March 20, 2018

Hampden-Sydney College alumnus William L. Pannill '77 gifted $2 million gift to support the 40-year-old Rhetoric Program's next chapter: an innovative and collaborative space known as the Center for Rhetoric and Communication.

As Hampden-Sydney graduates gather today across the U.S. for the annual celebration of the College's Rhetoric Proficiency Exam, they will have exciting news to toast. Hampden-Sydney College is announcing today a $2 million gift from alumnus William L. Pannill '77 to support the 40-year-old Rhetoric Program's next chapter: an innovative and collaborative space known as the Center for Rhetoric and Communication.

Center for Rhetoric and Communications RenderingThe Tiger Inn's fall 2017 move to the Brown Student Center left vacant a well-traveled and centrally-located space beneath Pannill Commons. Now, plans are underway to transform that space into a state-of-the-art facility that will leverage the success, reputation, and resources of the Rhetoric Program in the service of a truly distinctive academic experience. The Center for Rhetoric and Communication will house the Rhetoric Program and its faculty members, as well as the writing center, the Ferguson Center for Public Speaking, student publications, the office of undergraduate research, and a new center focused on public history.  

"Nothing can be more important than teaching a young man to express himself well," said President Larry Stimpert. "This belief—and the Rhetoric Program itself—is truly the cornerstone of our academic experience. The creation of the Center for Rhetoric and Communication will place our central academic program in the physical center of campus so that we can build on the remarkable 40-year legacy of our Rhetoric Program. Employers consistently seek college graduates who are capable of communicating clearly and persuasively, collaborating with others to find solutions, and conveying specialized knowledge confidently. This unique, dynamic, and highly visible facility will enhance the distinctive value we offer young men."  

The facility's design concept marries the vibrant intellectual life inside the space with a freshly landscaped Chalgrove Point, as well as a new dining terrace above. Most walls will be glass, coupling acoustical privacy with visual exposure that invites participation in a variety of activities centered on the practice of communication, from tutoring in Rhetoric to editing The Tiger newspaper. The space will include classrooms, a Rhetoric studio, presentation practice rooms, and shared space in a center ellipse, as well as areas and opportunities for students to implement their communication skills.  

Nothing can be more important than teaching a young man to express himself well.

President Larry Stimpert

"Countless alumni have shared with me the impact of the Rhetoric Program on their careers," Stimpert continued. "Today's RPE Toast reinforces the distinctive power of what we offer. After all, what other college has graduates gathering across the world to toast a rhetoric program? At the same time, we are fortunate to have alumni whose commitment to this College and her future is unwavering. Without the Pannill family's support, this building would never have been constructed nearly thirty years ago. And now, thanks to Will's extraordinary generosity, this former cafe will be transformed into a dynamic, collaborative space that feeds our students' intellectual curiosity and enables them to discover their own unique voices. I know the entire Hampden-Sydney community joins me in thanking Will for his exceptional and enduring support."  

Center for Rhetoric and Communication construction drawing.The generosity of the Pannill family has been felt by Hampden-Sydney students for many years. Will's father, William G. Pannill, was a major supporter of the construction of the College's dining facility, which was completed in 1991 and named in his honor. More recently, Will's generosity was instrumental in constructing the Brown Student Center, which was completed in 2017. Will and his wife, Susan, live in Martinsville. They have four children: Gordon '08, Stuart '08, Taylor '14, and Catie, Roanoke College '17.  

"I am very pleased that Hampden-Sydney College has been a pioneer with its Rhetoric Program, and I am happy to be involved in making it even better," said Pannill. "Even though the Rhetoric Program began the year after my graduation, I truly believe that in my many, many returns to this Hill, I have gained quite a bit of rhetoric knowledge, most likely through osmosis. I have also seen the program's positive impact on my three sons."  

Construction on the Center for Rhetoric and Communication will begin this summer, with completion expected in the winter. EYP Inc. is providing architectural services for the project, with W.M. Jordan Company, Inc. serving as Construction Manager.  

"The momentum for this project started with a $500,000 current-use gift from the trustees," said Chairman M. Peebles Harrison '89. "We encouraged the faculty to develop an ambitious idea that would build on the Rhetoric Program's remarkable foundation. I am thrilled with the project they have conceived, and I am grateful to Will Pannill for his generosity and commitment to ensuring this worthy idea becomes a reality for our students."  

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Hampden-Sydney's celebrated Rhetoric Program in its current form. Planning is currently underway for events later this year to commemorate this milestone. 

More News Stories

Center for Rhetoric & Communication