Commencement 2011: Community Activist, Model Student Receive Top Honors
Part of a longstanding annual tradition at Mary Baldwin College, two individuals were recognized during the college’s 169th Commencement for their service, character, and spiritual qualities. The Algernon Sydney Sullivan Awards were established by the New York Southern Society in 1925 in memory of Sullivan, a southerner who became a prominent lawyer, businessman, and philanthropist in New York in the late 19th century. The Society and carefully selected colleges and universities jointly arrange for the issue of medallions which are to be perpetual reminders of Sullivan.
Recipients of the 2011 Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award are graduate Ada Sue Myers and community leader Lee Stuart Cochran.
THE COMMUNITY ADVOCATE
Look in any direction in Staunton and you will bear witness to Lee Cochran’s influence, although you may not see her name front and center. Cochran’s two lifetime mentors, her husband of more than 60 years — the late Justice George Cochran — and Staunton community leader Emily Pancake Smith — Mary Baldwin Seminary Class of 1906 — preceded her in receiving the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award from MBC. But her own unrivaled legacy of advocacy for the arts and culture makes her equally deserving of the honor.
As leader of American Shakespeare Center’s (ASC) development board, she was critical to the campaign to build the Blackfriars Playhouse and position the city as an international destination for Shakespearean study and drama. She was named a life trustee of Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library for her efforts to expand the center’s reputation and its collection of artifacts. The Frontier Culture Museum owes the acquisition of many of its authentic exhibits of pioneer life to her fundraising prowess as a member of its nonprofit foundation. And she continues to serve on the advisory board for Staunton Performing Arts Center, helping that group work toward creating a visual and performing arts hub in the historic Dixie Theater, and is honorary co-chair of the Friends of the Sears Hill Bridge Committee, a grass-roots organization committed to the restoration of that landmark.
“Lee’s support is like the Good Housekeeping seal of approval for community projects,” said Dan Layman, campaign director of leadership gifts at Mary Baldwin, who worked with Cochran as an ASC board member.
Cochran’s alma mater, Hollins University; Monticello’s Thomas Jefferson Foundation; the Garden Club of Virginia; and the Jamestown-Yorktown Commission are among the organizations that have benefitted from Lee’s energy and enthusiasm. She also helped welcome President Dwight D. Eisenhower to the city in 1960 and organized a banquet in his honor on the MBC campus. In 1995, she and her husband jointly received the Outstanding Virginian award.
Cochran is most proud of helping to create a culture of civic involvement where residents take action on the issues and projects important to them. More than awards and citations, she hopes that is her enduring legacy.
THE ‘DREAM STUDENT’
“In the academic setting, she is every professor’s dream student. She has a bright, inquisitive mind and a deep love for learning for the sake of learning,” said Professor of Art Sara Nair James ’69 about Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award recipient Ada Sue Myers. “When something captures her imagination, her enthusiasm can light up the whole class.”
As her faculty advisor, James guided Myers on her original senior thesis — a look at the complex, often conflicting ideas of motherhood of German artist Paula Moderson-Becker — which served as a culmination of Myers’ art history major and earned her a spot at the college’s Capstone Festival showcase. A Global Honors Scholar and class marshal during her junior and senior years, Myers, a Christiansburg, Virginia, native, also captured MBC’s Grafton Award, recognizing her as the graduating student with the highest grade point average.
“Well-rounded” only begins to describe Myers’ tenure at Mary Baldwin. Her leadership roles and accomplishments include serving as a resident advisor, a member of the President’s Society (the select group of students who meet prospective students and lead campus tours), an internship with the nearby Staunton-Augusta Art Center, and membership in Omicron Delta Kappa and Alpha Lambda Delta honor societies. In 2010, she took full advantage of a semester study abroad opportunity in Northern Ireland, and eagerly shared her experiences and made new connections with her MBC courses when she returned. Myers maintained top grades and extracurricular activities while working at a Staunton bed and breakfast.
Myers’ scholarly achievements are matched by her humility and approachability, said Rod Owen, professor of philosophy. Those qualities made her an ideal choice as a freshman peer mentor for two of his classes, Owen said, noting that the younger students respect and emulate Myers. She was also selected to model nutrition and wellness on campus Dining Services posters. Myers’ future plans include a career in arts management.
“She has done it all with grace, generosity of spirit, and a bright smile,” James said.
Special Award Winners
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Darcie Huntress of Staunton, Virginia: Adult Degree Program Outstanding Student. Huntress collaborated with the City of Staunton and nonprofit environmental organizations to inventory Staunton’s greenhouse emissions and calculate the city’s carbon footprint. She recently earned the Adult Degree Program’s outstanding business student award and plans to serve with AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) to address issues surrounding poverty.
Glenn Schudel of Arcadia, Florida; and Jeremiah Davis of Afton, Virginia: MLitt/MFA Ariel Award. Schudel and Davis both were consummate scholars and worked in professional theatre while dealing with tragedy in their immediate families during the 2010–11 academic year. In addition to working toward his Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in dramaturgy, Schudel helped produce The Folio — the program’s newsletter — and served as an unofficial personal counselor to many fellow students. He will work as touring troupe manager for American Shakespeare Center (ASC) following graduation. Davis expertly juggled his studies in the MFA program with numerous roles in ASC’s intense Actor’s Renaissance Season in spring 2011. He will direct performances during the Center’s summer theatre camp. His post-graduation plans include teaching at two schools: one that specializes in Alexander technique (dance) and another focused on Linklater technique (voice).
Coleen Cosgriff of Lexington, Virginia: Graduate Teacher Education Outstanding Student. Cosgriff delivered her second child just days before Commencement, and she was determined to be in Staunton to receive in person her Master of Arts in Teaching degree with a focus on elementary education. She maintained an exceptional GPA and honed her strong writing and communication skills while applying innovative activities and techniques in her classroom.