By Jessica Mackey
After graduation, most students go on to find careers in their given fields, follow their passions, dreams and ambitions, even start families. For some students, though, their careers and passions revolve around their alma maters and they return to colleges to work. This year’s Alumni Awards during the Fall Convocation recognized a few graduates that did just that, as well as some others.
Each year, the college recognizes graduates who have demonstrated the ideals of service and dedication to the community, while receiving distinctions within their careers. This year’s recipients included Teresa Annas ’76, Howard D. Bartner ’82, Courtney Beth Dickerson Atwater—Honorary Alumna and Anthony Stile—Honorary Alumnus.
Dr. Thomas R. Fanney, a former professor of the college, was also recognized during the Alumni Awards. The late Dr. Fanney was director of the mathematics department and was the first alumnus to return to Virginia Wesleyan to teach. His daughter, a current Virginia Wesleyan student, was on hand to receive the award. For her, the recognition of her father was extremely emotional, mostly because much of her childhood took place here at VWC.
“I have been coming to this college since before I was born; my mother was actually pregnant with me when she attended the college,” said junior Molly Fanney. “I grew up here, coming constantly with my father. Being in his office, riding my bike around campus, getting grilled cheese from the cafeteria, are all significant memories from my childhood.”
“My dad made such a huge impact at this school,” said Fanney. “He knew that if he expected kids to come to class and be excited about math, he had to be excited about what the students were passionate about. He played racquetball with students and faculty constantly, at one point taught a course on jazz and blues, organized and led the Tidewater Zen meditation group, was the director of the PORTfolio program, and worked hand-in-hand with the Center for the Study of Religious Freedom with Campus Kaleidoscope. Students even came over to my house for barbecues. He was such a special individual, a true Renaissance man, and it means the absolute world to me to know that his lasting impact is still being remembered and honored.”
The recognition of her father sparks a re-ignited flame in Fanney’s choice of Virginia Wesleyan for her undergraduate career.
“My father is the reason I am a Marlin,” said Fanney. “I work hard because I want to continue his legacy and make him proud. Having him recognized at the Alumni Awards just solidified all of this for me. When you are a double major with a minor and involved in so many organizations, you get tired—you question why you’re doing all this extra work. Having my father honored brought me back down to earth and reminded me why I do everything that I do. My two uncles, Chris and Brit Fanney, also came with me, and I know it was important to them as well that my father was recognized.”
Our very own Jason Seward, dean of freshmen, director of the Jane P. Batten Student Center, and deputy Title IX coordinator, received the Graduate of the Last Decade Award. It’s an honor Seward is still trying to process.
“To be called a Graduate of the Last Decade, it’s an incredible honor,” said Seward. “I’m so fortunate to be able to work here at VWC and give back to a place that I absolutely love and gave me so much as a student, helped me find who I was, helped me become a young professional, and then allows me to continue to grow professionally. That’s huge. There were so many people involved, just for in my life to where I am now, the list you wouldn’t be able to print in the newspaper for I have so many people to thank. I see being able to receive this award as an opportunity to honor all of those people who have helped me throughout life. This award…I’m accepting on behalf of them.”
Being recognized at an event like the Alumni Awards is prestigious and impressive. However, some would argue that the honor of being called a Virginia Wesleyan graduate is a greater recognition. It’s the reason why alumni of the college continually give back to the school, academically and financially.
“I think that the experiences we had as students, they shaped us—the people, the faculty and staff we interacted with. I think of current students…the faces you come in contact with from security at the front gate as soon as you come through, that give you a smile and say ‘good morning,’ to Ms. Polly’s joke in the dining hall, to Harold and Maria, who are part of our housekeeping staff here at the Batten Center, and the interactions they have,” said Seward. “The R.A.’s and the Residence Life staff to your administration, your faculty, that’s what makes this place so special. It’s the people who believe in this place. And the reason so many alums feel that connection is because they gained so much from VWC. We want others to be able to enjoy as much as we do. We still do.”