Members of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science community gathered on Saturday afternoon to recognize and celebrate the many accomplishments of the class of 2022. The diploma ceremony on VIMS’ Gloucester Point campus followed a university-wide morning ceremony in Williamsburg that honored all 987 graduates of William & Mary’s professional and graduate schools: Arts & Sciences, Business, Education, Law, and Marine Science.
In his commencement remarks at VIMS, Dean & Director Derek Aday highlighted the collective success of the 4 master’s students and 12 PhD students who completed their studies in William & Mary’s School of Marine Science during 2022.
“We are among the leading coastal and marine institutes in the country,” said Aday, “and you are all a significant part of that distinction, the work that you have done has made an enormous difference to VIMS, to the organisms and systems you study, and to the science that you practice.”
Dr. Linda Schaffner, Associate Dean of Academic Studies, emphasized the important role community support played in helping the graduates reach their goals. Addressing “Family members, partners, spouses, friends, colleagues, and some VIMS alums,” Schaffner said “it's great to see you all, and thank you so much for what you've done for the students and for showing your support by being here today.”
The student speaker, M.S. graduate Kristen Sharpe, will continue at VIMS as Assistant Director of Outreach & Engagement. She echoed the importance of community during her remarks. “Every day I walk onto this campus,” she said, “I know I'm surrounded by a community of people who genuinely care about me and my well-being in my career trajectory, and that's really worth more than gold… I'm so thankful I have the privilege to continue my career at such an incredible institute and continue to share the amazing research we do here and the impact we have on the globe…To my graduating class, please go out into the world and bring these amazing qualities everywhere you go and into everything you do. Spread them broadly.”
Aday detailed those amazing qualities during his presentation. “These 16 graduates have won nearly every major award and fellowship awarded by VIMS,” he said. “This includes the Commonwealth Coastal Research Fellowship; the Ziegler Award; and the Maury, Dean’s, and McWhorter Family fellowships.”
Aday also noted the students’ stellar publication record of 80 peer-reviewed journal articles, and their success in presenting at nearly every major national and international conference and professional meeting in the field of marine science, including CERF, Ocean Sciences, AGU, and the annual meeting of the National Shellfisheries Association.
He also praised the students’ accomplishments in education, outreach, and community engagement, which includes mentoring of at least 29 students, 19 of which are William & Mary undergraduates. “Four of the graduates here today were William & Mary teaching fellows,” said Aday, “which means they designed their own one-credit course and four of the graduates have published K-12 lesson plans. These graduates were Ombuds peer mentors, GSA leaders, DEI committee members, and maybe most exciting of all, 16 of 16—every student here has their postgraduate plans already arranged.”
Those plans include fellowships with Sea Grant, the EPA, and NOAA; jobs with the US Army Corps of Engineers, the US Army Engineer Research and Development Center, and the Smithsonian Institution; and continuing academic work at Rice University, the University of Wyoming, University of Washington, and Hawaii Pacific University. A pair of graduates will continue their careers at VIMS.
Aday closed by urging the students to take on the crucial role their academic training has prepared them for. “Only a chosen few will take on the challenge of conserving our most valuable natural resources and protecting our planet in a time of tremendous change,” he said. “The world will need your energy, your passion, your dedication, and your expertise more than it ever has; strangely, it may also be more resistant to that knowledge than it ever has. My advice is to lean into that. Political division and internet echo chambers have created spaces where people hear what they want and stay where they're comfortable. Your work will require you to enter those spaces, and as uncomfortable as that may be, that is where you'll make the greatest difference.”