College Leaders Program, Class of 2016
Day 15: June 25, 2016
Reported by Grace Charlton, Evan Fitts, Jacob Perry
Saturday, June 26th marked the fifteenth and final day of the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership’s College Leaders Program (CLP) for 2016. Today was graduation day, the day on which we reflect and celebrate the experiences the fourteen participants of CLP had during these two weeks living in Charlottesville.
Graduation was held in the University of Virginia Darden School of Business. Jacob, Grace, and I arrived to the venue early in order to help Cash set up for the ceremony. As we scurried around organizing the diplomas, awards, signs, and programs, the four of us were touched with a twinge of sadness; the realization that the students we had been mentoring for the past two weeks finally began to sink in and resonate.
Before we knew it, the students began to flock into Darden donned in their best summer attire with their usual cheerful demeanor and pep in their step. The twinge of sadness that Jacob, Grace, and I felt quickly dissolved as we interacted with the students and their families before the ceremony began. What replaced the sadness was joy, the joy in witnessing the seeds we tended to grow and blossom into Virginia’s political leaders of today and tomorrow.
The ceremony began around 10:30 AM. A few days ago, the class voted for Matt Revis to be the speaker at graduation. Throughout his speech, he summarized the formative experiences he and his class went through during the program in his usual soft-spoken and caring voice, highlighting many inside jokes that the participants and the Program Managers hold dear. Once Matt concluded his speech, it was time to unveil the Spirit of Citizenship Award to two students in the program who embody the traditions and values of the Sorensen Institute through their commitment to public service and civil discourse. This year’s award winners were Olivia Defibaugh of Virginia Commonwealth University and Kristen Walker of Spelman College, two women rooted in their values yet open to the viewpoints of others.
Once all the awards had been delivered, Delegate Alfonso Lopez took the lectern as the commencement speaker for the CLP class and immediately thanked Bob Gibson, the Executive Director of Sorensen, for his service. In his speech, Delegate Lopez touched upon themes of trustworthiness, diversity, and civic engagement. These themes culminated into the charge he left for the students to run for office. He inspired every student in that room to take what they have gained from Sorensen and give back to their communities by being leaders who speak for the people. With that, Delegate Lopez finished his speech and left the stage.
Now it was time for the conferring of the diplomas to the fourteen new Sorensen graduates. Jacob, Grace, and I walked up to the front of the room to assist Cash in reading the names of each student, handing out the Sorensen lapel pins, and presenting the diplomas. During that procession of students, the Program Managers, Cash, and I could see the confidence radiating from these students through the fire in their eyes and the assurance in their strides. Everyone in that room knew that these students were going to accomplish great feats during their careers as public servants.
The ceremony ended soon after that. Students quickly affixed the Sorensen pins to their outfits and corralled together with their families for photographs. And just like that, everyone was gone. They headed to Bice House to grab their belongings and then returned to their respective localities. Although Grace, Jacob and I will miss the participants of the 2016 CLP program, we find solace in knowing that the Commonwealth is in great hands with Olivia, Kaelyn, Danni, Stewart, Felisha, Ricardo, Brandon, Summer, Marc, Matt, Karlin, Tania, Milagro, and Kristen carrying on the Sorensen tenets of trust, civility, and respect into the political future.