Graduates celebrate as confetti flies through the air.
By Roanoke College News

Roanoke College confers degrees upon 436 graduates at 2023 Commencement

The Class of 2023 celebrated the culmination of its Roanoke College years on Saturday, May 5 with a Commencement ceremony that featured a new president, seven exceptional valedictorians and an immensely talented honorary degree recipient, American writer Nikki Giovanni.

After the virtual ceremonies of the COVID-19 years, which dominated the start of this class’s college experience, graduates and guests alike appreciated gathering under beaming sunshine and dappled shade on the beautiful John R. Turbyfill '53 Quadrangle. 

The Class of 2023 is comprised of 436 graduates. Bachelor of Arts degrees were conferred to 179 while 177 received Bachelor of Science degrees and 80 crossed the stage to collect a Bachelor of Business Administration degree.

Frank Shushok Jr., who was installed as Roanoke’s 12th president in July 2022, presided over his first Commencement at Roanoke College with enthusiasm and pride for the Class of 2023. 

In his remarks to the graduates, he noted that the stories of people all over the world are a collage made up not only of joy, success and adventure, but also failure, loss and doubt. He encouraged the students to celebrate everything that brought them to that moment and remember that they are capable not only of surviving everything that life offers, but of flourishing and finding purpose along the way.

“This moment loses its brilliance if we don't stop to celebrate the entirety of your becoming — both the golden pieces and the rough edges,” he said. “Because there will always be rough — even sharp — edges in your life, and most worthwhile things will involve some sort of struggle. 

“Quite frankly, being human is no joke. But I want you to remember that you have the fortitude and tools to take on hard things, whether that’s a struggling relationship, another personal issue, a sticky work problem or a pandemic that shuts the entire world down. You know how to struggle and learn your way through it. From there, you can look back, understand the lessons, and say, ‘Look at me now.’”  

“I think it's safe to say that Roanoke has become more than a college for all of us. It's been a home.”

~ Valedictorian Eli Wooliever

The Class of 2023 broke a record with seven students earning valedictorian honors. The previous record was last year’s class with five valedictorians. The 2023 valedictorians are:

  • Kasey Truman Draper, a business administration major from Roanoke, Virginia 
  • Luke Herbert Elder, a physics and computer science major from Richmond, Virginia 
  • Emma Evangelina Maras, a literary studies major from State College, Pennsylvania
  • Ashtyn Blair Porter, an international relations and creative writing major from Midlothian, Virginia
  • Brayley Anice Whitcomb, a mathematics major from Salem, Virginia 
  • Eli Flynn Wooliever, a physics and biochemistry major from Worcester, Vermont 
  • Rachel Victoria Yinger, a biology and creative writing major from Dover, Pennsylvania 

Each valedictorian was invited to the podium to deliver brief remarks.  

"After COVID and online classes, we've gone through a lot of trials to get where we are today," Wooliever said. "But if there's one thing I’ve learned at Roanoke, it's the power of community. We wouldn't have made it through our college career without the support of our friends, or the fantastic group of faculty and staff that dedicated so much to our education and development. … I think it's safe to say that Roanoke has become more than a college for all of us. It's been a home." 

RELATED: Read more about all seven valedictorians here 

One student, Zachary Krumm of Penn Laird, Virginia, earned the designation of salutatorian. At Roanoke, Krumm majored in biochemistry, minored in psychology and earned concentrations in medicinal chemistry and neuroscience. 

Nikki Giovanni smiles from the stage

American literary icon Nikki Giovanni was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters at this year’s Commencement. Giovanni is a prolific poet and author who has received a long list of awards and other accolades over a writing career that has spanned more than five decades. She is also a lifelong teacher, recently retiring from Virginia Tech after 35 years of service, and a force for social and racial justice. 

Before reading one of her poems, “Transitions,” Giovanni said, “I must say that I’m excited to be a part of the Class of 2023. I will be 80 years old in three weeks, and it is so exciting. So, thank you and thank Roanoke College.”

Four retiring faculty members received the Simon Carson Wells medal, an award bestowed upon tenured retiring faculty members:

  • Elizabeth K. Heil, associate professor of fine arts, served Roanoke for 42 years.
  • Charlene F. Kalinoski, professor of Spanish, served the College for 35 years.
  • Jane C. Long, professor of art history, has been part of the faculty for 27 years.
  • Jeffrey R. Sandborg, Naomi Brandon and George Emory Wade Professor of Music, has served Roanoke for 38 years. 

Dean of the College Kathy Wolfe also congratulated retirees Marianne Sandborg, resident artist and teaching assistant in the Fine Arts Department, and Cynthia Edmunds, a lecturer in the Department of Health and Human Performance. Wolfe thanked them for their many years of service to the College (38 years and 26 years, respectively).

Commencement exercises for the Class of 2023 were streamed live and recorded. To watch the entire ceremony, head over to the Roanoke College YouTube page.