During a commencement unlike any other previously held at Hollins University, NASA’s Director of Talent Strategy and Engagement Elizabeth Kolmstetter declared to graduates, “Successful people never give up. Successful people learn from successes but even more so from hardships, failures, and paths redirected.
“So what do successful people have in common? They start with a dream – a vision of big goals for the future.”
Kolmstetter, a member of Hollins’ class of 1985 who currently serves on the university’s Board of Trustees, was the guest speaker for the university’s 179th Commencement Exercises on May 19. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s ceremony was held on the university’s athletic practice fields to allow for a socially distanced setting that best and most safely accommodated all graduates and guests. Attendance was limited to up to three guests per graduate.
Hollins honored a total of 269 undergraduate and graduate students, including members of the class of 2021 receiving bachelor’s degrees and graduate students earning advanced degrees in 2020 and 2021. Undergraduates from the class of 2020, whose commencement was postponed last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, elected to have their celebration coincide with Hollins’ Reunion Weekend, May 27-29, 2022.
Hollins President Mary Dana Hinton paid tribute to the graduating students for how they learned and thrived despite what she described as “perhaps the most disruptive crisis in our history. You cared for yourselves, one another, and this community.”
Hinton continued, “Even more, you showed concern for those beyond this community. Long before the racial reckonings of the summer of 2020, this class called Hollins to be more just, more inclusive, more equitable. You demanded that we do better and become consistent advocates, allies, and activists. In our most challenging moments, in the face of injustice, violence, and hate, you lifted one another, your Hollins family, and our institution. We shared hurt and heartache. But we also shared hope. We shared the work. We called on one another to be our best selves and, when conditions made that difficult, we offered compassion and support. You were strong and courageous, vulnerable and caring.”
Kolmstetter, an industrial and organizational psychologist, has pioneered numerous innovative talent management programs across eight federal agencies, including the FBI, CIA, and Office of the Director of National Intelligence. She conveyed to graduates that whatever they want in life is achievable “because you have Hollins,” and employed each letter in the university’s name, “H-O-L-L-I-N-S,” to cite the advantages of their Hollins experience. She devoted “H” to President Mary Dana Hinton, who is completing her first academic year at Hollins. Kolmstetter called her “an extraordinary leader and role model. She has engaged the entire Hollins community. She is authentic, a powerful and prolific communicator, and inspires all of us to be our best selves. As you go forth, lead as she does with grace and grit, smarts and heart.”
“O” represents the campus community’s optimism, which Kolmstetter said “has already gotten you through unexpected challenges and allowed you to innovate and create new opportunities. It is a great strength that will give you courage to adventure further.”
The first “L” stands for the liberal arts education offered at Hollins, which Kolmstetter said emphasizes “skills such as critical thinking, communication, self-expression, and the ability to view ideas from multiple perspectives. Show those off every chance you get.” The second “L” is laughter. “It really is the best medicine,” Kolmstetter explained. She cited research from Stanford Business School on the positive effects of laughter, especially during the pandemic, on “relieving stress, healing illnesses, and helping cope with difficult situations. You’ve had hours of laughter with your friends and faculty, so keep that going. The more you laugh, the better the journey will be.”
Ingenuity is the “I” in “H-O-L-L-I-N-S.” “Together, you and this entire campus have used ingenuity and perseverance…to navigate the challenges of the last 15 months,” said Kolmstetter. “These two qualities will serve you well as you go forward.”
“N” is for nimble. “I am pretty sure you have all learned that you can act faster and bounce back more nimbly that even you thought,” Kolmstetter stated. “Rigid and status quo is ‘out.’ Nimble and thriving in change is ‘in.’ Employers want to know you are nimble and adaptive to change. Use it to your great advantage as you pursue your dreams.”
And, “S” reflects sisterhood. “You are part of the Hollins sisterhood, women who celebrate each other’s wins and support each other through hard times – and always understand you,” Kolmstetter said. “There truly is no friend like a sister. Things in life seem a little less scary when you know your sisters are there for you.
“Welcome class of 2021 to the greatest sisterhood on Earth!”
Kolmstetter concluded by telling graduates to do one thing “before you leave the Hollins gates: Close your eyes and envision your one big, scary dream. Then, write down H-O-L-L-I-N-S and a word or phrase for each letter. Perhaps some of mine resonated with you, but I am sure you have your own, too. Tuck it in your diploma or a favorite Hollins picture…and from time to time, use it to remind yourself of all you have to fearlessly pursue your dreams. No matter where you go or what you do, you have Hollins and you can do anything.”
Hinton urged graduates to “hold tight to your beliefs. You have proven your strength. You have proven your character. Most of all, you have proven you are enough. Who you are is enough. How you are is enough. Who you love is enough. How you love is enough. In your joy and sadness you are enough. In the face of criticism, lies, and pain, you are enough. On your very best day, on your very worst day, you are enough. Believe that. Rise with that.”
Other highlights of this year’s commencement included the presentation of the following honors:
- Ivana Esther Martinez, a Spanish major from Sterling, Virginia, received the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Student Award. Given by the New York Southern Society in memory of the founder, this award recognizes a senior who has shown by daily living those qualities that evidence a spirit of love and helpfulness to other men and women. Megan Canfield, the university’s director of student activities and orientation, was presented the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Community Award, which is given to a person associated with Hollins who has shown in daily living and work those characteristics that exhibit the noblest of spiritual and human qualities.
- The Annie Terrill Bushnell Award was given to Emma McAnirlin, a classical studies major from Newport, Maine. The award honors the senior who has evidenced the finest spirit of leadership during her days at Hollins.
- The Jane Cocke Funkhouser Award, recognizing the junior or senior who is preeminent in character in addition to being a good student, was presented to Shravani Chitineni, a biology major from Cary, North Carolina.