When Gloria Salisbury first visited her brother at Southern Virginia University in fall 2011, she didn’t expect to stay, let alone to meet and marry her husband, pick a new major field of study, and participate in more than a dozen theatrical and musical productions at the university.
Now, when she graduates along with more than 100 others on May 7, she will represent the Class of 2015 as valedictorian, the student with the highest academic standing.
Both she and Maxwell Doxey, the 2015 salutatorian, have not only excelled academically, but have also participated in many of the other experiences that the university has to offer. At Commencement, they will offer the traditional salutation — the first speech — and the final, farewell speech from the graduating class — the valediction.
Salisbury, a theatre major with a philosophy minor, transferred to Southern Virginia after returning from a full-time mission in Chile.
“I got here because my brother Jon knew that if he showed me the campus, I’d fall in love and never want to leave,” she said. “So he bought me a plane ticket … and I fell in love with it and never left. There’s a beautiful, special feeling here.”
She described her initial visit here as a whirlwind as she explored campus, saw a play and even “accidentally auditioned” for the spring opera performance — in which she was later cast. However, it wasn’t until she was invited to choreograph a production of “Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat” that she discovered an affinity for the theatre program.
Originally a liberal arts major, she said that she found something special while working within the theatre program.
“I saw Professor Stoddard doing something amazing with this group of people in only a few weeks,” Salisbury said. “I saw how much they took care of each other and brought the Lord into things and were so supportive of each other, instead of trying to one up each other. It made me realize that you could do that in theatre and I wanted to be a part of it.”
In addition to performing in seven plays and assisting with the choreography of three plays and two operas since she came to Southern Virginia, Salisbury has maintained an exceptional grade-point average and excelled in other disciplines. She said that she developed a love for asking questions, which was strengthened by her experiences studying philosophy.
“Professor Jones [taught] me … to love the process [of understanding] how skepticism is beneficial for asking questions but not a tenable philosophy in and of itself, and how asking questions only mirrors what the Prophet Joseph did — and there’s nothing wrong with that kind of desire for wisdom.”
She credited her professors with motivating her to excel academically.
“I came out here and started to fall in love with learning again and started to think it was possible [to become valedictorian],” she said. “I wanted to do my best for my professors because they expected that of me and made me expect that of myself.”
Dr. Jan-Erik Jones, professor of philosophy at Southern Virginia, said that he appreciated having Salisbury in his classes.
“She’s not afraid to think deeply about difficult subjects and to work hard to learn it, and I think she has fun,” he said. “She has fun actively engaging in her education. She’s delightful. I am always sad when I have an upper-level class without her.”
Doxey, who is studying biology and is on the university’s health pre-professionals track, has been involved with the university in numerous ways, including as student body president, as a member of the Shenanigans Comedy Troupe, and as a member of the men’s soccer team for three seasons.
Though he originally intended to return to Utah State University after his mission, Doxey’s family had moved to Buena Vista, and he said that Southern Virginia was where he “felt like [he] should be” to “have the experiences that [he] needed.”
He said that the education and unique opportunities he has received at Southern Virginia have prepared him for dental school.
“[Dental school] is very student focused and team oriented, so it’s the next step of the kind of education I’ve gotten here [at Southern Virginia],” Doxey said. “I’ve learned a lot about hard work and the academic success that I’d hope to get at dental school, too.”
After being accepted to the majority of the 12 dental schools he applied to, Doxey plans to attend the Lake Eerie College of Osteopathic Medicine’s School of Dental Medicine. He attributed much of his success to Dr. Barbara van Kuiken, professor of chemistry and director of the health pre-professionals program.
“Dr. van Kuiken has been one of my mentors or unofficial advisor, and I’ve had a class with her every semester for the past three years, which has been awesome,” he said. “I would attribute the majority of my success — particularly in getting into dental school — to her and particularly her classes.”
He said that this kind of relationship with professors is one of the things that sets Southern Virginia apart from other schools that he has attended.
“You’re automatically on a team with your professors,” he said. “I could get the grades that I wanted with their help and could get the experiences that I wanted [through extracurricular pursuits] to reach my goals for my academic and professional plans.”
When asked if he purposefully pursued the title of salutatorian, he said the accomplishment was the result of goals he had already made.
“I just always had high academic goals, and so as I did well, [becoming salutatorian] became more and more of a possibility,” Doxey said. “So I kept my goals high so it could happen.”
This summer, he will begin attending the LECOM School of Dental Medicine and he and his wife, Darcy Doxey, will have their first child.