On May 11, 2014, Scott Cooper ’92, the writer and director of the films Crazy Heart and Out of the Furnace, delivered the address during Hampden-Sydney College’s graduation at the close of the 239th academic year.
Cooper was born and raised in Abingdon and graduated from Hampden-Sydney with a degree in economics. He is now a writer, director, producer, and actor living in Los Angeles with his wife Jocelyne and his daughters Ava and Stella. Ava added her own part to the Commencement exercise, much to the delight of the crowd, with an impromptu rendition of the popular song “Let It Go” from the film Frozen. Cooper told the graduates that when he was sitting in their place 22 years ago, he was frightened—not that he would be unprepared for the life ahead, but that he “wasn’t about to live life on his terms.” He was starting a job for which he was grateful, but it was not a job in the arts, something he desperately wanted.
“I’m not certain of the numbers, but those actually leading lives in the arts are staggeringly low, unfortunately, relative to those leading lives outside of the arts—low because it’s a difficult life. It’s a life of rejection, uncertainty, a life where there are no rules or structure, a life with no linear ascension, a life that your folks, if they’re being honest, truly don’t want you to lead when you have a degree from a prestigious institution such as this.”
Cooper recalled a chance meeting in Farmville’s Walker’s Diner with the actor Richard Gere, who was in town filming Sommersby in 1992. Cooper interrupted Gere’s lunch to introduce himself and to discuss his desire to lead a life in the arts. Gere said to him, “Follow your heart. Seek fulfillment with zest and passion, and don’t wait to seize the day. Go for it and don’t look back.”
It took Cooper two years to heed Gere’s advice. He moved to Los Angeles, took acting classes, and built a network of close friends. Several years later, he was cast in the film Gods & Generals, where he met actor Robert Duvall. Cooper and Duvall became good friends and worked together on several occasions. Duvall also supported Cooper’s life in the arts and told him, “Don’t wait for others to make your luck for you.” With that advice, Cooper began writing Crazy Heart, a film that would win two Academy Awards.
After recalling the setbacks and struggles of his own career, Cooper said, “I know with certainty that you too can and will face your fears and overcome them. Regardless that you are likely frightened, just as I was, you will overcome your fears because that is what Hampden-Sydney men do. That’s what Hampden-Sydney men are prepared for. I just simply want you to do it your way. Follow your instincts and your heart because those are the truest. Allow them to be your compass.”
Following the presentation of awards, Valedictorian James B. Hughes ’14, who graduated with a major in biology and a minor in chemistry, addressed the crowd. “Coming to Hampden-Sydney was the best decision I have ever made, even if it isn’t coed,” he joked.
“The camaraderie we have here is truly something special. Since I have been here, never have I been torn down but only have I ever been built up ... I hope that all of you can say the same. Without this brotherhood and without you, my friends, there would be a lesser man standing before you today.”
The baccalaureate address was given on Saturday night by Dr. Robert M. Franklin, Jr., the James Laney Professor in Moral Leadership at Emory University and president emeritus of Morehouse College, a liberal arts college for men from which he graduated.
At this year’s Commencement, Hampden-Sydney basketball’s Khobi Williamson ’14 was awarded the one of the highest honors bestowed at graduation when he was named the 2014 winner of the Gammon Cup.
The Gammon Cup, given in memory of Dr. Edgar G. Gammon, a Hampden-Sydney graduate of the Class of 1905, pastor of College Church from 1917 to 1923, and president of the College from 1939 to 1955, is awarded to the member of the graduating class who has best served the College through character, scholarship, and athletic ability.
Former Student Body President Justin Pugh ’14 earned the award for the junior or senior who has shown the most constructive leadership during the school year, the Anna Carrington Harrison Award.
The Samuel S. Jones Phi Beta Kappa award in recognition for intellectual excellence was presented to Jonathan Drake Bishop ’14, an honors graduate in biology with minors in chemistry and classical studies.
The annual award for a member of the faculty or staff recognized for active devotion and service to the College and its ideals, the Robert Thruston Hubard IV Award, was presented to Debbie Maxey, operations supervisor in the Admissions Office.
The Senior Class Award, given to the member of the faculty, administration, or staff who the graduating class believes has contributed significantly to the College, the community, and the students during their four years, was presented to Dr. Susan Pepper Robbins, adjunct associate professor of rhetoric.
Hugh Wilson Fraser ’14 was commissioned into the U.S. Army.
Paul Boydoh ’14, William “Will” L. Pannill ’77 of Martinsville, and his father, William “Bill” Gordon Pannill of Palm Beach, Florida, all were honored at commencement with the presentation of Algernon Sydney Sullivan Medallions. Three medallions were given this year, one to a member of the graduating class distinguished for excellence of character and generous service, and two to friends of the College who have been conspicuously helpful in Hampden-Sydney’s efforts to encourage and preserve a high standard of morals. William Gordon Pannill II ’08, Kenneth Stuart Pannill ’08, and John Taylor Pannill ’14, accepted the medallion on behalf of their grandfather, William Gordon Pannill.
