Commencement Speaker

Senator Ben Sasse 

Senator Ben Sasse  headshot

Ben Sasse is a fifth-generation Nebraskan with the honor of representing the Cornhusker state in the U.S. Senate. 

Like many Nebraskans, Ben learned about hard work in corn and bean fields at an early age. The son of a coach and a graduate of Fremont High, he was recruited to wrestle at Harvard and subsequently earned a PhD in American history at Yale. An occasional professor, Ben spent most of his work life helping companies and institutions through technological and leadership disruptions. Before coming to the Senate, he was a college president for five years at Midland University, taking over at age 37 and transforming the college into one of the nation’s fastest-growing schools in just three years.

A member of the intelligence, judiciary, finance, and budget committees, Ben is focused on the future of work, the future of war, and the First Amendment. He worries that the Senate lacks urgency about cyber and about the nation’s generational debt crisis.  

 Ben has written two books – one about economies with limited work for teenagers, and the other about the paradox of loneliness and collapsing local community. Both books quickly became national best-sellers.

Baccalaureate Speaker

Mr. Ken Woodley '79

Mr. Ken Woodley headshotKen Woodley, a 1979 graduate of the College, was an award-winning journalist at The Farmville Herald for 36 years, the final 24 years as editor.

Rather than integrate classrooms, Prince Edward County shut down its entire public school system from 1959 to 1964—a fact the 22-year-old Woodley did not know when accepting employment at the then family-owned Farmville Herald after graduation. Nor was he aware that the newspaper’s editorial pages had led the public cry to close schools in “massive resistance” to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown decision of 1954. More than 2,000 African American children in the county were left without a formal education in their lives because of the school closures.

The Appomattox County resident spent his entire journalistic career at The Farmville Herald, writing and working for racial reconciliation. In 2004, the Virginia General Assembly created the Brown v. Board of Education Scholarship Program and Fund, a reparation proposed by Woodley, who also led the political fight for its passage. The scholarship program has served an estimated 250 of those who had been locked out of school as children.

In 2006, the Society of Professional Journalists, Virginia Pro Chapter, presented Woodley with the George Mason Award for “demonstrating that a community newspaper and a principled editor are relevant and vital parts of civic leadership and for showing that the importance of journalism is not defined by the size of the community or the circulation of the newspaper in which it is practiced.”

Woodley’s The Road to Healing: A Civil Rights Reparations Story in Prince Edward County, Virginia, was published by NewSouth Books in 2019.

A licensed lay preacher in the Episcopal church since 2005, Woodley has written spiritual mediations in Forward Day By Day for the national Episcopal Church’s publishing arm, Forward Movement.

He and his wife, Kim, have two children and one grandchild.