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R-MC Announces 2017 Commencement Speaker and Honorary Degree Recipients

Apr 01, 2017


Randolph-Macon College President Robert R. Lindgren is pleased to announce that the College's 2017 Commencement speaker will be Daniel H. Weiss, president and interim chief executive of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.  R-MC's Commencement ceremony will be held on Saturday, May 27, 2017 at 10:00 a.m. at the Frank E. Brown Fountain Plaza.

"Randolph-Macon College prides itself on an accomplished history of teaching and mentoring our students to be the next generation of leaders after they graduate," says President Lindgren. "Dr. Weiss is a distinguished example of truly exceptional leadership, both at the Met and as a former president of two liberal arts colleges. He is a strong advocate for liberal arts education, and I know that his career and Commencement message will inspire and deeply resonate with our students."

R-MC will also award Dr. Weiss with an Honorary Doctor of Humanities degree at the Commencement ceremony. The College will confer Honorary Degrees on three other distinguished leaders as well: George Y. Birdsong, CEO and General Counsel of the Birdsong Corporation, Dr. John W. Kinney, Vice President of Virginia Union University and Dean of the School of Theology, and John A. Luke Jr., former chairman and CEO of MeadWestvaco (now WestRock Company).

Daniel H. Weiss
daniel weiss new degree recipientDaniel Weiss is the president and interim chief executive of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, leading America’s largest and highly significant art museum. Founded in 1870, the Museum's collections include more than two million works of art spanning 5,000 years of world culture, from prehistory to the present. In 2016, the Met attracted more than 6.2 million visitors to the Museum and 40 million visits to its website.  

Dr. Weiss earlier served as the 16th president of Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania from 2005-13, where he worked to increase the size of the permanent faculty by 10 percent, revised the college's curriculum, introduced new interdisciplinary programs, and created innovative alliances with the City of Easton. During his tenure, Lafayette became the only college in the nation to receive a collaborative grant from the National Endowment of the Arts under its Urban Arts Initiative.  

Following his tenure at Lafayette, Dr. Weiss served as the 14th president of Haverford College, in Haverford, Pennsylvania, from 2013-15.  At Haverford, he led efforts to prepare a comprehensive strategic plan and secure the funds to support new interdisciplinary initiatives and major renovations to the library, new facilities for biology, psychology, and music, as well as a new center for visual culture, arts and media. A leading voice on liberal arts colleges in a changing higher education landscape, Dr. Weiss co-edited Remaking College: Innovation and the Liberal Arts in 2014.

Dr. Weiss was the principal speaker at President Lindgren's inauguration on October 27, 2006.

Dr. Weiss also served as the James B. Knapp Dean of the Zanvyl Krieger School of Arts & Sciences at the Johns Hopkins University, where he had previously served as professor and then chair of the History of Art Department. He earned his M.A. and Ph.D. in art history from Johns Hopkins and joined the JHU faculty in 1993. He earned his B.A. from The George Washington University and his M.B.A. from the Yale School of Management. He also served as a consultant with Booz, Allen & Hamilton from 1985-1989.  

Dr. Weiss has written or edited five books and numerous articles on the art of the Middle Ages and other topics. He is vice chair of the Board of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, a member of the Advisory Board of the Yale School of Management, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and a trustee at both the Library of America and the Shipley School in Bryn Mawr. 

Dr. Weiss and his wife, Sandra Jarva Weiss, have two sons.

George Y. Birdsong 
George Birdsong George Birdsong, the CEO and General Counsel of Birdsong Corporation, will receive the Honorary Doctor of Humanities degree. 

He earned his B.A. from Washington & Lee University and his law degree from the University of Virginia. After graduation, he practiced law in Suffolk, Virginia with the Godwin & Godwin law firm. In 1965, he went to work for Birdsong Peanuts, a family business, serving first as Secretary Treasurer and holding various officer positions before becoming CEO in 1999. 

Birdsong has been involved in U.S. peanut industry organizations and issues throughout his career, including the Virginia-Carolina Shellers Association and the Peanut Genomic Initiative. 

The Birdsong family's contributions to R-MC are numerous. Birdsong Hall is named for Thomas H. Birdsong III '49 and the Birdsong Corporation. The Birdsong family and Corporation have supported Birdsong Hall, the Birdsong Peaks of Excellence Center, the Birdsong Townhouses, the Birdsong Field House, Brock Commons, and the new science building under construction. 

Birdsong is related to a number of R-MC alumni including his son, David '90; brothers William '56 and Cabell '58; nephews Everett '84 and William '82; and cousins Martha B. Trapani '89, Thomas III '49, McLemore '66, Spencer '67, Franklin '56, Austin Darden '58, and G. Richardson Joyner III '85. His late father, William '22, and late uncles, Thomas Jr. '20, Hall '25, McLemore '34, and Harvard '31, were also R-MC alumni.  His two grandsons, Carrington '17 and Benton '19 Wentz, are current R-MC students, and his daughter, Anne Cabell Pearce, serves as Chair of the R-MC Parents Board and on the College Board of Trustees.

