Roanoke graduates 434 at Commencement

“Go with the flow 2012. Stay present and have fun. This is the best time of your life.”


SALEM, Va. - Philip A. Conserva, co-producer of the hit TV series "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," encouraged 434 graduates at the Roanoke College Commencement ceremony on Saturday to embrace challenges ahead, without fear.

"Fear keeps you from doing anything," said Conserva, a 1995 graduate of Roanoke College and Commencement keynote speaker. "Each challenge is going to make you stronger, happier."

Conserva, who majored in English, recalled to graduates his own memories of the College, including his close relationship with professors in the English department. He remembered his mother dropping him off at the Crawford Hall dormitory in 1991, the beginning of his freshman year at Roanoke, and telling him to "get ready for the best time in your life," he said.

"And she meant it - and that meant something to me. She wanted me to continue to stay open, so I started shedding my shyness and my ego," he said.

Roanoke College President Michael Maxey introduced Conserva as "one of the best examples that I can give you of a liberal arts education in action." Conserva has been with "CSI:" since the show's inception in 2000. Previously, he worked on the "Chicago Hope" series.

Members of the Class of 2012 represent 27 states and 17 countries, including Mongolia, Senegal, Romania, Bulgaria and Zimbabwe. Two students - Kirby E. Davis, of Lafayette, La., and Paul L. Vines, of Fredericksburg, Va. - shared the honors of valedictorian. Sarah E. Ahlbrand, of Clifton Forge, Va., was salutatorian. All three are biology majors, with Vines double-majoring in biology and computer science.

In his valedictory address, Vines focused on an aspect of Roanoke College that he believes is special - the College's professors. He recalled Dr. Anil Shende, professor of math, computer science and physics, accommodating students' late-night study habits by offering office hours at 9 p.m. - and later - for three weeks to help them with a particularly challenging course. Some days, Shende and the students worked until at least 4 a.m., said Vines.

"We can't expect every professor to do that, nor should we," Vines said. "But it made me realize just how dedicated Dr. Shende and other professors are about helping us learn."

Vines left the stage with a flying, spinning leap to the ground - what President Maxey called the most interesting exit he'd ever seen from a commencement stage.

Co-valedictorian Kirby Davis encouraged her classmates to build on the gift of an excellent education. "Roanoke College has given you the opportunity to earn various gifts," she said. "Put your gifts into motion."

She fondly recalled freshman move-in day, when members of the College's Maroon Corps wore shirts with the words, "Welcome Home," on the back.

"In case you can't tell, I love this place," Davis said.

As senior class senator, Davis announced the Class of 2012's gift to the College during the ceremony. The class raised $2,400 to go toward the Senior Class Endowed Scholarship.

President Maxey reminded students of all that has happened at the College and in the world in the past four years.

From a presidential election to the tsunami in Japan and the release of the iPad, "the world [has been] busy while you have been here, but now it awaits you," he said. "Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does."

During Commencement, honorary degrees were awarded to Robert Wortmann '60 and his wife, Mary Wortmann, of Upper Saddle River, N.J.; Brooks Whitehurst, of New Bern, N.C.; and Maynard Turk '49, of Greenville, Del.

Robert Wortmann served for 22 years on the Roanoke College Board of Trustees, retiring as Board chairman in 2011. Under his chairmanship, enrollment saw steady growth, the endowment increased and new academic programs were added.

Mary Wortmann, who holds a B.S. in nursing from Seton Hall University and an M.B.A. from Fairleigh Dickinson University, is an art, theater and music devotee and is active in arts and cultural events at all levels.

Brooks M. Whitehurst, a registered professional engineer, established Brooks Whitehurst Associates in 1981 with his son Garnett. The company, based in New Bern, N.C., has developed new fertilizer materials that deliver more active ingredients to plants under cultivation, while applying less fertilizer. His work was recognized with an award from the College of Natural Resources and Environment at his alma mater, Virginia Tech, earlier this year.

S. Maynard Turk is a Roanoke native with a distinguished legal career. He was in-house counsel for the Radford Army Arsenal and then in-house and senior counsel of its parent company, Hercules, in Wilmington, Del. Turk is the brother of the Honorable James C. Turk '49. Roanoke College's Turk Pre-law Program is named in honor of both men.

Roanoke College is a classic liberal arts college in Salem, Va. Roanoke is the nation's second oldest Lutheran College. Roanoke combines firsthand learning with valuable personal connections in a beautiful, undergraduate setting. Roanoke is one of just seven percent of colleges nationwide with a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, the nation's oldest and most prestigious honor society. The Princeton Review lists Roanoke as the 18th most beautiful campus in its "Best 376 Colleges" 2012 guidebook. In 2011, U.S. News & World Report ranked Roanoke No. 7 on its list of "Up-and-coming National Liberal Arts College."

Released: May 5, 2012
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