The University of Montevallo celebrated the achievements of hundreds of graduates spanning more than a year during a pair of Commencement ceremonies in picturesque weather on Flowerhill Lawn May 8.
The ceremonies featured more than 500 graduates from the spring 2020, fall 2020 and spring 2021 semesters.
During the morning ceremony, UM President Dr. John W. Stewart III conferred from the spring 2021 class 291 candidates for bachelor’s degrees and 84 candidates for graduate degrees.
State Rep. William “Bill” Poole of Tuscaloosa delivered the keynote address to the spring graduates and received an honorary doctorate for his many years of supporting UM and higher education throughout Alabama.
Poole encouraged the spring graduates to take advantage of the opportunities they have in front of them, and urged them to make a difference in Alabama and throughout the country.
“Today, I urge you to reflect on a few things: your own efforts, your own perseverance, your own sacrifice through the years, your struggles and your hard times and also your successes,” Poole said. “As you go forward, find purpose in your life and in your career and pursue that purpose in service to others. You will affect the people around you and you will affect the people beyond you. Be a member of your community in a positive way.”
Outgoing Student Government Association President Thomas Dillard said the challenges he and his classmates faced will benefit them greatly in their lives.
“Over this past year, all of us have gone through struggles and challenges that none of us could have possibly imagined,” Dillard said. “But it is because of those struggles and because of those hardships that we have grown as students, as a University and as people. This graduating class embodies what it means to be a Montevallo student, and for that, each of you should be proud.”
Outgoing Senior Class President Solomon Balaam-Reed congratulated his colleagues for completing their education goals in the midst of unprecedented challenges.
“We found a way to make this school year as normal as possible, and y’all, we made it,” Balaam-Reed said. “We became who we were supposed to be, and the world needs more people like us who care about our fellow people.”
During the evening Commencement, more than 165 members of the class of 2020 returned to their alma mater to celebrate their achievements after the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic prevented them from doing so in-person last year.
In honor of the special ceremony, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama Operations Manager Cynthia Todd ’88, who also serves as president of the UM National Alumni Association, centered her speech to the 2020 graduates on the mantra, “the best is yet to come.”
“I am so happy to see you face-to-face. What a special day. Today, we have feelings of excitement, hope, happiness, joy, unity and achievement,” Todd said in her keynote address. “Life has happened to you, especially COVID-19. But you did not give up, and you have proven you are resilient. Over this last year you have developed core competencies of versatility, agility, adaptability and flexibility. All of these are needed to be successful in life.”
“Now is the time to look forward to new beginnings. Know with confidence that you are equipped to excel in your career in the real world that you will experience and have been experiencing,” she added. “The best is yet to come, because you get to chart your own course and your own career. Set high expectations and establish a clear path forward. Operate in a spirit of excellence as you write the next chapter in your life.”
Following Todd’s speech, Stewart honored her with President’s Award for her legacy of leadership and service to the University.
2020 Senior Class President Justin Williams said the 2020 graduates have benefited from their UM experience since earning their degrees last year.
“Montevallo helped us all to find our voices, and I hope to be able to do the same for others one day. Our time here has been impacted by lifelong friends, new colleagues, mentors and most importantly, a new family,” Williams said. “I hope we all go out and help someone’s life be a little bit better, just as Montevallo has taught us.”