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Warren Wilson College Commencement turns 142 seniors into alumni

Honors and Awards event recognizes distinguished graduates

On what seemed like the hottest day on record for Commencement, graduate Chloë Moore took to the stage to deliver the senior speech.

“As we leave Warren Wilson, [our] spirit of perseverance will not be left behind,” the environmental science and biology double major said. “We will carry it with us and apply our stubborn determination to the policies we create, the gardens we grow and the children we nurture. We will bring it to the art we birth, the research we craft, the adventures we plan and the songs we sing.”

Moore was one of 142 seniors receiving a degree Saturday.

President Steven L. Solnick, who was presiding over his final Warren Wilson College Commencement before he takes on a new position in New York City, asked graduates to reflect.

“As you go forth from this place, remember the values that we shared here: the value of critical thinking, the dignity of work, the responsibility to serve others, the moral imperative of preserving our environment, and the urgent need to engage with people we might not immediately recognize as brothers and sisters,” Solnick said.

The previous afternoon, Solnick joined seniors and their families in the College Chapel for the annual Honors and Awards Ceremony. The event was the last in a slew of award events held throughout the concluding weeks of the semester. During that final pre-graduation event, the College recognized 18 people, including the winners of the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award and the Alton F. Pfaff Cup.

Since 1942, the Pfaff Cup has been awarded to a graduating senior who demonstrates integrity, common sense, a willingness to work and a commitment to growth and progress. The recipient is someone who demonstrates academic achievement, work improvement and contributions to the enrichment of the College community. The 2017 winner is Michelle Beers.

“Michelle exemplifies all aspects of the Warren Wilson College experience,” Solnick said. “I think I speak for everyone when I say that I am so thankful you chose Warren Wilson College. We are better because you are here.”

Emily Odgers received the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award. Sponsored by the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Foundation, the award is presented each year to a graduating senior in recognition of their personal character, integrity and service to others and their communities. It recognizes spiritual qualities applied to daily living.

“Emily Odgers – outstanding in community engagement, academics and work. Emily is professional, dedicated and committed, and she consistently goes the extra mile in all three areas,” said Shuli Archer, who oversaw Odger’s work on the Bonner Leaders Crew. “Emily is a passionate learner inside the classroom, and constantly works to draw connections between her coursework in sociology to her and others’ life experiences.”

Leah Bartel and Alex Stearns-Bernhart are the seniors with the highest grade point averages (GPA). To acknowledge their accomplishments, the College presented the pair with the “Senior Plaque.” Other scholars recognized for academic achievement – the top 5 percent of the class based on GPA – were Jesse Barry, Skyla Delerme, Mary Fields, Adam Grimes, Mathilde Meyenberg and Reeves Singleton.

Melvis Madrigal Nava was presented with the “International Cross-Cultural Understanding Award,” Austin Fust received the “Frederick G. Ohler Senior Service Award,” Liane Ventura won the “Elizabeth G. Martin Senior Work Award,” Marley Fischer picked up the “Student Life Senior Award” and Molly Howard was noted for her “outstanding senior letter.” Teaching excellence awards were presented to professor Rima Vesely-Flad and staff member Shuli Archer. Professor and acclaimed folk musician and dancer Phil Jamison received the “Magnarella Family Faculty Scholarship Award.”

The buzz around Commencement 2017 started with the announcement of the keynote speaker in February. Actor and director Bill Pullman, the father of two Warren Wilson College graduates, offered a few words Saturday to the group of soon-to-be alumni.

“Best to you, graduating class of 2017,” Pullman said. “May you move this world into the biggest family circle possible with the maximum degree of tolerance. It’s possible.”

Early on in the speech, Pullman returned to a character he made famous in the movie “Independence Day.” In the 1996 film, Pullman plays U.S. President Whitmore. As aliens are invading the planet, the character fires up a crowd of bewildered patriots as they prepare to fight. During his speech in the film, which is now part of pop culture history, Pullman said, “We will not go quietly into the night! We will not vanish without a fight! We’re going to live on! We’re going to survive! Today, we celebrate our Independence Day!”

During his comments to graduates at Warren Wilson College, Pullman admitted that he had wanted to do a slightly adjusted commencement version of the speech for over two decades. While the moment had alluded him, he was able to fulfill his dream Saturday. Pointing to the class of 2017, he said, “You will not go quietly into the night because today is your graduation day!”

The moment received a great response from the crowd, but that was just the beginning. Following the conclusion of the Commencement Ceremony, the website TMZ found out about Pullman’s new version of the “Independence Day” speech and posted the clip onlineWLOS ABC 13 was also covering the event and shared the clip. The Pullman speech was soon covered by more websites around the country, including NerdistE! NewsGizmodo and Digital Spy. International versions of the sites also covered the story along with local television and radio stations across the U.S.

To say the speech was well-received is an understatement. In fact, the headline for Gizmodo’s article is “Bill Pullman’s Independence Day Commencement Address May Be the Best of the Season.” TMZ called it “good stuff.” And Corinne Heller of E! News wrote, “Now that’s what we call a college graduation speech.”

While Pullman catapulted the ceremony into global recognition, Warren Wilson College Board of Trustees Chairman and alumnus Bill Christy delivered the universal message to graduates.

“We’re proud of you,” Christy said. “We look forward to hearing of your successes in the world as you go forth. I hope that you remember this place, this wonderful place brimming with incredible stories, [which now includes] yours.”

For more information about the 2017 Commencement Ceremony at Warren Wilson College, visit