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Founders Day Celebrates VWU's Rich History and Bright Future

Speaker Gary Bonnewell ’79 H'16 shares 'SMART' strategies and Alumni Awards recipients are recognized


University News | September 9, 2021

Photo Gallery: Founders Day Convocation 2021

“Founders Day is an occasion to honor our past, celebrate institutional excellence, and look ahead to our ever-bright future,” said Virginia Wesleyan University President Scott D. Miller in his opening remarks for the Founders Day Convocation on September 9.

The special celebration was held in person in the Goode Fine and Performing Arts Center, a welcome change from last year's virtual event held during the height of the pandemic.

“Celebrating Founders Day together gives us that chance to honor what is great about Virginia Wesleyan, from its inception nearly 60 years ago through today," he said. "Remembering the good times and all the special moments shared as a Marlin community has carried Virginia Wesleyan through the dark times to get to today and the bright semester ahead.”

Following a performance of "The Star Spangled Banner" by Wesleyan Vox Vera (directed by Serena Smith '21) and an opening prayer by VWU Chaplain Kotosha Griffin, Dr. Miller introduced keynote speaker Gary Bonnewell ’79, H'16, who joined the event virtually.

Bonnewell earned a Bachelor of Arts in communication from Virginia Wesleyan in 1979 followed by a Master of Science in personal financial planning. He is a certified financial planner professional and serves as senior vice president and senior portfolio manager at Morgan Stanley. He is the 2016 recipient of an honorary doctoral degree from VWU, and he is also the only alumnus thus far to have served as chair of the University's Board of Trustees.

Learn to be ‘SMART’

Bonnewell’s inspiring message to students was made more memorable through the use of the acronym, ‘SMART.’

He first urged students to Serve: “The junior Chamber of Commerce, also known as the Jaycees, states in the final line of their creed, ‘And service to humanity is the best work of life.’ It has been a motto for me ever since, and I cannot stress enough the need to selflessly give to others.”

He acknowledged the importance of Mentors, not just in college but throughout students’ lives: “These are the wise souls who care about us enough to give us the hard advice. Professors, coaches, parents, upperclassmen—seek them out and ask their guidance.”

Bonnewell then encouraged students to always Ask: “You need to learn to ask before it is too late. You are taught to be independent, but what we must realize is we are all interdependent. Asking for help isn’t a weakness. It is really a sign of strength.”

The ‘R’ is for Roar, he said: “Harvard MBA Professor Amy Cuddy has a fabulous TED talk on ‘Roaring.’ We need to able to have confidence without conceit, to have pride without being prideful."

Finally, the ‘T,’ he noted, stands for Time management. He shared an important lesson he learned as a student at Virginia Wesleyan. During a public speaking class, a professor instructed students to fill a blank page with times, from early morning until late evening. Then, they were to fill in all that had to be done—from sleeping and eating to attending class, studying and goofing off: “See all the gaps? That is free time. If something is important, you make an appointment for it. If you can’t manage your time, you will never manage much.”

He closed by encouraging students to attend to those five actions: "Serve, Mentor, Ask, Roar and manage Time!”

Presentation of 2021 Alumni Awards

Recognizing alumni is an important tradition at Virginia Wesleyan. The 2021 Alumni Awards were presented as part of Founders Day Convocation by President Miller and VWU Alumni Council Chair Alisa Crider ’10.

Celebrated for their outstanding professional and personal accomplishments, this year's honorees are William Shelhorse ’70 (Distinguished Alumnus Award), Vanessa Thaxton-Ward ’83, Ph.D. (Alumni Service Award), and Tiffany Boyle ’14 (Graduate of the Last Decade Award). Following the presentation of Shelhorse’s award, Dr. Miller announced the naming of the "Shelhorse Ponds and Lawn at DeFord Manor."

“The Shelhorse Ponds and Lawn will be the front porch of our campus and a place where students and alumni can gather for recreation and reflection,” Dr. Miller said. “This is but one small way that we recognize the prominence of this exemplary graduate, Trustee, friend, and supporter.”

Read more about the 2021 Alumni Awards recipients:

Distinguished Alumnus Award - William Shelhorse ’70
William “Bill” S. Shelhorse is the co-founder and president of Chesapeake Bay Contractors (CBC) and a member of the inaugural graduating class of Virginia Wesleyan (Class of 1970). A native of Tappahannock, Virginia, in 1978 Shelhorse founded Chesapeake Bay Contractors, a company specializing in underground utility and site development service. His father in law joined him in the company in 1979 before retiring in 1984. Bill faithfully served as a member of the VWU Board of Trustees for many years and now enjoys the role of Trustee Emeritus. His generosity to his alma mater has made many campus projects possible, including Virginia Wesleyan’s 400-meter track and field complex Betty S. Rogers Track & Field Center, named in memory of Bill’s sister.

Alumni Service Award - Vanessa Thaxton-Ward ’83, Ph.D.
Vanessa Thaxton-Ward is the curator of collections and director of Hampton University’s museum and archives. Prior to this position, Vanessa served as the curator of the Penn Center in South Carolina and a museum assistant at the War Memorial Museum in Newport News, Virginia. A native of Hampton, Vanessa graduated from Virginia Wesleyan in 1983 with a degree in English. She went on to receive her Master of Arts in Museum and Archival Studies from Hampton University and a doctorate in American Studies/Material Culture from The College of William and Mary. She is a published author, engaging lecturer and educator, and proficient fundraiser who is very involved in promoting and modernizing the narrative of the national arts scene.

Graduate of the Last Decade (GOLD) Award - Tiffany Boyle ’14
With a background in the public and private sector as both an employee and entrepreneur, Tiffany Boyle currently serves as Commissioner of the Revenue for the city of Newport News, Virginia. As Commissioner, Tiffany oversees a budget exceeding $2.5 million along with over 40 professionals, providing numerous functions such as assessment of taxes, correction of assessments, defending the assessment, as well as discovery. Tiffany graduated from Thomas Nelson Community College with an associate’s degree and then received her bachelor's degree in business administration from VWU in 2014. She also holds a master’s degree in management from the University of Maryland Global Campus. She participates in several boards and professional organizations, often in leadership roles, including Access Virginia, Virginia Peninsula Foodbank, Virginia Commissioner of the Revenue Political Action Committee (Treasurer), Hampton Roads Commissioner of the Revenue Association (Chair), and the VWU President’s Leadership Council.

Dedication of Susan T. Beverly Hall

A evening dedication event is planned as part of Founders Day to celebrate the recently refreshed Susan T. Beverly Hall. Newly named in honor of the 1972 Virginia Wesleyan graduate and long-time Trustee, the University's original Fine Arts Building received upgrades throughout 2020-2021, including new curtains and seating in the Edward D. Hofheimer Theatre, a new Digital Media Lab, and improvements to the visual art studios. The dedication event will honor those whose generous support made the updates possible and will feature a ribbon cutting ceremony, special musical performances, and tours of the facility.


Founders Day was launched in 2016 as an annual event to honor the history and heritage of Virginia Wesleyan. View the Founders Day Convocation in its entirety on the VWU Digital Broadcasting Network