Women's equality message resonates at Roanoke Commencement

Jennifer Blaney, co-valedictorian, addresses the Class of 2014 during Commencement on May 3.

Jennifer Blaney, co-valedictorian, addresses the Class of 2014 during Commencement on May 3.

The push for women's equality was a message that rang loud and clear at Roanoke College's Commencement ceremony earlier this month.

Standing before the crowd that included 450 graduates, co-valedictorian, Jennifer Blaney, and Commencement speaker, Warner Dalhouse '56, each expressed concerns about an unequal pay scale nationally for women, compared with their male counterparts.

Blaney, of Winchester, told her classmates that she's grateful for her parents and grandparents who through hard work tried to make the world better. But "we're also pretty angry that we don't live in a more equitable society," she said.

One example is that women make 77 cents to a man's dollar, which is "a gap that hasn't budged in over a decade," she said. "I feel entitled to better, and I know I'm not alone in feeling that way."

Blaney's remarks were timely. Last month, President Barack Obama signed two executive orders to help narrow the wage gap between men and women. One order forces federal contractors to allow workers to discuss their earnings with others, while the second order calls for contractors to file compensation data with the federal government.

Blaney initially set out to become a music teacher when she came to Roanoke, but a class about gender and leadership that she took as a freshman changed her direction.

Since taking that class, she has dived into extensive research at Roanoke about how learning impacts students when they come to college and their personal growth patterns.

Blaney's goal is to become a university professor. This fall, she will attend the University of California, Los Angeles where she plans to earn a doctorate in higher education.

"I wanted to do something that made the world better," Blaney said.

She implored her classmates to do the same.

"We're different than generations before us," she said. "Not only do we believe we can change the world, but we're also ready to put in the work necessary to bring about social change."

Dalhouse, who is a retired chairman and CEO of First Union National Bank in Roanoke and founding chairman of HomeTown Bank, told graduates that the United States offers many opportunities for future success in a career. Still the country hasn't yet achieved the standard of treating all people equally, he said.

"Women are still not paid the same as men for the same work. Hello? This is 2014," Dalhouse said. "That kind of injustice matters to all Americans, men and women. Men and women should work hard to correct that indefensible situation."

He also spoke of racial, ethnic and religious discrimination that still exists, in spite of the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

"I hope as you move into society from this campus that you will direct your considerable energies toward helping correct those kinds of lingering injustices," Dalhouse told the graduates.

He also noted that three women finished in the top of Roanoke's class of 2014.

Nicole Hurless of Chestertown, Md., joined Blaney as co-valedictorian. Hurless will attend Saint Louis University to earn a doctorate in clinical psychology.

While at Roanoke, Hurless assessed patients at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Salem related to aging and memory loss and conducted independent research on the ways that personalities affect people in different ways.

She hopes to one day work as a therapist, with a focus on helping people who have been impacted by violence, sexual assault or other kinds of trauma.

The class salutatorian was Tyler Barnes of Centreville, who will attend the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University.

-Published May 13, 2014

Released: May 13, 2014