Winter Convocation brings 110 new members into Order of the Gown

Reverend David Crabtree, honorary degree recipient. Photo by Matt Hembree (C’20).

By Mary Lillian Tessmann
Contributing Writer

A snow-covered campus greeted the audience for the 2018 Winter Convocation ceremony, which included the formal naming of the new provost, Nancy Berner, the presentation of two honorary degrees, and the induction of 110 new members into the Order of the Gown.

During the ceremony, Berner was named the eighth provost of the University, a role she received in July of 2017. In her position, she oversees administrative and academic operations, strategic planning and implementation, day-to-day operations, and the operating budget. The provost’s office also supervises the College of Arts of Sciences and the School of Theology, the Sewanee Review, and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference.  Berner taught biology at Sewanee for 20 years before joining the administration as Associate Provost six years ago in 2012.

After Berner’s installation, two honorary degrees in the fine arts and civil law were presented to Toni-Leslie James and the Reverend David Crabtree respectively. James, presented with an Honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts, is a costume designer and an associate professor in the theater department of Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. She has worked on Broadway and for a variety of operas, dance performances, and regional theaters worldwide.

Toni-Leslie James, honorary degree recipient. Photo by Matt Hembree (C’20).

James has received two Tony Awards, five Drama Desk nominations, and her work has been presented in nine museums and exhibitions. After receiving the degree, she raised her arms in celebration.

Crabtree, who received the Honorary Doctorate in Civil Law, is a news anchor and reporter in Raleigh, North Carolina and an ordained deacon in the Episcopal Church. For his service in journalism, he has received 15 Emmys and several awards honoring excellence in journalism and for his public service.

After he retires this year, he plans to commit his time to the Episcopal Church. Crabtree also presented the Convocation address. His background in broadcast journalism was evident as he engaged the audience with his words and pulled at the heartstrings of his listeners with stories about the 2010 Haiti earthquake, his work with death row inmates, and his commitment to compassion and love for all.   

Following his speech, president of the Order of the Gown Hadley Montgomery (C’18) announced the new members of the Order. Gowns even dating back to 1927 dotted the Chapel as professors, students, and family gowned the new members.

Students being gowned. Photo by Matt Hembree (C’20).

Three students recently returned from Sewanee’s European Studies program bought their gowns while in Oxford and brought them back home for the ceremony. “Getting to be a part of this tradition is just such an honor,” said Julia Nussbaum (C’19). She added, “Getting to buy my gown in Oxford, where all of this started, was a lot of fun.” Kate Graham (C‘20) agreed, saying, “There’s nothing quite like it. Getting my gown while abroad and receiving it right under the Shakespeare Window is something I’ll always remember.”

As the last of the Sewanee snow melted away, Winter Convocation closed with a blessing by the Chancellor. The Sewanee community’s connection could be seen as professors and students processed out onto the flagstone to celebrate the occasion. Starting Monday, the new gowns will be on display and will join the legacy of the Order.