Dabney S. Lancaster Community College hosted three separate in-person graduation ceremonies on Thursday, Friday and Saturday on the Clifton Forge campus, in an effort to follow social distancing recommendations due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
A total of 174 graduates earned associate degrees, certificates or career certificates. In addition, 132 students who completed training programs through the DSLCC Workforce Solutions and Community Education Division to gain industry credentials were also recognized.
“The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic is unlike anything we’ve seen in our lifetime,” said DSLCC President DR. John Rainone, who led the procession and welcomed the graduates and their guests to the 54th Commencement Exercises. “Despite the tremendous uncertainty over the last year, you (as working parents, first generation college students, and workers on the frontlines of the COVID19 pandemic) stuck with your studies and persisted against all odds. You demonstrated incredible grit and determination and we today celebrate your remarkable achievements.”
“As hard as it has been for students to make this transition,” Dr. Rainone continued, “it has also been equally challenging for the faculty to shift their mindset to online and remote instruction. Like you, they value the interactions in the classroom, and they miss the face-to-face conversations. They miss you, coming into a classroom laughing, and leaving knowing you learned something new that day. Like you, they have had to navigate unfamiliar territory to continue to provide high levels of academic engagement. I could not be prouder of everyone came together for one purpose: you, the DSLCC student.”
Nursing, Transfer and Career/Technical Programs
The 39 graduates of the Associate Degree in Nursing program and the 23 graduates of the Practical Nursing Certificate program were recognized on Thursday evening, combining graduation with the traditional Pinning Ceremony. After receiving their diplomas from Dr. Rainone, the nursing graduates were each presented with a lanyard with a college pin by a family member or special friend, and recited the Nightingale Pledge, led by faculty member Teri Harmon, after lighting the Lamp of Knowledge.
Guest speaker Linda Thomas-Richmond, who was introduced by Nursing Program Head Catherine Hiler, spoke about her lifelong desire to become a nurse and encouraged the graduates to never stop learning. She also spoke about how teaching during the pandemic has been especially challenging for nursing programs.
Graduates of the transfer programs received diplomas during the Friday night ceremony, and graduates of the career and technical programs, as well as students who completed training programs through the DSLCC Workforce Solutions and Community Education Division, received diplomas on Saturday morning.
Gary Lee Miller Award Recipient
Brandy Mitchell of Raphine was selected as this year’s recipient of the Gary Lee Miller Outstanding Graduate Award. Mitchell serves the community as a Justice Ambassador for Prison Fellowship and she is a Sunday School teacher at Marlbrook Baptist Church. She was on the President’s List for two semesters at DSLCC and is also involved with the local PTO in Rockbridge County Schools and serves in the My Father’s Hand Outreach program.
Most recently, Mitchell led a grass roots effort to serve youth in the Rockbridge area by establishing Educational Pods. These pods provide educational assistance to over 160 children in 11 different locations during the COVID-19 global pandemic.
Mitchell earned an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Business Management, along with a Certificate in Small Business Management and a Career Studies Certificate in Business Fundamentals.
DSLCC Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Benjamin Worth noted that the Outstanding Graduate Award honors First Lieutenant Gary Lee Miller, a Covington native who was killed in action in Vietnam. Lt. Miller, born on March 19, 1947, was a 1965 graduate of Covington High School. He attended DSLCC before joining the United States Army.
On February 16, 1969, while Lt. Miller was on patrol with his battalion, they were attacked and he was seriously wounded. During the engagement, an enemy grenade was thrown at the patrol and, in spite of his wounds, Lt. Miller threw himself on the grenade to save his men. His battalion nominated him for the Congressional Medal of Honor, which was awarded to Lt. Miller posthumously for his “extraordinary courage and selflessness.” In addition to DSLCC Armory (where the commencement exercises were held) being named for Lt. Miller, Miller Hall stands at Fort Benning, Georgia in his honor.
Professor Emeritus Honors Bruce Olson
Retired Associate Professor Bruce Olson was honored as the recipient of the title of Professor Emeritus, the very first such designation to be awarded by the College.
Olson was hired as a fulltime instructor at DSLCC in 1964 and stayed with the College until his retirement in 2009. He was a fulltime faculty member at DSLCC for 45 years, and following his retirement, he served as an adjunct instructor from 2010-2020, which gives him a total of 56 years of service to DSLCC and the Virginia Community College System. He is the only faculty member to have served under four DSLCC presidents.
Olson was a highly respected faculty member, teaching physical education and health courses over his long career. His dedication to physical fitness, health and exercise is well known in the DSLCC community. He has influenced thousands of students to lead an active lifestyle. He has taught a variety of sports, and for many years he was also a CPR instructor.
Olson, speaking in a pre-recorded message, said he was honored to be recognized by the College, and was thankful to have been a part of the College almost since its inception. He spoke about the early days of physical education classes at DSLCC, when golf, bowling, softball and archery classes were offered, and a number of intramural teams were active on campus.
Ashby Clements, Distinguished Alumus
The Distinguished Alumni Award, sponsored by the DSLCC Educational Foundation, was presented to Ashby Clements of Rockbridge County. Established in 2017, this prestigious award recognizes DSLCC alumni who have realized exemplary distinction in their professions and honors all those at the College who have assisted them on the path to success, ultimately enabling them to enrich their communities.
Clements, 26, earned a certificate in Welding from DSLCC in 2015. He started his own business, Fire Mountain Fabrication, with plans in the very near future to purchase another business where he has been employed the last few years, Rails End Wood and Metal. Clements has spent several weeks for the past five years attending to a ministry his family created, East4West Navajo Ministries. The non-profit serves thousands of people in poverty on the Navajo Indian Reservation, that covers several states. Clements heads up a Christmas gift program that serves as many as 3,000 Navajo children, and he is also head coach for the ministry’s soccer camp, a tuition-free camp that takes place annually on the Navajo Reservation.
In his acceptance speech, Clements said that he not only loved the College and what it had done for him, but he also recommends DSLCC to anyone thinking about furthering their education or even if they’re undecided about their future. He advised the graduates that whatever job they take, to do it to the best of their ability. He credited Mike Bryant, head of the welding program, and his mother, Virginia, for much of his success.
Dr. Rainone recognized two longtime faculty members who retired at the end of this semester: Beverly Ellis-Smith, RN, MSN, a member of Nursing faculty, and Steve Nicholson, who served as head of the Math Program.
DSLCC Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Benjamin Worth announced the graduates’ names, while Dr. Rainone presented each graduate with a diploma. In pre-recorded messages, the National Anthem was sung by 2016 DSLCC graduate Mahaley Reyns; the DSLCC Alma Mater was performed by James and Nancy Mathias; and DSLCC Board Chair Steve Vaughn congratulated the graduates and their guests.