At Valedictory Exercises, Awards Honor Stalwarts in a Trying Year

Declaring to an appreciative audience at the University of Virginia’s Valedictory Exercises that Nicole Eramo “will forever have our heart, and we will forever have her back,” the chair of the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award Committee on Friday gave one of three 2015 Sullivan Awards to the associate dean of students who counsels student survivors of sexual assault.

In its since-discredited and retracted December article regarding sexual assault at the University, Rolling Stone magazine singled out Eramo for particular criticism – angering many students, alumni and colleagues who have worked with her during her nearly two decades of service to the University.

In its award citation, read by student representative Margaret N. Gould, the Sullivan Award committee rallied to Eramo’s defense, lauding her as “a woman of dignity, honor, loyalty and utter courage.”

“Her ability to balance rules and procedures with heart and compassion is uncanny, and her energy and savvy are seemingly inexhaustible. Her virtues fit perfectly with a job that demands more than one can give,” Gould read.

“Nicole is selfless, professional, accessible and unwavering in her support of students.  She has made people’s lives deeply better in ways she’ll never mention, and we will never know about. She is all-in, all the time, modeling a unique balance of strength and selflessness. People value her advice, seek out her opinion and trust her moral compass.”

Since 1890, the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Foundation has presented annual awards to graduating students, faculty, alumni and community members of 61 universities and colleges in the American South who are determined to have demonstrated notable character, integrity and service. The awards are presented each year to two U.Va. fourth-year students – one male and one female – and a member of the University community in memory of the awards’ namesake, a New York lawyer, businessman and philanthropist.

The Rolling Stone controversy – and the September murder of second-year student Hannah Graham – also appeared to be on the committee’s minds as they selected the female student winner: Hawa Ahmed, a member of the University’s Sexual Misconduct Board and co-chair of U.Va.’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention Team.

Ahmed “spoke eloquently and knowledgeably” to U.Va.’s Board of Visitors about student safety concerns in the wake of last semester’s events. “Her voice was clear, grave, consoling and persistent,” Gould read. “Never was she rancorous; always was she honest.

“She does not allow herself to spend time complaining, but instead throws her energy into improving the community around her, with an eye toward improving the experiences of others.”

The Sullivan Award for a male student went to Tim Kimble, chair of the University Judiciary Committee, described as “a responsible leader, a conscientious University citizen and a dependable friend.”

Kimble “went out of his way to stay out of the limelight,” according to the citation. “When he did speak out, it was always to feature the great work of others and the University’s tradition of student self-governance.”

Kimble also earned praise as a resident adviser. “One first-year student in peril commented that he would have transferred to another school were it not for Tim’s counsel and abiding friendship,” Gould said.

The graduating class also handed out two annual awards, for community service and cultural fluency, as well as one of its own creation, the “Ripple Effect Award.”

The Class Award for Community Service went to Katherine E. Bailey, who led U.Va.’s Relay for Life event as it raised more than $1 million for cancer research. She was the top collegiate fundraiser in the nation, personally bringing in more than $23,000 in three days. She also served as a program director for Madison House’s Cavs in the Classroom program, and was a student mentor for U.Va. Pals, a volunteer for the English as Second or Other Language program and a member of U.Va.’s Sustainability Committee.

The Class Award for Cultural Fluency went to Trung Tran, the culture chair of the Vietnamese Student Association and an active member of the Korean Student Association. He organized events including a cultural exposition that showcased Vietnamese music and dances, and a skit designed to help the Vietnamese Student Association educate the community and celebrate Vietnamese culture. He also served as president of The Pride: Lion Dance At U.Va., a student organization aimed at promoting aspects of traditional Asian culture through performances. Tran also regularly attended events organized by other cultural groups.

The Ripple Effect Award – which highlighted the effectiveness of efforts by one person to improve the University community – went to Ashley Blackwell, who organized a mentorship network for students in the Rainey Academic Program, who receive full, need-based scholarships and are often first-generation college attendees. She plans to expand the network to Blue Ridge Scholars and other AccessUVA beneficiaries.

Blackwell is raising funds to help low-income students take advantage of unpaid summer internship opportunities, and founded United for Undergraduate Socioeconomic Diversity, a student organization that works to address issues of access, equality and support for current and prospective low-income students. She also was the community outreach coordinator for the Restore AccessUVa Campaign.

Two of the University’s secret societies – the Seven Society and the Society of the Purple Shadows – also bestowed their annual awards.

The Seven Society’s Louis A. Onesty Memorial Scholar-Athlete Award went to Jordan Lavender, a record-setting sprinter on U.Va.’s women’s track and field team and a double-major in media studies and Spanish. On the track, she was a three-time Atlantic Coast Conference champion and two-time most valuable performer at the ACC Championships, as well as a 2014 All-American. Away from the track, she was a Student-Athlete Mentor for three years and was involved in Hoo Vision, a program that provided students and student-athletes opportunities to hone their video interviewing skills. She earned the ACC’s Weaver-James-Corrigan Postgraduate Scholarship.

The Sevens also presented the James Earle Sargeant Award to the Sustained Dialogue organization, which engages University community members in weekly dialogue to examine difficult subjects, including race, gender and identity. The organization expanded its scope this year to hold open discussions for the entire University community about the single-sanction, sexual assault and the nature of community. “This has never been more important or necessary for our community than it has been this year,” the society said in its citation.

The Purple Shadows awarded their Gordon F. Rainey Jr. Award for Vigilance to the Student Experience to John L. Colley Jr., the John L. Colley Jr. Research Professor of Business Administration at the Darden School of Business. The society praised Colley, a member of the U.Va. faculty since 1967, for opening his Pavilion VIII home on the Lawn to students from all over the University “at all hours to eat, drink and think.” 

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Anthony de Bruyn

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