Feature Stories Campus Events All Stories

W&L Celebrates 448 Graduates at 237th Commencement In his remarks, President Will Dudley told the Class of 2024 that their liberal arts education — which develops intellect and character and encourages leadership and service — has prepared them to make significant contributions wherever they go.

2024Commencement-600x400 W&L Celebrates 448 Graduates at 237th Commencement

Washington and Lee University celebrated 448 graduating seniors at its 237th Commencement ceremony on Thursday, May 30. Keeping with custom since the 1930s for the university president to give the Commencement address, President William C. Dudley told the Class of 2024 to always be ready for an opportunity and reminded them that their experiences and growth over the last four years have undoubtedly prepared them for the future.

“When you arrived four years ago, you were eager and anxious teenagers, and we placed you in an environment carefully constructed to be conducive to your intellectual and personal growth,” he said. “W&L is small, rural, residential and resource-intensive. You are surrounded by extraordinary peers, professors, coaches and staff. The variety and intensity of curricular and extracurricular activity is astonishing. I hope you appreciate what a rare and remarkable privilege it has been to live in a community so intentionally and wholeheartedly committed to your flourishing.

“You have been prepared to learn, to lead and to serve. If we have done our jobs, and you have done your jobs, you are ready to make significant contributions wherever you go, for the benefit of yourselves and your families, but also for the benefit of those who are less fortunate and the communities in which you live. By investing in you, W&L has made a long-term investment in the public good.”

In his speech, Dudley reflected on the challenging start the Class of 2024 had in the fall of 2020, amid the Covid-19 pandemic. During his initial remarks to that class that fall, he encouraged them to get to know as many of their classmates as possible and to explore the full breadth of the curriculum at W&L.

“Never again will you be surrounded by such interesting and capable peers or such knowledgeable and dedicated teachers,” he said. “I hope you have taken advantage of the extraordinary intellectual and personal diversity that makes W&L such a rewarding place to live and learn.”

W&L’s mission statement centers on providing a “a liberal arts education that develops students’ capacity to think freely, critically and humanely and to conduct themselves with honor, integrity and civility. Graduates will be prepared for lifelong learning, personal achievement, responsible leadership, service to others and engaged citizenship in a global and diverse society.” In his speech, Dudley told the graduates that the world is in need of their professional contributions and volunteer service — which will be considerable and consequential — but that it is in even greater need of the kind of people they have become.

Dudley2024Commencement-scaled-600x400 W&L Celebrates 448 Graduates at 237th CommencementPresident William C. Dudley

“At Washington and Lee, you have learned to treat each other with respect, to express yourself and your own views with candor and to carefully consider alternative perspectives. The Honor System has asked you to be trustworthy, and to trust others. The Speaking Tradition has encouraged you to acknowledge strangers as if they were friends. Liberal arts education has taught you to listen attentively, interpret judiciously and reason persuasively.

“These habits – of intellect and character – are what the world needs. It needs these habits to chip away at mistrust, at partisanship, at polarization, to find and forge more common ground, to foster kindness and decency toward everyone, regardless of our differences and disagreements. And each and every one of you is well prepared to contribute to this monumentally important task. I urge you to embrace it, to set an example and to lead the way. Take the habits of intellect and character that you developed at W&L and change the world one small encounter at a time.”

Dudley also emphasized the importance of having fun and finding delight in what you do. He keeps a gratitude box on his desk filled with scraps of paper that capture the moments that bring him joy each week.

“Embrace the serendipity but live deliberately, as your classmate Katie Yurechko encouraged you to do [at the Baccalaureate service],” Dudley said. “Ask yourself, at every stage of your life, ‘Who am I meant to be? What do I want to achieve? How do I define success? What will bring me satisfaction?’

“Do the challenging work that gives you joy. Seize the opportunities for greatness. And never forget to be grateful for those opportunities.”

Martha Ernest ’24, president of the Executive Committee (EC) of the Student Body, spoke on behalf of her class. She was elected EC president in April 2023, after serving as a junior class representative.

A Wilson Scholar from Montgomery, Alabama, Ernest double majored in politics and cognitive and behavioral science with a minor in data science. Her academic honors include the Alexander Thomas Boehling ’10 Memorial Award, the Data Science Community Project Award and the President’s List. She was inducted into Phi Eta Sigma honor society, Omicron Delta Kappa national leadership honor society and Pi Sigma Alpha national political science honor society.

She served on W&L’s Office of Inclusion and Engagement Council, the Student Affairs Committee, the Board of Trustees People and Programs Committee, the Institute for Honor Advisory Board and as vice president of the Student Affairs Search Committee. As director of community outreach for Mock Convention 2024, Ernest promoted engaging events leading up to and during Mock Convention weekend and launched the Mock Con Meets Main Street initiative to raise awareness about small businesses in Lexington and to encourage entrepreneurship among students. She has been active in W&L’s Outing Club and volunteered as a trip leader for the Appalachian Adventure pre-orientation backpacking trip for first-year students. She is also a member of Kathekon, the university’s student-alumni relations organization, and the Senior Class Gift Committee. This summer, Ernest will be working at a resort in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

In her remarks, Ernest noted the perseverance of the Class of 2024 as they started their college careers with the pandemic rules of “three people in one room, six feet apart.”

