News Release

Honoring the Class of 2024 at the Annual Graduation Celebration

Graduation Forum
Graduates recess after the annual graduation celebration

With Commencement on the horizon, the Southern Virginia University community gathered in the Knight Arena on April 19 for the annual graduation celebration—the last university forum of the academic year—to honor the Class of 2024, recognize senior awards, and hear from several graduating seniors and Associate Provost Sam Hirt.

“We have had a lot of change, a lot of growth, a lot of goodness that has happened to this graduating class and we commend you,” said President Bonnie H. Cordon. “Now we have this meeting today to honor all of you, to honor our fellow students and your friends. We are Knights, and Knights are united in celebrating and cheering each other on.”

Graduation Forum
President Bonnie H. Cordon

The 2024 salutatorian and recipient of the Barrus Scholar Award, Ryan Armstrong spoke on his decision to major in both music and biochemistry despite their vast differences and how he was encouraged and supported by professors in finding ways to combine the two topics.

“Professor Megan Mason became my mentor as I wrote my honors thesis about the impact a neurocognitive disorder had on the last musical works of Maurice Ravel,” Armstrong said. “It was during our weekly meetings that she helped me merge music and science into one. For me, SVU is the place to be to allow your diverse passions to become one pursuit for truth.”

Emphasizing the strength of a diverse university education, Emmaline Merrill, a political science major who received the Barrus Scholar Award, compared learning at Southern Virginia to companion planting in gardening, in which different compatible plants are placed close together to enhance growth.

“Each subject, whether it be philosophy, literature, history, or the social sciences, has not only stood alone, but has enriched the understanding brought by the others,” Merrill said. “Our education has cultivated in us a fertile soil of thought, ready to nurture a diverse and resilient range of ideas and innovations.”

Julia Evans, a music major and recipient of the Martha Bakkemo Loyalty Award, shared that while the unfamiliarity of campus her freshman year initially left her feeling like an infant, the nurturing of friends and mentors over the years helped her take risks and follow her dreams.

“Moving forward, each of us will once again be put into unfamiliar environments,” Evans said, “However, unlike babies, we have learned resilience and trust in ourselves and God, which helps us choose curiosity instead of fear, connection instead of isolation, and forward movement instead of stagnation.” 

Sharing how baby eastern newts have bright colors to stand out as a protection in the wild, biology professor and Assistant Provost Sam Hirt emphasized that the graduates’ experience at Southern Virginia will help them stand out in the world and build confidence against life’s challenges.

“There will be many things in your experience as a graduate student, your career, or your communities that will be perceived as threats towards you,” Hirt said. “But with your experience at Southern Virginia and completion of your degree, you can walk among these threats with confidence in your past because you have a leg up on challenges that come your way.”

The event featured a musical performance of “Be Thou My Vision,” performed by Men’s Chorus and directed by Assistant Professor of Music Kyle Nielson. At the conclusion of the forum, the university choirs and alumni sang “Oh Shenandoah,” and the faculty members lined up as the audience cheered on the graduates during the recessional.

Graduate Awards
Below are the valedictorian, salutatorian, and awards announced in the Graduation Celebration.

Joanna Porter

Ryan Armstrong

Leader-Servant Distinction
Nicholas Baker
Miriam Bonney
Ricardo Diego
Piper Searle

Barrus Scholars
Ryan Armstrong
Emmaline Merrill

Martha Bakkemo Loyalty Award
Julia Evans
Sam Petty

Pioneer Award
Delcia Coolbear
Michael McCubbins

4.0 Students
Joanna Porter
Ryan Armstrong
Sabra Larson
Nicholas Daynes
Clark Sheaffer
William Hughes
Miriam Bonney
Robin Williams
Jared Smith
Emmaline Merrill
Natalya Millet
Nykiah Baisden