A true delight at the close of the academic year is the presentation of the Mettauer Award, named after Dr. John Peter Mettauer, Class of 1811, a medical pioneer who developed surgical procedures and instruments that are still in use today, although with some refinements. This award goes to a member of the faculty for outstanding achievement.
The recipient never knows in advance if he or she will be recognized for excellence, however. The unadulterated surprise and joy expressed by the recipients for this recognition resonates throughout the crowd.
This spring, Dr. Nicole L. Greenspan, associate professor of history, was genuinely surprised to be named the 2014 Mettauer Award recipient. Dr. Greenspan earned her undergraduate degree from York University in Toronto and her Ph.D. from the University of Toronto. She began teaching at Hampden-Sydney in 2006.
Some of her many publications include the articles “News, Intelligence, and Espionage at the Exiled Court at Cologne: The Case of Henry Manning” and “Charles II, Exile, and the Problem of Allegiance,” as well as her book Selling Cromwell’s Wars: Media, Empire and Godly Warfare, 1650-1658, which examines how the Protectorate government of Oliver Cromwell sought to use the new propaganda outlet of newspapers to shape public opinion and to garner more support for its major military undertakings.
In addition to publishing and speaking at conferences, Dr. Greenspan is a respected and well-liked professor, teaching a number of appealing classes. One of her most popular has been “Piracy in the Early Modern World.”
The arts are getting a renewed home at Hampden- Sydney following approval by the board of trustees for a complete renovation of Winston Hall. The $4-million project will modify the interior of the building to better accommodate the needs of the Fine Arts departments, including dedicated studio space, music practice rooms, seminar rooms, and an exhibition gallery.
The project is being supported by a $1 million gift from the Carpenter Foundation. Architects will develop the final plans after the College has raised at least 60% of the project cost, and construction will begin after all of the project funding has been raised.
A mezzanine to be built over part of the old dining room will provide instructional space; students will access the space from the top floor of the building. This mezzanine will isolate sound for the two classrooms that currently exist on the main floor of the old dining room. The central section of the old dining room will remain as flexible space. This space, which has beautiful, two-story windows on both sides, is used for small performances and receptions.
Photography Professor Pamela Fox says, “Photography and design students will enjoy a larger Mac lab, and there will be a space that will be used for working with studio lighting and backdrops. Students will also have more space to set up and store their projects. Good working space is crucial to the creative process. It helps students stay engaged with the long and sometimes frustrating process of making art.”
She adds that the renovation will do much more than make Winston Hall a safer and more effective teaching space: “We also envision that these changes will help facilitate an alternative after-hours environment for students who want to make music and art or hang out with those who do. We see the new Winston Hall as a space that will encourage creativity in a supportive environment—a place to be used both night and day.”
Winston Hall was built as a library by the Union Theological Seminary in 1898. The rear of the building was added in 1935, just six years before the front section was destroyed by fire. The front was rebuilt in 1950, and the building served as the Commons from 1961 to 1991. Since that time, it has been home to the Fine Arts Department, the Health Center (which recently moved to a new location), and the Student Publications Office. This will be the fourth major restructuring of the building.
Part of the renovation project will involve shuffling some campus offices and making changes to the Bortz Library. The Fuqua Computing Center, which has been in the basement of Johns Auditorium for many years, will be moving to the main floor of the library to better meet the needs of today’s technologically savvy students. The then- available space in Johns Auditorium will become home to the Student Publications Office (home of The Tiger newspaper and The Garnet literary magazine) and the Communications Office, which are currently in the basement of Winston Hall.
Two years ago the College introduced a major in theatre, and this year saw the first student gradu- ate with a degree in that discipline. Anthony Rowe ’14 of Fredericksburg majored in theatre and minored in Spanish. During Final Convo- cation, Rowe was honored with the Robert H. Porterfield ’29 Drama Award (along with his good friend and theatre minor Michael Caster- low ’14), which is named after the alumnus and founder of the Barter Theatre in Abingdon.
Rowe took part in theatre at Louisa County High School but entered Hampden-Sydney with the intention of majoring in government. That changed after an introduction to theatre and appearing in a one-act play during the first semester of his freshman year.
As a student, Rowe appeared in several plays, including Henry V, Picasso at the Lapin Agile, and Frost/Nixon, and he directed others. “I prefer the acting aspect of theatre. I can direct, but I am not the most organized person, so organizing a group of people can be hard at times. Also, I like taking a piece of written work and creating a living character from it.”
Professor of Theatre Shirley Kagan says, “His thesis project was the 17th-century Spanish- language play Life is a Dream, for which he wrote an artist statement and researched through his Spanish minor on performances of the play in the Spanish colonies. That was also his first lead role in a Theatre Department production.”
The faculty voted two years ago to divide the fine arts major into separate disciplines: theatre, visual arts, and music. This gave Rowe the opportunity to focus on theatre—and he took it. He loves being a pioneer: “I am excited to be the College’s first theatre major. It’s a nice thing to be the first at something, especially at a school this old.”
Since graduating, Rowe plans on working with some community theatre companies around Fredericksburg and Charlottesville before applying to graduate school for acting. He is unsure if he will end up working more in education or performance, but whatever he decides to pursue, he knows that he may very well be the first one to do it.