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Warren Wilson Celebrates Class of 2024 at Commencement

Warren Wilson College celebrated the Class of 2024 at its commencement on Saturday, May 11. Around 160 undergraduate students received their degrees.

As they walked across the stage, the students received white pine tree saplings. A Warren Wilson tradition, the sapling represents the part of Warren Wilson that each graduate will take with them. Just as each graduate leaves the college to go, lay down roots, and grow, the graduate is encouraged to plant the tree away from campus to represent their mark as a Warren Wilson graduate in the greater world.

The commencement ceremony included class remarks from student speaker Lexi Parker.

"I once read a poem by Billy Edd Wheeler, a very famous Warren Wilson alum, that described this place as 'not a preparation for the world but the good world itself.' It hits home just as hard today, if not harder than it did when I first read it," Parker said. "I cannot think of a better way to describe the culmination of our college experience than just that. We are told from the time we start thinking about school that it is a preparation for the world and while it's true this place has shaped and prepared us, I think it is easy to forget that here too, is such a beautiful example of the good that still exists in this world."

Read Lexi Parker's full Commencement speech here.

J. Drew Lanham gave the keynote address. Lanham is an ornithologist, naturalist, poet, writer, MacArthur “Genius” grant recipient and professor of wildlife at Clemson University. He studies songbird ecology and the confluences of race, place and nature. He is a strong advocate for the Black role in conservation, and he studies how culture influences perceptions of nature and its care.

During his speech, Lanham offered a "Commencement To Try List," pieces of advice inspired by Mary Oliver's poem "The Summer Day," the question "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"

  • Be a part of nature, not apart from it.
  • Make time. It is possible.
  • Make space. Change your range. Travel when you can, and make life the experiment.
  • Find a cause to peacefully fight for.
  • Control your agenda. This is your life, no one else's.
  • List yourself, have a to-do list and attack it.
  • Take care of you.
  • Find and nurture something sacred beyond your life's being.
  • Follow your own "feel guide."
  • Go green.

"I'm going to challenge you to be wild," Lanham said. "Seek wildness, wherever and however. Find the freedom of the tethered torn away from tame, whether it be worshipping a single bird flying or a galaxy of stars, lights stitched in darkest sky calling you to get high on endless time. Find wildness, treasure wildness, roll in wildness and stink of it."

Dr. Damián Fernández, president of Warren Wilson College, told the graduates that “figuring it out” will serve them in life.

“I have learned this from you,” Fernández said, ” Adapt, make it work, continue, solve it, do it, face the challenge, speak up, onward, unscripted, get up to feed the piglets even when it is cold and raining, show up for each other as each tries to figure it out—and yes in figuring it out we can and must make things better. Is that not the essence of human experience—figuring it out? That is the Warren Wilson promise, our hope, our way.”

Read Dr. Damián Fernández’s full Commencement speech here.

Later in the ceremony, graduating music major Kendall Hite performed an original song “Moss & Vine," accompanied by professors Natalya Weinstein Miller, Jason DeCristofaro and Kevin Kehrberg.

Two honorary degrees were conferred, to entrepreneur and philanthropic leader Helmar E Nielsen, and to attorney and former trustee of the college Myron Boon.

An awards ceremony took place on Friday, May 10. It included recognition of Warren Wilson’s top seniors, faculty and staff honors and awards.

Christian Palacio Perez received the Alton F. Pfaff Award, the college’s highest honor given to a graduating senior. Andrew Axelrod received the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award, which is presented each year in recognition of a graduating senior’s personal character, integrity and service to others and their communities.

Co-Chair of the Biology and Chemistry Department and Associate Professor of Biology Alisa Hove received a teaching excellence award.

Some facts about the 2024 graduating class:

Total number of graduating seniors: 160

Graduates represent:

  • 28 states
  • 7 countries
  • 21 majors

With these top majors:

  • Environmental Studies / Environmental Science
  • Conservation Biology
  • Outdoor Leadership
  • English
  • 15% were Environmental Studies / Environmental Science majors (top major for this year’s grads)

Graduates will attend these graduate schools:

  • University of North Carolina - Charlotte
  • University of Vermont
  • Thoreau College
  • University of Tennessee
  • Gardner-Webb University
  • University of South Carolina
  • Western Carolina University
  • College of Southern Maryland
  • Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College
  • Union Theological Seminary
  • Northeastern University

in these programs:

  • Environmental Science
  • Woodworking
  • Philosophy
  • Biology
  • Nursing
  • Psychology
  • Divinity
  • Veterinary Medicine (DVM)
  • English
  • Cloud and Information Technology

They are already employed at places such as:

  • USDA Forest Service
  • Metro Parks and Recreation
  • German American Chamber of Commerce of the Southern U.S. Inc.
  • Trackers Earth
  • Kroka Expeditions
  • Omega Institute for Holistic Studies, Inc.
  • The Nature Conservancy
  • Bellair Farm
  • Appalachian Wildlife Refuge
  • Verner Center for Early Learning
  • Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park
  • Wicked Weed Brewing
  • Bridgestone USA
  • Tennessee Higher Education Initiative
  • Biltmore
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