Martha2024Commencement-400x600 W&L Celebrates 448 Graduates at 237th CommencementExecutive Committee President Martha Ernest ’24

“As I look into the crowd today, I see some of the most resilient people that I have ever met,” Ernest said. “Together, we made it through this challenging time, and we are better for it, as [Baccalaureate speaker] Kiersten Barnet [Class of 2005] shared with us yesterday.

“After our freshman year, in my opinion, we were finally able to experience the W&L that everyone before us had described – a remarkable place that would provide a unique sense of community and belonging.”

Ernest described the internal and external changes she and her classmates experienced and brought to the community in the years that followed that fall of 2020. From establishing new student organizations such as Remote Area Medical to raising over three times more money for Mock Convention than any other cycle, the Class of 2024 left their mark on W&L’s campus. But also, Ernest said, the culture and the steadfast 200-year-old traditions of the university altered the graduates as well.

“Driven by our collective commitment to the Honor System and our community of trust, we built genuine connections with each other and contributed to a shared sense of trust on our campus,” Ernest said. “We were afforded many privileges because of the Honor System, and after leaving W&L, I believe that we will be even more thankful for it. As a result of our commitment to honor, each of us can be confident that we are graduating with the highest standard of personal and communal integrity. And as we enter the professional world, alumni and others cherish this high standard, and we will benefit from it.

“What we have gained through our education and experience here cannot be overstated,” she added. “We’ve had our worldviews challenged, strengthened and even uprooted. We’ve all faced loss, struggles and times of hardship and grief. And now, we face something new: the end of our time here. While I know some of us would like to stay here forever, it would be selfish of us to do so. As we enter the world, W&L has prepared us ‘for lifelong learning, personal achievement, responsible leadership, service to others and engaged citizenship in a global and diverse society.’”

Ernest ended her speech by remembering the question Howard Pickett, director of the Shepherd Program and associate professor of ethics and poverty studies, asked the graduates at Convocation last fall: “Why are we here?” Ernest answered that they were here because of the support of faculty members who encouraged them to learn about the world with spirit, the dedication of staff members at W&L and the family members who pushed them to do their best.

“So today, we are here because it’s time to put these tools into action,” she said. “We are here because we chose to attend an institution that would challenge us academically and socially; one that rests upon the generations of students and leaders before us who molded W&L into the community it is today.

“And finally, we are here because of the relationships we have built with one another and will continue to maintain for the rest of our lives,” she added. “It is through these strong, close relationships that make leaving this place a little bit less intimidating. And I encourage you to lean on each other and these friendships as we enter into our next chapter.”

During Thursday’s ceremony, W&L conferred degrees upon 448 seniors. Altogether, the Class of 2024 earned degrees in 53 majors, with a record 35.7% of the class completing more than one major. Fifty-one percent of the class completed at least one minor.

Ten students were named valedictorians of the class: Sara Kate Durkee, Oskar Freiherr von Mandelsloh, Duncan John Hart, Georgia Anne McSwain, Zachary Thomas Moore, Shauna Rose Muckle, Alicia Nguyen, Aislinn Hanako Niimi, Peyton Marshall Pack and Kathryn Marie Yurechko. Each earned a final grade point average of 4.0.

2024-Commencement-600x400 W&L Celebrates 448 Graduates at 237th Commencement

Durkee, of Macon, Georgia, graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a minor in environmental studies. Durkee was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa honor society during her junior year. Outside the classroom, she served as a student leader for the Appalachian Adventure pre‑orientation backpacking trip to support first-year students in their transition to college. She also served as vice president for the Rockbridge Area Animal Advocacy Club, a W&L student organization that supports underfunded, understaffed and overfilled animal shelters in our community.

Von Mandelsloh, a Davis United World College Scholar, graduated summa cum laude with a double major in economics and global politics and a minor in data science business analytics. Since his sophomore year, von Mandelsloh has been a member of the Williams School Student Consulting organization, serving as a team lead for client projects. He received the Kim Family Prize for his exceptional honors thesis in economics, and he is a co-recipient of the John McKenzie Gunn Scholarship in Economics. After graduation, he will work in economics consulting at the Analysis Group in Washington, D.C.

Hart, of Muncie, Indiana, graduated summa cum laude with a double major in mathematics and music. He is a member of Omicron Delta Kappa, Phi Beta Kappa and Phi Eta Sigma honor societies. Since his first year, Hart has performed with the University Orchestra and several chamber ensembles, and he has shared his musical talents as a violinist, section leader, composer, concertmaster and conductor. His musical performances have not been limited to concert halls, as he has played the national anthem on the violin at W&L’s home sporting events. After W&L, Hart will work as a technical solutions engineer at Epic, a healthcare software company in Madison, Wisconsin, and he plans to join a community orchestra or string ensemble there.

