This year's commencement speaker, Dr. Charles Dew ’54, is a leading expert on the history of the Civil War, slavery, and the South. He graduated from Woodberry magna cum laude and went on to Williams College. He earned a doctorate in history from Johns Hopkins University, eventually returning to Williams where he serves as the Ephraim Williams Professor of American History. Dr. Dew served on the Woodberry Forest School board of trustees from 1982 to 1992 and received the Distinguished Service Award in 2004. He and his wife, novelist Robb Forman Dew, have two sons, Stephen and Jack, a member of the Woodberry Forest Class of 1991.
In his remarks, Dr. Dew drew from his acclaimed 2016 memoir, The Making of a Racist: A Southerner Reflects on Family, History, and the Slave Trade. "I grew up on the white side of the color line in the Jim Crow South," he told the assembled students and families. "I spent the first seventeen years of my life looking evil in the face.... I was blind to it. How did that happen?" As he shared the story of his childhood and young adulthood, and his eventual recognition of the evils of racism, Dr. Dew asked the graduating class to help rectify generations of injustice. "Don't remain silent in the face of racism," he urged. "Say something."
On Amici Night, later the same evening, Hope Bryant, mother of Elliot Connell ’17, John Patrick ’14, and Collier ’12, and a member of the Sixth Form Parents and Grandparents Gift Committee, presented Woodberry Forest with the Class of 2017 Learning Commons Patio. This outdoor space will connect the newly renovated Walker Building, which will house the William H. White Library beginning in the fall of 2017, with the lawn. She announced that 100 percent of the class's parents participated in the fundraising effort, and, along with many generous grandparents, gathered over $350,000 to honor their children and grandchildren.
Chris Oldham ’17, senior prefect, also offered remarks. Chris looked back at his years at the Forest and thanked his classmates "for sticking together through the glory and the hardships, the mundane and the spectacular.... I couldn't have asked for a better group of people to have gone through this experience with." He continued, "We are members of a band of brothers, a family who spent years together, taking care of one another, and building lifelong friendships. I hope we'll go out through those front gates tomorrow ready to spread what we have learned here and lead by example wherever we may find ourselves."
The evening concluded with a performance from Woodberry's acapella group, The Dozen, which sang numbers including The Parting Glass, Blessings by Chance the Rapper, and Amici.
In his valedictory address at Commencement on May 27, 2017, June Pyo Suh ’17 compared his life in Seoul, South Korea, with his four years at Woodberry. "Just as skyscrapers are built upwards, fast-paced life in Seoul did help me grow vertically. Here, however, my growth has been like growth rings accumulating in a tree," he said. "I have discovered in a profound way that I was actually born here, and that each of us was born here -- whether you claim that you are born in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Texas, China, or Vietnam, we have all been born here."
Several major awards were given during the Amici Night awards ceremony and at Commencement. Jean Davenport, who is retiring from the faculty after over forty years of service in the academic development center, received a Distinguished Service Award. Bud Noland ’62 and Bob Roper ’64 were also recipients of Distinguished Service Awards. Tom Kenan ’55 was recognized with the J. Carter Walker Award for his generous service and charitable giving. The George R. O’Connor Prize for Excellence in Teaching was awarded to Dr. Fred Jordan. And Chris Oldham received the prestigious Archer Christian Memorial Medal.