SU grads prepared for future opportunities

Mary Dyke, 53, of Winchester stands outside Halpin-Harrison Hall at Shenandoah University's Harry F. Byrd, Jr. School of Business on Monday. Dyke, a business major, will graduate Saturday from the university and will start her master's degree program in a few weeks. Rich Cooley/Daily

WINCHESTER – More than 1,000 Shenandoah University students will don caps and gowns on Saturday for the university’s 2016 commencement.

Two speakers will address graduates during the ceremony and accept honorary Doctor of Humanities degrees. Tweisigye Jackson Kaguri founded the Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project in 2001 and was named a CNN Hero in 2012. James Davis is Shenandoah University President Emeritus after serving the university from 1982 to 2008, helping it to grow and transform.

Out of the 1,257 students celebrating this weekend, the university reports that 265 graduated in August, 275 graduated in December and 717 are May candidates for graduation.

Among those candidates will be 53-year-old Winchester resident Mary Dyke, who is looking forward to obtaining her Bachelor of Business Administration degree.

She said she had worked in retail for 32 years until her job was eliminated, then deciding to pursue a degree in business beyond retail. She took some general education courses at Lord Fairfax Community College before transferring into SU with support from her husband.

“I had to start over,” she said. “I had to learn how to learn again.”

Dyke held an internship with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from February into early May, working on contract litigation and administrative functions.

Soon after graduating, she said she’ll be pursuing her Masters in Business Administration at the university, starting classes for that program on May 20.

“In order to re-enter the work force, I knew I had to have more than high school,” she said. “Hopefully, as of next year, I’ll be entering the work force with a MBA.”

Dyke said she’ll continue to network as a graduate student and beyond, expanding her possibilities. She said her education could lead her down any number of paths. While at the university, she said she involved herself in activities and got to know her younger fellow students.

“I’ve learned a lot from them – they’re so far advanced than what I was at their age,” she said. “I’m proud of all the younger students because I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish what they’re doing.”

Richmond native and Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting candidate Muslima Musawwir said she entered into the university’s program thinking she might later pursue teaching. Now about to graduate, she said she’ll be keeping her options open for many avenues in acting. She said the program experienced a lot of changes as her class came through the university, spearheading and piloting the program’s shifts.

Beyond exploring the field of acting, she said her experience working for the Office of Student Engagement and as student involvement coordinator has given her plenty of administration experience to put on her resume.

“I’m the only undergraduate student that I know of that manages a staff of 30 employees,” she said.

Musawwir said she’s set her sights on D.C., having applied to an apprenticeship at a theater in the city. She said she could see herself moving forward in performance, working in film or administration, given her experience leading her peers at SU.

“You’re able to explore different things … I think with it being a small school, there are so many opportunities to take on a leadership position.”

Originally from Fort Collins, Colorado, Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theatre candidate Frankie Ramirez said he knew he wanted to go to an East Coast school to be close to the hub of New York City and found a great niche at the SU Conservatory. He said the unique track of musical theater accompanying attracted him to the university at first, although he’s since found his calling in casting.

His casting director internship at Telsey + Company from August through December, gave him a full taste of what the industry is like as a supplement to his classroom knowledge.

“While I was there, since there were so many mediums to work in, I was constantly in Broadway auditions, commercial auditions … and then the next week, working with a bunch of teams from L.A.,” he said. “I just ended up meeting so many people.”

His devotion has paid off – he’ll be moving to New York City on May 23 so he can start at NBC in the Rockefeller Center as a casting apprentice.

“I am excited to explore the TV aspect … but I think that hopefully I’ll end up in musicals,” he said.

Shenandoah University’s commencement ceremony will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday behind the Brandt Student Center, with a live video stream viewable at

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or