News Release

The Journey of Learning: Southern Virginia University’s 2023 Commencement

Photo by Erik Flores

On May 12, over 1400 family, friends, faculty, and professional staff of Southern Virginia University gathered on the front lawn of Main Hall for Commencement to celebrate the graduation of the Class of 2023—the largest graduating class in University history.

“You are a magnificent sight,” said Acting President Eric Denna. “Thank you for trusting us with helping you become learners. Becoming a learner is central to success. I don’t know if there’s a more important thing the faculty does than to instill a love for learning. There’s no way we can teach you everything that you need to know in a brief four years, but if there’s anything that we hope you have learned, it’s how to ask great questions.”

Acting President Eric Denna (Photo by Erik Flores)

“Are you ready for the most beautiful thing that you can do?” said Provost James Lambert. “This is to walk out into life equipped to not only ask the questions, but to also deal with the problems, and say that you’re a Southern Virginia University graduate.”

As the first college graduate in his family, Pioneer Award recipient Jacob Taloa (‘23) spoke to the graduates on the importance of being a pioneer in the world and on using their talents to pave the way for future generations. 

“Today we not only celebrate this milestone as an academic institution, but as a family, a family created by the bonds of the sacred experience of being at Southern Virginia University,” said Taloa. “As graduates of Southern Virginia, we are furnished and empowered with a sanctified education that allows us to prepare a way for the other spiritually minded people to succeed in this tumultuous world.”

Taloa encouraged the graduates to find ways to serve others, keep the Lord and their faith in the center of their life, and to use their education to embrace the unknowns of the world.

“Remember that this achievement is not only a recognition of your scholastic commitment, but it is a beacon of life for others who are still trying to find their way,” said Taloa. “By exploring uncharted territories with an educated mind and heart consecrated to the Lord, we don’t just open up doors of opportunities, we open up the gates of heaven to allow the heavens to flood the earth with a chain of blessings in our respective careers.”

Valedictorian for the Class of 2023 Janna Tidwell (‘23) shared how she was blessed and lifted by the University’s motto, “You Belong Here,” during her time as a student, and on the importance of creating places of belonging for yourself and others in the world.

“Learning is not a destination. It’s a journey,” said Tidwell. “It’s not something you achieve once and for all. It’s something you work towards every day. It doesn’t come from your status with others. It comes from you making your mark on this world in the way that only you can, and constantly working to make the world a better place for those who come after you.”

“I’m so proud of you,” said Tidwell. “Your fellow Knights, your professors, your loved ones, and your heavenly parents are so proud of you. But above all, I hope you are proud of you. You belong here.”

The 2023 commencement speaker, Elder Robert C. Gay, spoke at the graduate celebration forum on April 28, congratulating the graduating class and encouraging them to use their talents and skills to bless the lives of others and to keep God in the center of their lives.

After the conferral of degrees, a combined University choir, with choir graduates and alumni, gathered on the steps of Main Hall to sing the American folk song, “Oh Shenandoah,” a longstanding tradition at Southern Virginia University. At the conclusion of the event, faculty members lined up and cheered on the graduates as they recessed to refreshments. 

Special guests in attendance included Chairman of the Board of Trustees Hugh Redd, University Co-founder Glade Knight, and Former University President Reed Wilcox.