graduates waving at commencement
Some of VCU’s newest graduates at Saturday’s ceremony at the Stuart C. Siegel Center. It was VCU’s first in-person universitywide commencement event since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Tom Kojcsich, University Marketing)

At fall commencement, Camille Schrier praises new graduates for their resilience

Schrier, Miss America 2020, said students rose to unexpected challenges that made them wiser, stronger, more innovative and more adaptable.

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At VCU’s fall commencement ceremony on Saturday, Miss America 2020 Camille Schrier told Virginia Commonwealth University’s newest graduates that their efforts in the face of COVID-19 have helped to equip them for the array of challenges that await.

“Each of you now possess a breadth and depth of wisdom and resilience which will serve to greatly enhance the degree you are about to receive,” said Schrier, a student in the VCU School of Pharmacy. “Your noteworthy academic accomplishments that we celebrate today are more fully illuminated by the character of your resilience. Dr. Steve Maraboli said, ‘Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving; we get stronger and more resilient.’ I know that as each of you leave here today, you are stronger, you are wiser, you are more innovative and exceptionally adaptable as a result of the challenges you have faced, and our world needs Rams like you now more than ever.”

The ceremony, which was held at the Stuart C. Siegel Center, was VCU’s first in-person universitywide commencement event since the pandemic began. In addition to honoring the classes of August and December 2021, the ceremony celebrated the graduating classes of May, August and December 2020 and May 2021. The university also is hosting an assortment of in-person graduation ceremonies at the department, school and college levels. VCU has approximately 3,000 total graduates in the classes of August and December 2021.

VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D., told the graduates that their “diverse life experiences have helped shape what VCU is, and you’ve made the university an even better place to live, learn, create and innovate.”  

“You showed the world your unmatched resilience and tenacity, as well as your advocacy, courage and care for each other,” Rao said. “You are modeling what it means to be caring, compassionate and loving people. You should know that you’ve also shifted VCU in ways that have catalyzed change and will help us meet students and patients where they are.”  

Schrier was crowned Miss America in December 2019 and continued to serve in the role this year when COVID-19 canceled the following year’s competition. She noted that her experience in the position was “like none other before me” due to the pandemic’s transformative impact on daily life. As a Miss America focused on STEM advocacy, she felt particularly drawn to the moment. 

“Public interest in science increased, understanding and use of personal protective equipment is now commonplace, and the development of safe vaccines by the pharmaceutical industry can all be seen as critically important and beneficial outcomes resulting from a global crisis of extraordinary magnitude and great humanitarian cost,” Schrier said.

“What a time to be the science Miss America with a passion for safe pharmaceuticals,” she continued. “This unanticipated crisis resulted in a natural evolution of my goals as Miss America, and my hope is that the interest in science, in safe pharmaceutical development and use, and in overcoming the ongoing overdose epidemic will continue when the pandemic is a mere sentence in a history textbook.”

At the ceremony, Anna Lou and Bob Schaberg received the Edward A. Wayne Medal, which is given to individuals who have made outstanding contributions and provided exemplary service to VCU. The couple’s generosity helped establish the Anna Lou Schaberg Professor of Practice Education, a distinguished professorship in the VCU School of Education. They are supporters of the proposed Child Development Center and an innovative mentoring program for teaching graduates working in urban schools.

The Schabergs have also funded the Tom and Claudia Phillips Financial Literacy Endowment in the School of Business, the Alden Aaroe Memorial Scholarship (named for Anna Lou’s father) in the College of Humanities and Sciences, and the David S. Cohn Patient Hospitality Fund at Massey Cancer Center.