UL in History: Academic Awards Banquet

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Dr. Clifton W. Potter Jr. ~ UL History Professor

Last week we honored the graduates of the classes of 1954, 1959, 1964, and 1969; this week we shall recognize the accomplishments of our current students. On Friday, Phi Eta Sigma and Phi Kappa Phi will induct their new members, and the college family will gather to honor academic achievement and faculty service. For over four and a half decades, the Academic Awards Banquet has marked the beginning of the end of the college year.  It one of the traditions of which I am most pleased.

In the fall of 1973, I returned from a year-long sabbatical leave at Oxford University.  There, the intellectual accomplishments of students are constantly celebrated, and I felt that our students deserved the same public recognition. Lynchburg College acquired a new dean, Dr. James A. Huston, in July 1972, and he seemed opened to new ideas.  I prepared a proposal for an annual event honoring student academic performance, and he agreed to support it with his budget. A faculty committee planned the first banquet, and it was a complete success.

The Academic Awards Banquet has changed over the years. The original sponsor was the Senior Honor Society, which was transformed into the Gold Key Honor Society, and it in turn was replaced by Phi Kappa Phi. The invitations were engraved and hand addressed to every student eligible to attend. Now an e-mail message saves time and funds. In 1974 it was a black-tie event; now the attire is much more informal. The first featured speakers were outstanding alumni; now the Sommerville Scholar addresses the assembled faculty, scholars, and family members. That first year the awards were few; now they are legion.

Students and faculty are not the only persons recognized on this special evening. That first year Dr. Richard H. Thornton, Class of 1907, was honored as the first recipient of an award bearing his name.  A noted publisher, Dr. Thornton introduced the American reading public to the poetry of Robert Frost. It was a real honor to meet one of our most distinguished graduates. Twenty years after graduation, members of the Alumni Association who have excelled in their chosen fields are eligible for this honor, but unfortunately for the last past years the award has not been made, although the alumni who are worthy of the Thornton Award are legion.

In recent years, two other special awards have been added to the evening’s festivities.  The Shirley E. Rosser Award recognizes outstanding teaching and service by a member of the faculty. While the recipient is chosen by faculty members, the nominations are made by students. The second faculty honor is the Thomas C. Allen Excellence in Advising Award. Students make the nominations and a committee composed of faculty, staff, and a student representative make the final choice.

The academic year is anchored by Freshman Convocation and Senior Graduation. The Academic Awards Banquet is that moment when we pause to take stock of what has been accomplished and note what still remains to be done.