A gentle breeze stirred the tassels of Christopher Newport University seniors as they streamed down the Great Lawn to black seats unfolded on the green expanse.
The Class of 2012 became the first to graduate among the towering columns and brick arches of new buildings surrounding the lawn, which stretches in front of McMurran Hall.
"One hundred years from this day, CNU graduations will take place in this same magnificent space," said President Paul Trible. "But your class will always be the first."
The class included a graduate with a 4.0 GPA - Marie Farley was presented the Gregory Klich Academic Achievement Award for earning the highest grade-point average in her class.
Farley earned her American Studies degree in 2.5 years, Trible said, and will attend graduate school at Catholic University to pursue a doctorate in politics.
Her accomplishment was noted by Gov. Bob McDonnell, the ceremony's keynote speaker. He earned a 4.0 while at Notre Dame, he quipped — with a 2.0 one semester and a 2.0 the second semester.
The joke preceded a speech in which he urged the soon-to-be graduates to lead lives dedicated to service and helping others.
He told the stories of Deriek Crouse, a Virginia Tech officer who was killed on a routine campus traffic stop last year, and Heath Calhoun, a wounded veteran who lost his legs but persevered and went on to win track competitions.
McDonnell said that the officer's family said Crouse lived to serve others and died that way, and Calhoun has said he gave his best to America, and that's what's expected of all citizens.
"(They) used their precious time, great skills and perseverance to do good on this earth, to serve fellow Americans," McDonnell said. "I believe that serving others is truly the highest calling one can have in one's life."
He told students to do their very best in the first job they have, because most opportunities will come because of their character and ability to get things done.
"You've been trained for excellence, so do not deliver mediocrity," he said. "Don't make excuses. Make things happen."
Only hints of politics entered McDonnell's speech, which some seniors had threatened to protest earlier this year by covering their ears if he pushed his views on them.
He told the graduating seniors to always stand up for their ideals, but to do it civilly, unlike the "talking heads" on news stations that talk over and around each other.
"Whether Republican or Democrat, you can believe passionately in what you believe, but do it in a way that honors the traditions of our nation," he said.
He left them with one last request: "You will have many opportunities around the country and world," McDonnell said. "No matter where you came from, today you are here in Virginia.
"So if you're going to create something big, do it in Virginia. If you open a business, open it in Virginia. If you become a great professor, lawyer, teacher, do it in Virginia. We want to keep your talents and your dreams in Virginia."
(Note: This story has been updated with a correction. Paul Trible mispoke when annoucing that Marie Farly was the first graduate during his tenure to leave CNU with a "perfect 4.0.")Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun