founder Jim Warren)
  • 2009: Theo Crosby Fellow at Shakespeare’s Globe (Cohen)
  • 2013: Shakespeare Steward Award from the Folger Shakespeare Library (Cohen)

Watch the award presentation on the American Shakespeare Center’s website.

older_gradA perfectly sunny, mild morning greeted Mary Baldwin College’s 371 graduates and their families and friends May 18 for the 172nd Commencement. The college debuted a live stream of the ceremony, which included undergraduates in the Adult Degree Program and Residential College for Women and graduate students in the Master of Letters/Master of Fine Arts in Shakespeare and Performance and Graduate Teacher Education programs.

Roanoke-based journalist and author Beth Macy inspired soon-to-be graduates with anecdotes and advice from her life and career that elicited laughter and nods.

“Remember the lilacs. That’s my way of telling you to spend your time doing what taps into the essence of you, whatever that essence may be,” Macy said.

“As much as you can, try not to focus too much on the money,” continued the the nationally published writer and Harvard Nieman Fellow. “As much as you can, spend your energy engaged in meaningful work that makes you happy and enriches your larger community — and the rewards will follow, eventually, I promise”

Internationally acclaimed artist Betty Gold was presented with an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, recognizing her notable body of creative work — including three abstract steel sculptures on the Mary Baldwin campus.

The picturesque hillside erupted with cheers and applause as graduates received degrees in master’s and bachelor’s programs. Near the middle of the line-up was Berra Kabarungi, a Rwanda native who earned her bachelor of social work after enrolling at MBC in 2011 as part of the college’s relationship with Women for Women International.

pamelafox2014“It’s very exciting, very humbling, and beyond what my mere words can describe,” said Kabarungi, who will return to her home country to pursue a career.

Two employees in the Mary Baldwin Adult Degree Program (ADP) earned their degrees alongside family members, making the moment particularly memorable. Teri Maerki, assistant advisor, grasped her master of education diploma and then proudly watched her daughter receive her BA, while ADP Director of Operations Debby Bibens walked just ahead of her husband, ADP graduate Gary Bibens.

Senior class president Holly Johnston and MBC Associate Dean of the College Lew Askegaard garnered Algernon Sydney Sullivan awards, the top honors presented at Commencement recognizing unselfish service, noble character, and spiritual qualities.


Commencement award winners:

Algernon Sydney Sullivan Student Award: Holly Johnston

Algernon Sydney Sullivan Non-Student Award: Lew Askegaard, dean of institutional research, associate dean of the college, and registrar

Martha Stackhouse Grafton Award (highest GPA): Selma Elsarrag

Adult Degree Program Outstanding Student: Debby Bibens

MLitt/MFA Ariel Award for Outstanding Program Service and Leadership: Amy W. Grubbs

Graduate Teacher Education Outstanding Student: Victoria Cave


Read more

More information about the awards given at MBC’s Commencement.

Remarks by Commencement speaker Beth Macy, journalist and author based in Roanoke.

Profiles of several 2014 graduates are available on MBC News.


hollyJohnstonAlgernon Sydney Sullivan Student Award: Holly Johnston
Recognizing unselfish service, noble character, and spiritual qualities. The student also receives the accompanying Mary Keith Fitzroy Award.
Johnston’s ability to motivate and inspire others to succeed elevated her above the crowd. Her accomplishments are rooted in personal faith and empathy, demonstrated by her selection as an undergraduate fellow for the Fund for Theological Education and her involvement with the campus organization Changemakers for Women. Her lead-by-doing philosophy was showcased in countless roles, such as political director for Mary Baldwin’s first Live Election broadcast, peer advisor for the Interfaith Explorations Gateway, and traveling to Richmond to lobby for higher education funding. As senior class president, Johnston helped initiate the project that placed a new Mary Baldwin College entrance sign on Frederick Street; organize a Commencement Weekend dinner where seniors could thank their professors; and bring to campus the 2014 Commencement keynote speaker, Beth Macy. She has applied to serve as a literacy tutor through AmeriCorps as well as to master’s degree programs in American studies.


