Under a huge tent on a soggy lawn Saturday, 426 students walked into their future at St. Mary’s College of Maryland’s commencement.

Valedictorian Amanda “Mandy” Heatwole from Damascus, Md, graduated at the top of the class with a 4.0 grade average. In her address to her peers, Heatwole said, “Thank you for lending me your grace, St. Mary’s, I will pass it on.” This fall, Heatwole will return to SMCM to extend her bachelor’s degree in English into a Master of Arts in Teaching. She plans to become a high school English teacher.

College president Jane Margaret “Maggie” O’Brien spoke warmly to the students after they cheered for their faculty and said, “I know the depth of your admiration for your teachers. Their high expectations for academic rigor and moral integrity create the transforming climate of learning that you have come to know. Remember this always and reflect on the ideals that can be drawn from it, all of your lives, in any circumstance, time or place, as you seek to lead responsible, meaningful and effective lives.”

The commencement speaker was Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and chairman of the Historic St. Mary’s City Commission. Moe also encouraged the graduates toward social responsibility and civic engagement, saying, “You can see the College’s commitment to public service in the fact that St. Mary’s ranks among the top 10 small colleges in the percentage of alumni serving with the Peace Corps.”

Speaking about his concern for climate change, Moe addressed the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Sustainability Initiative. He said, “Preserving and reusing a building avoids energy waste.”

Moe was introduced by James Muldoon, chairman of SMCM’s Board of Trustees. Muldoon said, “Dick Moe has been a steadfast guardian of our national treasurers.”

Among the treasures Moe has protected for the past 15 years are Abraham Lincoln’s summer home outside Washington, the bus on which Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in 1955, the historic campus of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, and Ernest Hemingway’s house in Cuba, where the author wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea. Moe was given an honorary doctor of letters degree from the College.

Also receiving honorary degrees were C. Bernard “Bernie” Fowler, former state senator and crusader for the health of the Chesapeake Bay; Agnes Kane Callum, a descendant of the enslaved families of Sotterley plantation and authority on Maryland’s African-American history; and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, former lieutenant governor of Maryland and this year’s senior fellow in the College’s Nitze honors program. In absentia, honorary degrees were presented to Judge James A. Kenney, III, former president of the St. Mary’s College of Maryland Foundation and the longest serving of all adjunct faculty at the college and Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank and recipient of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize.

A full list of graduates and their degrees will be announced later in the month.