Spring 2021 Commencement
Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures
Awards and Honors
Emma Gill is graduating summa cum laude with a double major in Spanish and International Studies. Emma is not only a top-notch student with an impressive GPA, but she is also committed to social justice and community engagement.
Emma tutored students of English as a Second Language, working with Spanish-speaking kindergartners at Prices Fork Elementary School as a student in SPAN 3564 (Community through Service) during the Spring 2020 semester. Separately, as a member of the Spanish Honor Society Sigma Delta Pi (SDP), Emma had organized a system that partnered Virginia Tech SDP students with “buddies” in the local public schools, children learning English who similarly needed extra support with homework on top of the ESL classes they received. Unfortunately, the pandemic cut these programs short in the spring of 2020.
After the spring semester concluded, Emma volunteered to be part of a pilot project, “Sustainable ESL,” co-sponsored by the Coalition for Justice and the Virginia Tech Center for Humanities, which provided weekly virtual ESL classes to migrant farm workers in a camp on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Despite technology and communication challenges, Emma and her partner designed and delivered weekly lesson plans, as well as took part in the weekly group planning and debriefing sessions for project participants throughout the summer.
Since the spring of 2020, Emma has also used translation skills honed in her SPAN 3524 (Introduction to Spanish Translation) class to engage with the community, translating legal updates into Spanish for a monthly newsletter circulated by the Virginia Prison Justice Network, a subcommittee of the Coalition for Justice.
Emma’s record shows that academic excellence and social justice are important to her, and she plans to continue her academic and community work through her future career in the field of law. We are delighted to hear that Emma has received a full scholarship for law school at Willamette University, where she plans to study to become an immigration attorney.
Emma represents the ideal student who brings classroom knowledge — of language, culture, and an appreciation of diversity — to her work in the world, practicing the university’s motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), to achieve a more just community.
Rose Nelson is graduating summa cum laude with a degree in Biochemistry.
Rose Nelson leaves our program more bilingual than most French majors, having completed just a minor in French. Her incredible work ethic, drive, and communicative nature account for that feat, along with a taste for experiential learning.
While studying in Paris, “Rose never missed an opportunity to put her French to use with native speakers,” as Professor Medoune Guèye put it.
To Professor Corinne Noirot, Rose’s academic brilliance is nearly unparalleled, from impeccable linguistic fluidity to compelling analytical and critical writing, from creative problem-solving to peer-mentoring successes.
Her Dean’s List attainment also attests to the level of excellence Rose has achieved. In addition to working as a resident advisor for three years, she taught young children through “Teach for Madame,” the Virginia Tech student organization partnering with local schools.
Rose’s enthusiasm for learning the French language and culture simply shines through. We wish her the best in her doctoral studies in chemistry at Virginia Tech.
From Rose herself:
“I learned far more in my years at Virginia Tech than I could have ever imagined, or that exam grades could ever express. I learned that putting your full heart and honesty into everything that you commit to doing and always working to improve your work ethics will take you far beyond the person you would become by doing the bare minimum. I learned how to reflect on every good and bad situation that I experienced or walked through with friends and take what I learned from it to pour into the next generation through mentorship.
“My dream is to continue as a lifelong learner and to use the gifts and resources I have been given to teach, mentor, and empower students. Specifically, I want to teach college-level chemistry, hopefully in a community college environment where students often need the greatest support and empowerment.”
Torey Driggs, the Outstanding Master’s Student in Hispanic Studies, completed her bachelor’s degree in Spanish and Music at Virginia Tech in 2019 before undertaking her master’s degree in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures.
During her time both as an undergraduate and graduate student, Torey proved to be exceptional for several reasons. Unlike most students who major in Spanish, Torey came to Virginia Tech with no knowledge of Spanish. She started taking language courses in her sophomore year, and then decided to study abroad after junior year during the summer of 2018 when she participated in VT in Spain. She also participated in the VT Costa Rica program in 2018 and finished her degree after graduation in 2019 by traveling on her own to Spain and enrolling in two 4000 level courses at the Universidad de Oviedo during a monthlong intensive summer program.
As an undergraduate, she was an example of determination, as she did everything she could to complete all the requirements to major in Spanish when she started from zero. Not only did she manage to complete these requirements, she did so in an outstanding way.
Torey’s performance in her master’s coursework was exemplary. Her professors were impressed by her preparation, performance, and maturity. As one of her professors noted in the nomination, Torey’s academic writing and critical skills are on par or better than doctoral students at other institutions.
In addition to studying abroad several times, Torey was also a member of Olé at VT, a flamenco and traditional Spanish dance group at the university. Her passion for flamenco inspired her to work on Rosalía, a globally renowned flamenco-pop singer, for her master’s thesis. Torey’s thesis is a comprehensive cultural and musical analysis of the Rosalía phenomenon, and ties together such fields as critical theory, musicology, and film analysis.