lewaskegaardAlgernon Sydney Sullivan Non-Student Award: Lew Askegaard, dean of institutional research, associate dean of the college, and registrar
Recognizing unselfish service, noble character, and spiritual qualities.
For more than 30 years, Askegaard has infused roles — ranging from academic advisor to director of the computer center to head of international programs — with his signature wit and sharp eye for detail. In his current role as dean of institutional research, Askegaard collects critical statistical data about the college and provides and analyzes data for landmark higher education studies and expertly leads recurring accreditation evaluations. He has long been a salient voice in strategic planning conversations, and he helped gather information and perspectives that led to the creation of Mary Baldwin’s new Murphy Deming College of Health Sciences. Askegaard’s presence is so ingrained in the college that students have affectionately suggested renaming Mary Baldwin as “Lew U.”


selmaelsaraggMartha Stackhouse Grafton Award: Selma Elsarrag
Given to the graduate with the highest cumulative grade point average.
Elsarrag is a triple major in biology, chemistry, and mathematics from Richmond. In the fall, she will enter a combined MD/PhD program at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston to pursue her degree in computational biology.



debbybibensAdult Degree Program Outstanding Student: Debby Bibens
Bibens, a marketing communications major from Verona, started working on her undergraduate degree through ADP in 1999, the same year she became an employee at the college. Her Capstone Festival project examined the role of Facebook advertising in recruiting prospective students. Bibens is now ADP director of operations, and she inspired her daughter and her husband to enroll in Mary Baldwin.



victoriacaveGraduate Teacher Education Outstanding Student: Victoria Cave
Cave is a veteran teacher of movement and music who chose to advance her career through Mary Baldwin’s master of education program. She focused on leadership, and her studies culminated in a thesis about the effects of stress on adolescents during musical performance.




amygrubbsMLitt/MFA Ariel Award: Amy W. Grubbs
Recognizing outstanding program service and leadership to the Shakespeare and Performance program.
While working on her Master of Letters and Master of Fine Arts at MBC, Grubbs gave selflessly to her fellow students, faculty, and the community at large and exemplified collaboration in both spirit and practice. Whether serving as an exemplary student representative or as an uncompensated teaching assistant in the undergraduate classroom, she is model of how to put others first.




Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters: Betty Gold
Internationally acclaimed artist Betty Gold’s large-scale steel sculptures beautify public and private spaces all over the world. Gold’s work has been collected and widely exhibited at museums and galleries across the United States, Europe, South America, and Asia, and her art career was honored with a major retrospective exhibition at the Casal Solleric Museum in Palma, Spain. Three of Gold’s sculptures grace the Mary Baldwin campus, and she has also imparted insight and creative vision on several occasions in connection with her installations and her exhibitions in Hunt Gallery.

The following is Beth Macy’s address at Mary Baldwin College’s Commencement ceremony on May 18, 2014.

Thank you, Mary Baldwin College, for the honor of speaking to you on such an auspicious occasion. Thank you President Fox, esteemed faculty and guests, graduates, parents and friends.

Almost 30 years ago, I was in your seat. Probably I was daydreaming, deconstructing the commencement speaker’s tie or maybe the wave of his hair.

Probably I was thinking about how the hell I was going to fit everything I owned into my 20-year-old VW Beetle — and whether it would actually make the two-and-a-half hour drive from my college apartment in Bowling Green, Ohio, to the capital city of Columbus, without breaking down. I had roughly 24 hours to prepare for my first “real job,” an internship at a city magazine that paid $200 a week — before taxes. A bore of a position for someone with big-city journalist aspirations, its main task was to update the magazine’s annual dining guide, which meant sitting at a desk and calling 600-plus restaurants to ask whether they served mahi mahi and took American Express.

I was excited. I was terrified. As the first person in my family to have gone to college, I had zero financial cushion to fall back on — no wealthy uncle, no wealthy friends, no more than a hundred bucks in my checking account. I was the daughter of a widow who made $8,000 a year test-driving cars for a Honda subcontractor. My student loan bills were about to come due, and the only thing holding my car battery in place under the backseat of my rusty VW was a broken cutting board my boyfriend helped jam between the rusty metal frame and the seat.

