AC graduates 2020, 2021 seniors

staff reports
Austin College in Sherman held its 2021 commencement ceremony Saturday morning.

The Austin College community celebrated the graduation of the Class of 2020 as well as the Class of 2021 during commencement exercises Saturday, on Clyde L. Hall Graduation Court. The Class of 2021 includes nearly 250 bachelor’s degree candidates and 18 MAT degree candidates. The Class of 2020 includes 280 Bachelor of Arts graduates and 20 Master of Arts in Teaching graduates.  

As members of the Class of 2021 celebrate the completion of their undergraduate education, many members of the Class of 2020 will join them as their commencement ceremony was postponed last May due to Covid restrictions. Though many 2020 graduates are unable to attend the exercises, having left the region for graduate study or careers, all 2020 diplomas were mailed last May. The Class of 2021 will be well-represented as members have just completed the spring term and finals and will receive their diplomas as they cross the stage.  

Though in person graduation did take place this year, COVID restricts did cause a reduction in the number of people each graduate could invite. Each could only invite four. The ceremony was live streamed so those who could not attend could watch online.

After welcoming remarks from AC President Steven O’Day, those watching in person and online heard from two speakers, then looked on as O’Day, Corrigan, and Dr. Beth Gill, vice president for Academic Affairs, recognized several individuals for special honors. Student honors included recipients of the Kidd and Robinson Medals, two outstanding scholars in the class, with no distinction between them, based on the student's entire academic record as reflected on the transcript, the balance in course distribution, cumulative grade point average, and credits earned.    

Austin College in Sherman held its 2021 commencement ceremony Saturday morning.

 Victoria Star Gilbert, Class of 2021 and elected by her classmates, presented the ever popular senior address. A Dallas native, Gilbert came to Austin College to pursue a multi-disciplinary education and career. She has completed majors in both East Asian Studies and International Economics & Finance, as well as a minor in Art. She has made her mark on campus as vice president of Black Expressions, executive council member of Student International Organization, an intern for Marketing and Communications, and founder and president of the first Austin College campus book club for students.  She was a semi-finalist for a Fulbright grant to study this fall in the Master of Arts Program in Brand and Fashion Management at Fu Jen Catholic University in Taiwan. She began teaching herself Mandarin during elementary school, later had a private tutor, used software to learn, and took all the Chinese classes she could at Austin College. She also spent a semester abroad in intensive language study program while at Austin College. Her life's mission is to build inclusive environments that welcome and represent diverse, global, and under-represented groups. 

Dr. Helen Lowman, a 1988 graduate of Austin College and the president and CEO of Keep America Beautiful,  presented the commencement address. Keep America Beautiful is a leading community nonprofit that works to inspire and educate people to act every day to improve and beautify their community environment. Lowman has worked around the world as a leader in international diplomacy and development—in the Foreign Service, with FEMA, and as regional leader of several Peace Corps sites.  

She has been president and CEO of Keep America Beautiful since 2017, offering  leadership experience in areas of international diplomacy and development, youth engagement, environmental education, disaster resilience, global leadership, volunteerism, social justice, and human rights. From 2010 to 2017, Lowman served as an appointee of the President of the United States in the senior foreign service and the senior executive service, working at the Federal Emergency Management Agency  in Washington, D.C. She held several roles in the Peace Corps, including directing the agency’s largest U.S. headquarters’ office and working with leadership on strategic reforms related to volunteer recruitment and admittance. She earlier served as Regional Director-Europe, Middle East, and Asia, Peace Corps’ largest geographic region.  

Lowman earned her master’s degree and Ph.D. in Leadership and Change from Antioch University and a master’s degree in International Economics and Development from the University of Denver, Joseph Korbel School of International Studies. She served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand for three years upon graduation from Austin College in 1988.   

Finally, the moment for student degrees came to pass  and Dr. Beth Gill began to announce the graduates—first the Master of Arts in Teaching degrees, then the Bachelor of Arts degrees for the Class of 2020. Then, that process repeated for the graduates of the Class of 2021. Austin College Alumni Board president Clint Buck, Class of 2007,  offered words of welcome to the new alumni on behalf of the Alumni Board, representing the full alumni of the College.  

O’Day offered closing remarks and good wishes to graduates as he sent them out into the world. Chaplain John Williams offered the benediction, followed by the traditional choral response, Lutkin’s “The Lord Bless You and Keep You,” by members of the A Cappella Choir, current and former, to close the event. The bagpipes played again to call the recession to action.