Birdsong is an active member of numerous organizations.  From 1989 - 2010, he served on the Virginia Wesleyan College Board of Trustees, and as its Chairman from 2007-10.  He now holds the distinction of Trustee Emeritus at the College.  

Since 1996, Birdsong has served as a member of the Board of Trustees, and for two years as Chairman, of the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges, an effective leader in the Commonwealth to advance the values and strengths of the state’s 15 private, undergraduate liberal arts colleges and raise millions of dollars annually from the private sector to enhance support for independent institutions like Randolph-Macon College.

Birdsong has also been active in his support for the Suffolk Redevelopment Housing Authority, Suffolk Chamber of Commerce and United Way, the Virginia Manufacturers Association, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. 

Birdsong has received many awards throughout the years, including the Humanitarian Award, Tidewater Chapter, National Conference of Christians and Jews; First Citizen of Suffolk; and the Paul D. Camp Community College Chancellor's Award for Leadership in Philanthropy. In 2015 he was inducted in the Peanut Hall of Fame, and he is very active in Project Peanut Butter, which works to combat childhood malnutrition. In 2016, the Virginia House of Delegates filed a joint resolution to honor Birdsong's many achievements. 

George and Sue Birdsong have three children and eight grandchildren.

John W. Kinney
John Kinney new degree recipientJohn Kinney, Senior Vice President and Dean of the School of Theology at Virginia Union University, will receive the Honorary Doctor of Divinity degree.

Dr. Kinney earned his B.A degree from Marshall University and his M.Div. degree from Virginia Union University. He was awarded an M.Phil. from Columbia University and a Ph.D. from Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary in New York.  

He has devoted himself to the pursuit of excellence in theological training and preparation and has distinguished himself as a systematic theologian, academician and administrator in a career that spans 40 years. 

Dr. Kinney has shared in instruction at Chicago Theological Seminary, Union Theological Seminary, the College of William & Mary and at Randolph-Macon College. Dr. Kinney has also served on the boards of the Interfaith Center for Public Policy, the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities, the Patrick Henry Y.M.C.A., and the Ashland Youth Association.  

As Dean of the School of Theology at Virginia Union University, Dr. Kinney's leadership helped create a Doctor of Ministry program and a Master of Arts in Christian Education program. The school has experienced unparalleled growth in the Master of Divinity program and expanded its Continuing Education program to include activities that serve more than 5,000 lay and professional church leaders annually. In 2013, Dr. Kinney was named Senior Vice President at Virginia Union University.

Dr. Kinney has served as the pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Beaverdam, Virginia for more than 40 years. His vision and spiritual guidance have resulted in a growing ministry within the church, and his leadership and service have had tremendous influence on the surrounding community and across Hanover County. Dr. Kinney has also been involved in global ministries through assisting in the establishment and enhancement of theological education centers in Ghana and Zambia, and he has initiated support for ministries in Kenya, Cameroon, Ghana, and Haiti. 

Dr. Kinney and his wife, Quentina, have three birth children, four foster children, and 19 grandchildren.   

John A. Luke Jr. 
John Luke new degree recipientJohn A. Luke Jr. will receive the Honorary Doctor of Humanities degree.  Luke, who earned his B.A. from Lawrence University and his M.B.A. from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, began his career with the Procter & Gamble Company, following service as an officer in the U.S. Air Force. 

He currently serves as non-executive chairman of WestRock Company, and formerly as chairman and chief executive officer of MeadWestvaco (MWV), a global packaging company in Richmond, Virginia.  His career with MeadWestvaco spanned more than 30 years and a variety of leadership roles; he was chairman of Westvaco prior to a merger with Mead in 2002. 

Luke helped lead MWV through a transformation from a traditional paper and forest products supplier to an innovative packaging partner for global consumer products companies. He aligned commercial focus on key growth markets, expanded business in fast-growing emerging markets, added new products to the portfolio of packaging and other solutions, and further strengthened the company’s longstanding presence in Brazil. 

Luke is a highly-respected voice in the global packaging industry. Having served as chairman of the American Forest & Paper Association, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, and the National Association of Manufacturers, Luke is an advocate for public policies that promote economic growth, and the need to strengthen the competitiveness of America’s manufacturing economy.

He is currently a director of The Bank of New York Mellon, The Timken Company, FM Global and Dominion Midstream. He is also the Rector of the Board of Trustees at Virginia Commonwealth University, and a member of the Board of Trustees on the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and The Community Foundation of Greater Richmond, and the American Enterprise Institute.

Luke is a significant philanthropist, supporting a number of organizations and higher education institutions, including Randolph-Macon College. 

Luke and his wife, Kathleen, have three children.

Randolph-Macon College's Commencement ceremony will be held at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, May 27, 2017 at the R-MC Frank E. Brown Fountain Plaza on Henry Street. (In the event of rain, Commencement will be held in the Randolph-Macon Brock Sports and Recreation Center, located at 400 N. Center Street, at 10:00 a.m.)