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Commencement 2021 recap: Graduates celebrate accomplishments—and being together again

Eugenia Livings Welburn ’95 emphasized the importance of blazing your own path while addressing the Class of 2021 during a special Commencement ceremony on May 23.

It’s something students are uniquely situated to do after facing the various challenges presented over the past year.

“When you look back on your college experience, I am quite sure the phrase, ‘far from ordinary’ will come to mind,” she said. “I hope you will recognize how well-equipped you were to go forth and handle anything that came your way. This year has tested every fiber of your being, and just being here today is a declaration of success.”

Welburn, a member of Randolph’s Board of Trustees, was one of several speakers during the ceremony, held in WildCat Stadium in order to meet guidelines set forth by executive orders from the Virginia governor.

Eugenia Livings Welburn ’95 gives her Commencement address.

Under the warm morning sun, faculty, staff, and guests gathered to celebrate students—and being together again.

“It feels like a small miracle to see you here today,” President Bradley W. Bateman told the graduating class. “We knew that we are a small community, woven together in bonds of affection, but I do not think we knew how much joy we could feel simply by the fact of each other’s presence.”

Bateman also spoke about the lessons the entire community learned while separated due to COVID-19.

“We learned in an unforgettable way that we are connected to every other human on this earth. No matter one’s wealth, no matter one’s nationality, no matter any demographic characteristic, we are all members of one human family,” he said. “And may you never forget how essential others are to your own welfare. Every person is connected to you, and every person is important.”

Welburn, too, underscored the importance of those connections and leading with empathy and kindness.

“What I loved and appreciated about this community when I was a student was being greeted in the hallways when passed by another member, whether I knew them or not,” she said. “Looking someone in their eyes acknowledges their presence and speaks to their humanity. I encourage you and I ask you to take that tradition into the world and couple it with the awareness,the empathy, and the compassion that you have moved so successfully through the halls of the College.”

Welburn first came to Randolph from San Antonio, Texas, in 1991. Growing up, she moved around often with her military family, bags in tow as they started over in a new place every few years. When it came time for college, she chose a small school in Virginia that none of her friends had heard of before.

It was a leap of faith.

“In my heart I was urged to do something different, not to take the ordinary route,” she told the graduating class Sunday. “I could not have known at that time how much that single decision was already shaping the person I was to become and building a toolkit that I still use every day. I realize now that I was not at all like other graduates that I knew. I was poised to be a leader. What I was to give to the world was already inside me, and it was the College that further educated me, refined me, and nurtured me.”

After graduating from the College with a B.A. in English, Welburn served as an enrollment and retention specialist for both her alma mater and Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.

She worked in enrollment for several years, primarily focused on diversity and special programs specifically designed for African American and Latino students. She later led the Black Client Service Staff Initiative at McKinsey & Company, an international management company where Welburn committed her time to growing the black consultant community.

Currently living in Manassas, she now runs E.C.C. Enterprises Holding Company, a McDonald’s franchisee, with her husband, Craig.

On Sunday, Welburn offered some words of wisdom, advising students to appreciate all they have to offer the world and to block out the noise, to know what is important and commit to it.

“In your time behind the Red Brick Wall,” she added, “you have become an original and a leader, whether you realize it or not.”

Ranita Opoku-Sarfo ’21, Student Government president, delivers her remarks.

During her address to students, Ranita Opoku-Sarfo ’21, Student Government president, reflected on how she’s changed over her four years at the College and the type of classmates who have surrounded her.

“Randolph has a tendency to attract go-getters and multitaskers. If you weren’t one coming in, you definitely will be one on your way out,” she said. “Even though we are students first, many of us were also athletes, tutors, RAs, in multiple clubs and committees, and some still found time to hold jobs on and off campus. That’s who we are. We live to take up space and fill roles that need to be filled. We like to speak up, we like to be heard, and we like to speak for and support those who long to be heard.”

Opoku-Sarfo said she was grateful for professors who built students up, and staff who treated them like family.

“These past four years have taught me a lot about growth, patience, and the power of words,” she said. “Coming into college, I struggled with asking for help. I wanted to look like I had it all together. The same way college has taught me to prioritize and stay organized, it also taught me how to speak up when I’m sinking. Our campus community taught me to not feel ashamed for going to see a tutor, not to feel embarrassed for checking out our counseling services, and not to shy away from asking for an extension or two—or three. We all did what we needed to do to get here, and by looking around I see that our hard work has paid off.”

The College also announced the recipient of the prestigious Maude Huff Fife Award. Named after a graduate of the Class of 1918, the award is given to the student (or students) whose quality point ratio is the highest in the senior class.

Taylor Murphy ’21, recipient of the Maude Huff Fife Award

This year, the award was given to Taylor Murphy ’21, an elementary education major who will continue her studies in Randolph’s Master of Arts in Teaching (M.A.T.) program next year.

Nine of the College’s retiring faculty members were recognized at the ceremony as well. John d’Entremont, Dennis Goff, Mark Harrison, Kathy Muehlemann, Ken Parks, Pam Risenhoover, Jayme Rohrer, Doug Shedd, and Francoise Watts received emeriti status.

Nearly 130 students graduated Sunday, including seven who received the College’s M.A.T. degree and eight who were members of the first graduating cohort for the Master of Arts in Coaching and Sport Leadership.

Welburn urged them all to face challenges that come their way head on.

“No matter what direction you take, no matter where you land, and no matter the role in which you stand, your impact will be great, simply because you are far from ordinary,” she concluded. “Randolph College has prepared you. Be intentional, be kind, be a good listener, and be available. Eventually the world will open up and opportunities will await. Be ready.”

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