VCU commencement speaker offers life lessons to newest graduates

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William J. “Bill” Howell, retiring speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, advised graduates Saturday to be open to forging strong connections with people from many walks of life.

During fall commencement ceremonies today, William J. “Bill” Howell, retiring speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, advised graduates to be open to forging strong connections with people from many walks of life.

“Graduates, as you set out on your lives, my hope for you is that you will embody politics as we would all like it to be: that your convictions will be strong, that your mind will be open, that your reply to victory and to defeat will be grace and that your friends will be diverse and many,” Howell said.

Howell was first elected a delegate in 1987, representing the 28th House District, which includes portions of Stafford County and the city of Fredericksburg. Howell was sworn in as the 54th speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates on Jan. 8, 2003. He was named 2015 Legislator of the Year by the Virginia Sheriff’s Association, was named 2013 Legislator of the Year by the Virginia Chamber of Commerce and was designated one of Governing Magazine’s 2013 Public Officials of the Year.

Howell earned his Juris Doctorate from the University of Virginia School of Law and his bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Richmond.

There are 2,900 graduates for August and December and many of them attended the main commencement ceremony at the E.J. Wade Arena at the Stuart C. Siegel Center and individual academic unit ceremonies on and near campus. VCU's four-year graduation rate has increased more than 20 percentage points over the last decade, and the university graduates nearly 60 percent more undergraduate students within six years than it did a decade ago.

VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D., called on graduates to consider what they’ve learned at VCU as they work to build consensus when seemingly no one can agree on anything.

“Rely on your strength of character, vision and persistent passion. Rely on each other,” Rao said. “This was the very heart of your educational experience at VCU, where collaboration across disciplines and demography is key. So you are better prepared than anyone ese to work together in spite of differences to get things done that benefit all of us.”

Howell received the Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, VCU’s highest form of recognition.

Linwood A. “Chip” Lacy and Constance C. Lacy.
Linwood A. “Chip” Lacy and Constance C. Lacy.

The Edward A. Wayne Award, established in 1971 to honor individuals who have made outstanding contributions or provided exemplary service to VCU, was presented to Linwood A. “Chip” Lacy and Constance C. Lacy. Linwood Lacy is a former CEO of Ingram Micro, the world’s largest electronic and computer wholesaler. He has served on numerous private and public company boards of directors and has actively served on nonprofit boards, including the Massey Advisory Board. Constance Lacy is a retired nurse who worked for many years at the Chesterfield Community Service Board. She has been an active volunteer on the Massey Palliative Care unit.

The couple’s relationship with VCU began in 2007 with an initial financial commitment to Massey that provided significant resources to support the mission of the center. As passionate advocates for cancer treatment and research, they have created multiple research and faculty support endowments. They have also contributed to the School of Medicine, where they have been steadfast supporters of the work being done by Kenneth Kendler, M.D., at the Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics.

About VCU and VCU Health

Virginia Commonwealth University is a major, urban public research university with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located in downtown Richmond, VCU enrolls more than 31,000 students in 217 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Thirty-eight of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 11 schools and three colleges. The VCU Health brand represents the VCU health sciences academic programs, the VCU Massey Cancer Center and the VCU Health System, which comprises VCU Medical Center (the only academic medical center and Level I trauma center in the region), Community Memorial Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, MCV Physicians and Virginia Premier Health Plan. For more, please visit and