A member of Phi Betta Kappa, Torey will spend the next academic year in Asturias, Spain, as the recipient of a prestigious Fulbright Award.
Frank Finch completed his master’s degree in French and Francophone Studies in December 2020.
Frank’s master’s thesis, a queer reading of Demy’s filmic trilogy, is a beautiful work that is as rigorous in its documentation, methodology, and writing — sharp, rhythmic, involved — as it is personal and provocative in its argumentation and analysis. Frank is a thinker of exceptional intellectual acumen who produces impeccable analytical and critical work.
Frank’s thesis compellingly argues that Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, Les Demoiselles de Rochefort, and Peau d’âne are tightly connected filmic universes that coalesce on their representations of separation, lack, unfulfilled desire, and (sexual) fantasy. As such, they mirror the queer struggle in a heterosexist world. At the same time, their emphasis on Camp sensibility and the corollary aestheticization of daily life partially triumph over that struggle.
Frank contributes groundbreaking interpretations to the intersecting fields of cinema studies, French studies, and Queer studies, which is no small feat. The enthusiasm, creative depth, and intellectual might with which he delved into the most abstract material in literary criticism, continental, and social theory never failed to impress his professors.
Molly Sayles has been awarded the 2021 Linda Plaut Prize, named after a beloved faculty colleague. Molly graduates summa cum laude with one degree in Classical Studies and another in Civil Engineering.
Molly has been inducted into Phi Beta Kappa and is a member and officer of the classical studies national honor society, Eta Sigma Phi. As president of the Classics Club this past year, Molly organized weekly events via Zoom. In her free time she also somehow found time to host several campus radio shows.
Molly’s love of learning and enthusiastic approach to her studies made her a pleasure to have in class. The faculty of the interdisciplinary program in classical studies is happy to recognize Molly’s accomplishments with the Linda Plaut Prize.
Jessica Colvin has been awarded the 2021 Tom and Sharon Watkins Prize, named after two beloved faculty colleagues. Jessica graduates cum laude with one degree in Classical Studies and another in Biology.
Jessica quickly established herself as a superb student not only in Ancient Art and Architecture, but also in both Latin and Ancient Greek. Jessica became an imaginative and precise reader of both of these languages, and became the go-to person for her classmates when they were struggling to make sense of difficult sentences. She regularly participated in weekly gatherings of the Classics Club.
The faculty of the interdisciplinary program in Classical Studies is happy to recognize Jessica’s accomplishments with the Sharon and Tom Watkins Award.
Angelina Liberti, a Psychology major with a Classical Studies minor, has been awarded the 2021 Classical Association of the Middle West and South Prize for excellence in Classical Studies.
In addition to her studies, Gina has worked as an intern in South Africa helping to rehabilitate monkeys and served as teaching assistant for Greek and Roman Myth.
Gina was a wonderful student to have in class, always engaged and willing to offer insightful contributions. She also regularly participated in weekly gatherings of the Classics Club. The faculty of the interdisciplinary program in Classical Studies is happy to recognize Gina’s accomplishments with this award.
Kristina Gulczewski, an honors laureate of Virginia Tech, earned her bachelor’s in French and Francophone Studies summa cum laude.
Professors who had the privilege of having Kristina in their French classes at Virginia Tech agree that she is one of the most exceptional students they have ever had because of her extraordinary proficiency of spoken French, her near-native mastery of French pronunciation and grammar, her nuanced and profoundly analytical thinking, and her exquisitely crafted and well written work, combining her passion for creative writing and rigorous research. Her mature and insightful contributions in class, her mastery of French pronunciation, and the maturity of her critical abilities are easily at the level of a graduate student.
Among her many honors as a French student, Kristina received the Virginia Tech French Program’s Richard Kline Scholarship and Megan Christenson Scholarship for study abroad in France, both for the Spring 2019 semester. While she completed the demanding and research-intensive courses for the Institute for Field Education’s in Paris in 2019, she also assisted in the Marché de la Poésie.
Kristina served the French program throughout her time at Virginia Tech. As an instructor of Teach for Madame, she taught French once every week to local elementary school students. A member of Cercle Francophone since Fall 2017, she served as club president since the Fall 2018 semester, working with colleagues to organize and conduct meetings and activities.
Her academic achievements extended beyond the French program. She received first place in 2018 Virginia Tech English Department’s Undergraduate Creative Writing Award for Fiction for her short story “Rootless.” She was nominated again for the same award for 2021. She was also inducted into Virginia Tech’s Honors College while a freshman, and she earned the distinction of an honors laureate.
Ethan Thomas Obenrader
Ethan Thomas Obenrader is graduating cum laude with one degree in Civil Engineering and another in German.