I speak to you now, almost-graduates, from the other side of that dark financial precipice. I tell you this as someone who’s turning 50 in 12 days and who wishes she could go back in time to counsel that scared 22-year-old with the burgeoning anxiety disorder, and blanket her with giant beams of confidence. I wish I could whisper to her as she sleeps the deep, post-adolescent slumber of the 20-something young. I would push back the not-yet-gray hair from her face and tuck it behind her not-yet-faltering ear. And I would tell her this.

Remember the lilacs. That’s my way of telling you to spend your time doing what taps into the essence of you, whatever that essence may be.

I was the last child of four — the middle-aged surprise — born to parents who struggled financially and in other ways. I was, practically speaking, raised as an only child — a loner who liked hiding inside the giant grove of lilac trees at the end of my street and eavesdropping on people who walked past. It was my humble sanctuary, a fortress of intoxicating scent and cozy, hidden paths. Safe and unseen, I spent hours there bearing witness to the beautiful and the strange, the just and unjust.

In the fourth grade, my teacher introduced me to the book, “Harriet the Spy,” which I inhaled. I was stunned to find a version of myself on novelist Louise Fitzhugh’s pages. Harriet was a young girl and aspiring author who put stories and facts together in new ways. She was nosy, sure. But she developed the confidence to forge her own way of looking at the world and, by putting forth her own fierce ideas, she discovered a voice that was distinctly her own.

In the decades that followed that awful restaurant guide job — we all have to start somewhere — I went in search of my own inner Harriet. I didn’t set out to focus my journalism on outsiders and underdogs, but lo and behold, after a decade of writing about them, it finally dawned on me that those articles were always the ones I wrote best: The African refugee who squealed the first time she heard a Diet Coke clunking down a soda machine chute and shouted, “There is a person inside that machine!”

The gritty Galax, Va., furniture maker who took on China in the court of international trade to keep his factory going — all from a mountain hamlet better known for bluegrass and barbecue.

The teenager who grew up in the projects but had the backing of a powerful African-American community that frequented the neighborhood library where she worked as a page. When Salena Sullivan learned she was getting a full ride — to Harvard, no less — the elderly library patrons put down the newspapers they were reading and wept. The librarian, who was her mentor and best friend, screamed.

I have to tell you, I did some weeping and screaming myself. What a privilege it was, being paid to travel outside my own ZIP code, to bear witness, and to hone my thoughts on these raw and complicated truths that I, and I alone, had noticed. As the writer Annie Dillard once put it: “You were made and set here to give voice to this: your own astonishment.” It’s a lesson worth applying to everything from journalism to nursing to theology. Develop your own slant. Figure out what moves you and make that your life’s calling. Every time you feel the hair sticking up on the back of your neck, pay fierce attention.

The second thing I want to say to the little girl in the lilacs is this: Ditch the awful partner, the sooner the better. I kissed some seriously nasty frogs before I met a guy comfortable enough with his manhood to marvel at a sunset, and goofy enough to dance the robot backwards across the kitchen floor when I’m least expecting it — just to make me laugh.

Let me tell you why I believe that choosing who to partner with is the single-most important decision you’ll make: For a variety of complicated reasons dating back centuries if not millennia, women now comprise more than half the college student population but still only 20 percent of the country’s leadership positions. This, despite the fact that companies employing women in large numbers outperform their competitors on every measure of profitability.

Staring down the barrel of 50, I am certain that I would not be as confident or competent a writer — or person — had I not married someone who has treated me his equal on everything from grocery shopping to laundry to kid-schlepping.

I’m a first-generation feminist, having grown up in a house where my mom did everything: She worked. She cooked and cleaned. She hounded my dad on Friday evenings at the VFW bar so he would not drink away his paycheck before the groceries were bought. I’m not judging; my mom can stretch a dime farther than anyone I know, and she was a product of a very different time. Now 87, she still can’t figure out how I get away with NOT ironing my husband’s shirts.

