Barbara Kingsolver Celebrates the Educated Rural Person
The Emory & Henry graduate is an “educated rural person” who has acquired the good manners, the kindness and the respect for others that will move mountains, according to Barbara Kingsolver, the best-selling author who addressed the College’s 2011 graduating class Saturday.
Emory & Henry graduates were witness during the past week to events that added profound meaning to the value lessons that are the hallmarks of the institution. Demonstrating immense leadership, citizenship and compassion, E&H students in large numbers responded to a deadly tornado that struck nearby Glade Spring on April 28.
The violent storm and the E&H community’s reaction to it were addressed by every speaker to come before the commencement crowd assembled on a sunny day on the south lawn of the E&H Memorial Chapel.
Small, rural communities have learned the skills of kindness, Kingsolver said. “If being here (at Emory & Henry) has helped you cultivate good manners, you will find them to be a profound asset,” Kingsolver told the graduates. “Manners set you apart … Polite people will rule the world.”
A resident of nearby Meadowview, Kingsolver is the author of High Tide in Tucson, Poisonwood Bible and Prodigal Summer. Her sixth book, Pigs in Heaven, became her first to hit the New York Times bestseller list. Writer’s Digest named her as one of the most important writers of the 20th century. In 2000, President Clinton presented her with the National Humanities Medal, the nation’s highest award for service in the arts and humanities.
Kingsolver reminded graduating seniors that early on in their experience at the College they heard from guest lecturers Bill McKibben and Frances Moore Lappe. McKibben spoke of the threats of global warming, which included violent storms. Lappe addressed the increasing value of small communities as the world seeks sustainable resources to care for and feed itself.
The devastation in Glade Spring, which occurred during the last week of their college experience, underscored for graduates the lessons of Emory & Henry, Kingsolver said. “Now you have seen what a world of agitated molecules can do and how a community of compassionate individuals can respond.”
Timothy Best, who delivered the senior oration, picked up on the same themes. The E&H reaction to the Glade Spring tornado demonstrated that “we may be small, but we have a lot of heart.”
“A radical way of loving the world is possible,” Best said, “and we learned that at Emory & Henry.” He concluded by saying, “Our hearts have been set ablaze by this place. Do not let the fire go out.”
Laura Weaver, a graduate of the E&H master’s degree program in community organization and leadership, delivered the master’s oration. She said that Emory & Henry has helped her understand that each community has the capacity within it to overcome challenges. The events in Glade Spring “illustrated beautifully the capacity of this place.”
During commencement ceremonies, the College honored Eugene J. “Jeep” Meyung, a member of the E&H Class of 1948, with an honorary degree. A major benefactor who established a chair in international studies, Meyung is a former president of GEICO Insurance Company.
Emory & Henry also honored Dr. Marshall W. Anderson Jr., a 1961 E&H graduate. Anderson was a prominent mathematician and is now nationally renowned in the field of cancer studies. He currently serves as director in the Center of Environmental Genetics, which is affiliated with the School of Medicine at the University of Cincinnati.
Awards to graduating seniors include the following: The Byars Medal in Science, Samantha Alley of Kingsport, Tenn.; the Eleanor Gibson Via Science Award for Women, Ashley Nelson of Baywood, Va.; the Senior Service Award, Katelyn McLaren of Salem, Va.; and the Snavely Senior Scholarship Prize, which honors the student with the highest academic average, Carlie Fogleman of Lebanon, Va.
To see more pictures from the 2011 Commencement, check out the Emory & Henry Facebook page.