During his undergraduate career at Virginia Tech, Ethan distinguished himself not only through his outstanding academic performance and enthusiastic commitment to the German language and culture, but also through his extraordinary engagement, teamwork, and leadership in the German Program’s extracurricular activities and beyond. His hard work in his classes earned him memberships in Delta Phi Alpha, the German Honor Society, and in Chi Epsilon, the Civil Engineering Honor Society. Moreover, Ethan’s academic success resulted in his recognition on the Dean’s List in multiple semesters.
Ethan’s language abilities are impressive, and his enthusiasm for the German language and culture drew others into his excitement both in classes as well as at events and activities organized by the German Culture Club, for which Ethan served as president during this past academic year. Ethan contributed his time and creativity to developing numerous cultural events with the club, including virtual trivia nights, soccer-viewing parties, and carnival celebrations. His successful stewardship of the German Culture Club was all the more impressive given that his presidency overlapped entirely with the COVID-19 pandemic, which required that all club events took place virtually. In spite of these adverse circumstances, Ethan’s leadership and dedication made it possible for the club to continue to thrive.
Ethan’s enthusiasm for German and his commitment to the German Program also made him a valuable asset in the program’s communication with new students. Ethan attended information events for students interested in studying German, and they appreciated his insights and welcoming attitude.
In addition to his efforts on behalf of the German Culture Club, Ethan served as the treasurer of the Mixed Emotions a Cappella and as a committee member and team captain for Virginia Tech’s Relay for Life. All these activities offer evidence of Ethan’s commitment to contributing to a sense of community among students on campus and beyond.
We congratulate Ethan on his achievements and wish him all the best for his life after Virginia Tech!
David Humphrey is graduating with a master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction from the School of Education. He earned his bachelor of science in Physics from Virginia Tech in 2019. He pursued teaching physics through the Learning Assistant program as an undergraduate, and through the Science Education Licensure Program as a graduate student.
David participated in the 2018 Japan Summer Study Abroad program, and since then, he successfully completed all of the Japanese coursework at Virginia Tech. He excelled academically, showed an exemplary work ethic, and was a natural leader in co-curricular and service activities. He assumed leadership roles in diverse activities, and he has helped strengthen partnerships with the Japanese community at Virginia Tech and abroad through events such as Japanese conversation meetings and international culture exchange events with Okayama University. He consistently provides thoughtful reflections and asks pointed, relevant questions to challenge his peers.
David is now pursuing teaching opportunities in Japan after graduation and he is thankful to the Japanese program at Virginia Tech for helping him to get this far.
We congratulate David on his achievements and wish him all the best for his career in Japan!
Ian Davis is graduating summa cum laude from Virginia Tech with dual degrees in Russian and Chemical Engineering — but it wasn’t until his junior year that he took his first Russian class after some encouragement from an advisor. Since then, studying Russian language, history, and culture has become a major part of his life.
In lieu of studying abroad in Latvia with a Virginia Tech cohort amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Ian studied Russian over the summer at the intensive Center for Language Studies at Beloit College.
His time at Virginia Tech gave him a deep sense of appreciation for multidisciplinary education, and although he is still considering several options after graduation, he hopes to apply his background in both STEM and Russian to his career.
Cameron Stephen Bruce
Cameron Stephen Bruce is graduating summa cum laude with one degree in Spanish and another in meterorology.
It is with great pleasure that the Spanish Program recognizes Cameron as recipient of this year’s Outstanding Spanish Major Award. Cameron has been an exemplary student and an active member of multiple extracurricular groups within the major. His professors often commended his insightful contributions to class discussions, his willingness to participate in diverse activities, and the fact that he was always the first to turn in assignments. Cameron embraced the opportunity to learn about Hispanic cultures in all of his classes and brought that enthusiasm and creativity to his role as an officer in the Spanish Club and the Spanish National Honor Society, Sigma Delta Pi.
Cameron studied abroad on two different occasions, first on a summer program to Spain, and then on a winter program to Costa Rica. In Spain, Cameron was a great addition to the group. He always demonstrated a positive attitude and he actively enjoyed every experience during the six weeks he spent in Madrid. His ability to adjust to a new culture was amazing and his commitment to an outstanding academic performance reflected that he was a hardworking, mature, and smart student.
During the winter program in Costa Rica, while resting up from language lessons near the beach, Cameron tried his hand at surfing, ziplining, and horseback riding while remaining a friend to all, a leader among his peers for his kindness and consideration of others. One of the teachers at the Wayra Institute, where students took classes in Tamarindo, noted that Cameron had an unusually high proficiency in Spanish, a reflection of his continued hard work and ability to connect with others.
We are delighted to know that Cameron will be pursuing graduate study in climate change and society at NC State, where he will practice communicating science clearly to the public, as well as influencing a climate change policy that is mindful of the unequal effects of climate change across the globe.
Share Your Celebration
Join the #HokieGrad conversation! Tag your photos and videos with #HokieGrad on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.