Mom was widowed and in her 60s before she married the man of her dreams, a retiree who sculpted wooden birds and squirreled away his federal government pension so she’d be well provided for after his death. He bought her jewelry and during their weekly outings to the mall, he’d sneak away to pay phones to leave messages she could listen to later on their home phone. He sang: “I just called. . . to say. … I love you.”

Let me say it again: Life is fleeting. Only people who want the best for you should be on your team. Especially your home team.

My final takeaway for future me and for all you dear Mary Baldwin squirrels crouched among the lilacs: As much as you can, try not to focus too much on the money. As much as you can, spend your energy engaged in meaningful work that makes you happy and enriches your larger community — and the rewards eventually, I promise, will follow.

How much money and fame does one actually need to be content? In 2012, Princeton researchers calculated that, once a basic level of comfort is attained, true happiness is achieved not through the accumulation of stuff but by having the capacity to share meaningful experiences with people. Scientists have actually proven that you’re better served in most cases by underindulging rather than overindulging — by buying less for yourself and doing more for others.

Earlier in my career, while many of my ladder-climbing colleagues moved on to bigger salaries and more expensive cities, I dug my journalistic heels into getting to know the readers of southwest Virginia. The salary wasn’t great, and during the height of the recession and the Internet revolution, my colleagues and I went seven years without a raise. But my midsized city was a great place to raise kids, with beautiful mountain vistas and friendly people, many of them surprising and quirky. I did a story once on Roanoke’s ELL school bus driver, a refugee from a war-torn country who, along with his grown sons, had launched two successful start-up businesses in town. Why did the Rwandan refugee still bother driving a school bus for such meager wages? I wanted to know.

I interviewed parents and teachers alike, but it wasn’t until I rode the bus for a couple of days that I understood why he considered the ELL kids his calling in life. A five-year-old wearing a bright pink coat and braids sidled up next to me on the bus, grabbed my arm, and took a deep breath. “Mmmmm,” she said. “You smell like Beyonce. You a little bit old. But I like you.”

I’m privileged to know my community through my work. When a big story breaks in my region, there’s a strong chance I’ll know some of the people involved, or at least know someone who knows someone. Scant degrees of separation can be awkward when you want to dash into 7-Eleven to buy coffee cream in your pajama bottoms and see five people you know. But by and large, connectivity is what everyone craves — even the loners among us.

A writer friend told me recently, upon the sale of the proposal for my second book — which is set in a rural Virginia crossroads in the Jim Crow south — that I’d succeeded because I’d managed to make my “small” stories universal and therefore luminous and large. He marveled, “Every corner of the world is as big as the world itself.”

What he meant was, every place is as important as the next — if you’re engaged in it. You’re here today with a much larger and more sophisticated sense of the world than I had almost three decades ago. You’ve spent four years honing your own distinctive voices. Now, it’s time to be heard.

Just don’t forget to season your own corner of the world — wherever it ends up being — with your own slant, that tilted way of looking at life that you and only you can provide. Find your own stand of lilac trees, be still amid them, and exhale.

Thank you.


Macy_FactoryManRoanoke-based author and journalist Beth Macy loves her job.

“I love storytelling and finding meaning out of disparate anecdotes and stories and even academic studies,” said the nationally published writer and Harvard Nieman Fellow. “You learn what you really think in the process of writing it all out — by turning your facts and conversations into a story.”

Macy has delivered an earnest message about the importance of honest, thought-provoking reporting to students and fellow writers in a variety of venues, including a South-African newsroom, numerous journalism organizations, Harvard University, and Penn State University. On May 18, Mary Baldwin College will welcome her as its Commencement keynote speaker.

“I’m a first-generation college student and graduate, and I love that many of your students come from similar backgrounds to mine,” said Macy, who earned her bachelor’s degree at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. “I think I would have thrived at a women’s college, at a place like Mary Baldwin.”

Her first national article — published in Seventeen magazine when she was still an undergrad — grew out of the “obligatory first-person essay” she wrote for a feature-writing course. In addition to a long career at The Roanoke Times, Macy has also written pieces for Parade, O, Garden and Gun, The Christian Science Monitor, and several other national publications.

