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Members of UMW's Class of 2024 savored an in-person celebration four years after the COVID-19 pandemic derailed their high school graduations. (Photo courtesy of UMW/Suzanne Carr Rossi)

UMW Class of 2024 earns a degree of redemption with commencement

by | May 11, 2024 | ALLFFP, Schools & Education, University of Mary Washington

The last time many of the members of the University of Mary Washington’s Class of 2024 graduated, they did so in nearly empty stadiums, wearing masks and socially distancing from their peers. 

UMW President Troy Paino said that is what made Saturday’s 113th commencement ceremony at a packed Ball Circle such a momentous event. 

“Most of this class were robbed of their 2020 high school commencement ceremony due to the pandemic,” Paino said. “Let’s make up for what was lost four years ago and make this an especially joyous and celebratory occasion you can remember for a lifetime.” 

Paino thanked the class for “holding this place together during a challenging time” as they began their college careers in virtual classrooms and in “physical isolation,” yet still found a way to form a community, the president said. 

“You may not know it, but the [board of visitors] have been following the class of 2024 for the past four years,” UMW Board of Visitors Rector Devon Cushman said. “Your class started college in a pandemic and many of you never had a chance until today to walk across a stage and get a diploma. You didn’t let that stop you.” 

Cushman went on to note the graduates’ accomplishments over the past four years, which included pursuing independent research, having articles published, traveling abroad, and interning on Capitol Hill as well as creating art that was featured on publication covers and exhibited at galleries. 

Five students earned the university’s Colgate W. Darden Award, which consists of a medal and cash and is presented to the senior with the highest cumulative GPA. 

“It has been an honor to be a part of your UMW journey and we wish you all the best,” Cushman said. 

The graduates then heard from alumnus Mark McClure, a member of the Class of 1996, who Paino said “exemplifies the value of a Mary Washington public liberal arts and sciences education.”

In his commencement speech, Mark McClure described how his UMW education positioned him for future success. (Photo courtesy of UMW/Suzanne Carr Rossi)

The Springfield native serves as the vice president of technical operations for Major League Soccer. He leads a team that broadcasts matches worldwide on Apple TV and other streaming services. 

Paino noted that McClure began his work experience in dining services in Seacobeck Hall before it became the home of the College of Education, advancing to a student managerial position. After graduation, he worked in UMW’s admissions office. 

Paino said McClure took advantage of the full UMW experience by working in student government, exploring his love of reading, writing and art history and teaching himself how to code in the school’s computer labs. 

“In short, Mark understood that learning how to learn is the real value of a college education,” Paino said. “That understanding has served him well.” 

During his speech, McClure reminded graduates not to fret over their futures. He said their degree is “more than a credential,” because it will allow them to unlock the “transformative value” of their experience at UMW. 

McClure said after his graduation 28 years ago, he quickly realized he was going to be successful. He said his writing classes helped him create an effective resume and his public speaking courses taught him how to be persuasive when discussing his skills in interviews. 

“Right out of the gate you can expect your Mary Washington academic experiences to pay off,” McClure said. 

In his digital media consulting career, McClure helped newspapers move into the digital era as print media was fading. McClure said he assisted newspaper executives in shifting their focus by realizing that the printed newspaper was not their most valuable asset. 

“The most valuable product was not the physical newspaper, but their expert reporting and content creation,” McClure said. “Now obviously that seems like a simple idea in our digital age, but back then that was a little radical and was met with skepticism.” 

McClure said his UMW experience taught him how to analyze data, think critically and articulate ideas. He said it also gave him the confidence to speak up in boardrooms. 

“When it’s your time to speak up,” he told the graduates, “I know you will as well.” 

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