McSwain, of Skaneateles, New York, graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in physics and a minor in mathematics. She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and served as co-president of Sigma Pi Sigma, the physics honors society, and treasurer for the Society of Women Engineers. During her 2023 summer internship at University of California, Santa Barbara, McSwain assisted with cutting-edge biophysics research, and her honors thesis included publishable research at the intersection of physics and medicine. Her passion for physics is complemented by her love for music and the arts. As a pianist, cheerleader and dancer, she embraced the liberal arts experience, integrating her scientific pursuits with creative expression. After W&L, McSwain will continue her education in biophysics at Cornell University.

Katie2024Commencement-scaled-600x400 W&L Celebrates 448 Graduates at 237th CommencementOne of the 10 Class of 2024 valedictorians, Kathryn Marie Yurechko

Moore, of Advance, North Carolina, graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in integrated engineering.  His academic recognition includes Phi Beta Kappa and the Walter LeConte Stevens Memorial Scholarship from the Physics and Engineering Department. For three consecutive years, he earned the ODAC Scholar-Athlete of the Year award for men’s track and field. He served as a W&L teaching assistant in static mechanics for the Fall Term 2022 and held summer internships in project engineering at the Whiting-Turner Contracting Company and in bridge inspection and repair at WSP. After W&L, Moore will pursue a Master of Engineering in mechanical engineering at Duke University.

Muckle, of Portland, Oregon, graduated summa cum laude with a double major in business journalism and politics. During her time at W&L, she contributed to the Ring-tum Phi student newspaper as a staff writer, as local news editor and, for the last two years, as editor-in-chief. She also worked as a producer, reporter and anchor for the Rockbridge Report, W&L’s student-run newscast. As director of grants for Mock Convention 2024, Muckle secured funding for engaging Mock Con events and distinguished speakers. She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and the Society of Professional Journalists. After graduation, Shauna will work for the Tampa Bay Times as a tourism and local economy reporter.

Nguyen, of Hanoi, Vietnam, graduated summa cum laude with a double major in environmental studies and studio art last December. A member of Phi Eta Sigma and Phi Beta Kappa, Nguyen received the Earth and Environmental Geoscience Departmental Award, the Marcellus H. Stow Award and the Kozak-McGuire-Spencer-Schwab Award. As a student, Nguyen was a leader in the Student Association for International Learning (SAIL) and co‑president of the Student Environmental Activism League. Nguyen has been working as an environmental scientist at HDR in Charlotte, North Carolina, since January.

Niimi, of Marshall, Virginia, graduated summa cum laude with a double major in classics and East Asian languages and literatures (Japanese) and a minor in cultural heritage and museum studies. She was the co-president of the Pan-Asian Association for Cultural Exchange, which builds community among Asian American and Pacific Islander students and promotes awareness and interest in Asian cultures. Niimi was also president of the Chanoyu Tea Society, which performs Japanese tea ceremonies for the W&L community and visitors. Her academic honors include W&L’s Edward Lee Pinney Prize, the Japanese National Honor Society, Omicron Delta Kappa, Phi Beta Kappa and Eta Sigma Phi honor society for the classics.

Class-of-2024-600x400 W&L Celebrates 448 Graduates at 237th CommencementThe Class of 2024

Pack, of White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in accounting and a minor in philosophy. As a rising junior, Pack was selected by a faculty committee for the L.K. Johnson Rosasco Scholarship, awarded to business and accounting students who demonstrate integrity, initiative, independence, self-discipline, drive and leadership. He served as the general secretary for Mock Convention 2024, an industrial group analyst with the W&L Real Estate Society and a member of the Outing Club. As a varsity football player, Pack was selected as the 2023 ODAC Scholar-Athlete of the Year.

Yurechko, of Havre de Grace, Maryland, is W&L’s first Marshall Scholar and the recipient of the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Medallion. She graduated summa cum laude with a double major in computer science and a philosophy and a minor in poverty and human capability studies. As a junior, she was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa and Omicron Delta Kappa and, in 2024, she was named the Omicron Delta Kappa National Leader of the Year in Academics and Research. As a W&L Bonner Scholar, she held leadership positions with the Nabors Service League, the Volunteer Venture Program, Campus Kitchen and the Shepherd Poverty Studies Program Advisory Board. After W&L, Yurechko will attend the University of Oxford to pursue a master’s degree in social science of the internet.

Also during the Commencement ceremony, W&L recognized 24 retiring members of the faculty and staff, who represent a total of 677 years of service.

A recording of the 2024 undergraduate Commencement ceremony can be found at https://go.wlu.edu/livestream.