A print journalist for more than 25 years, the publication of Macy’s first full-length book, Factory Man, in July 2014 marks the start of her transition from reporter to author. She cites the 412-page volume as her biggest accomplishment to date.

“It was the largest task I’ve ever undertaken,” Macy said about Factory Man, which chronicles the Vaughan-Bassett Furniture Company in rural Galax. and its struggle to remain locally owned and operated amidst pressure from huge overseas competitors.

“Writing this book required using all the skills I learned during a quarter-century in news writing, braiding together everything from memoir and narrative writing to investigative reporting and analysis,” she added.

Senior class president Holly Johnston ’14 was introduced to Macy’s work as a high school student, and she was intrigued by Macy’s journalistic voice.

“She is a master of the craft,” Johnston said. “I know her speech will serve not only as a way to mark the end of our four years here, but will also provide one last source of inspiration.”

Read more about Macy at

Commencement will be held at 10 a.m. May 18 on Page Terrace at Mary Baldwin College (10:30 a.m. at Expoland in Fishersville in the event of inclement weather). If the ceremony takes place on campus, it will be streamed online at

Two Mary Baldwin professors spent Spring Break developing connections that will enrich classroom and on-site learning thanks to a new funding stream administered by the Spencer Center for Civic and Global Engagement.

spencer_patinoBrenci Patiño, assistant professor of Spanish, and Doris Dodson, visiting assistant professor of social work and field work coordinator, are the first recipients of grants from the new High-Impact Engaged Education Fund. The fund accomplishes one of several goals of the Spencer Center Endowment, created as a priority of the college’s current multi-million-dollar fundraising effort, Ever Ahead: The Campaign for Mary Baldwin College.

Patiño, who joined Mary Baldwin in 2011 and has taught U.S. Latina/o Literature and Culture for three semesters, will use her grant to refine the itinerary for a proposed new Spring Break or May Term course to explore Latino culture in New York City. Patiño traveled to the Big Apple in March to scope out potential locations for her class to visit, including neighborhoods such as Manhattan’s Loisaida and Washington Heights, and cultural centers such as El Museo del Barrio and The Mexican Cultural Institute of New York. She also envisions students attending lectures at Columbia University and the City University of New York as well as a live performance at Repertorio Español.

“My hope is that students will further understand the complexity of Latino histories in the United States, as well as their varied and unique cultural contributions,” Patiño said.

“It could also be an ideal opportunity for Latina MBC students to engage with communities that represent their homelands, without leaving the country,” she said.

Dodson returned just days ago a trip to Haiti, during which she started a network of contacts to lay the foundation for a proposed social work field practicum in that country. Social work students often express an interest in international activities, Dodson said, and Assistant Professor of Social Work Mary Clay Thomas established a successful program in Honduras a few years ago by. Dodson’s goal is to create a long-term relationship with the community of Cherident, Haiti, which will be key to an effective practicum program.

spencer_dodson1“This Spring Break trip was invaluable in helping me consider how we can customize our future field practicum,” said Dodson, who traveled with two current social work students, MBC Director of Physical Therapy Kai Kennedy, and other Mary Baldwin students and faculty.

Dodson’s own experience provides a compelling testimony for the value of studying abroad.

“I participated in a service-learning trip to Mexico as an undergraduate, and it was life-changing. It was during that trip that I became determined to be a social worker,” she said. “Field instruction is the signature pedagogy of the bachelor of social work. This kind of opportunity increases students’ confidence in working with diverse populations and helps promote the MBC value of global citizenship.”

Steve Grande, executive director of the Spencer Center, is encouraged by the generous gifts that made it possible to offer these inaugural grants. As the endowment grows, funds will also be employed to sustain study abroad and civic engagement scholarships for students as well as to enhance the artist-in-residence program.

“The goal of the fund is to support the creativity that our faculty brings to their teaching by providing resources that will allow them to connect innovative experiential elements with their courses,” Grande said. “The range of grant applications reflected our faculty’s desire to continually seek creative approaches to helping students engage with complex topics.”