Several awards are presented annually to graduates, staff and faculty members during the William & Mary Commencement ceremony. Below is a list of the awards that were presented during this year’s ceremony on May 17. – Ed.

The Lord Botetourt Medal 

The Lord Botetourt Medal is presented each year to the undergraduate student who has most distinguished himself or herself in scholarship during their time at William & Mary. This year, the honor was awarded to Robert K. Gourdie ’24.

Gourdie was recognized by nominators as a scholar who approaches his pursuits with passion, curiosity and empathy. 

“He is an astounding student and human that truly exemplifies the best and brightest W&M has to offer,” one nominator wrote.

A chemistry major, he graduated with a perfect 4.0 GPA – and an impressive list of scholarly publications to his name, with more expected in some of the world’s top chemistry journals. A 1693 Scholar, his research interests focus on developing new methods for bioconjugation reactions.

His work has earned him a number of awards and other honors, including a Barry Goldwater Scholarship, one of the most prestigious available in the areas of natural sciences, engineering and math. Earlier this year, William & Mary awarded him with the Thomas Jefferson Prize in Natural Philosophy, which celebrates excellence in the sciences.

“I have 100% confidence that Dr. Robert Gourdie is a name that will be well known in the scientific community for years to come,” one nominator wrote.

In addition to his work in the lab, Gourdie co-founded the chemistry department’s hybrid mentoring and tutoring program and has volunteered with the Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity and The Haven as a confidential peer advocate.

As one nominator wrote, “Robby is truly a once-in-a-lifetime student.”

Following graduation, Gourdie plans on pursuing a Ph.D. in the University of California Berkeley’s chemistry program.

James Frederic Carr Memorial Cup

The James Frederic Carr Memorial Cup was established in honor of a William & Mary student who served with distinction in World War I and lost his life before he could return to graduate. The award recognizes the student who best exemplifies character, scholarship and leadership. The recipient of the 2024 Carr Memorial Cup is Kelsey M. McAlister ’24. 

A Sharpe Community Scholar, McAlister graduated with a double major in government and sociology: criminology, law & society. She achieved a near-perfect 3.9 GPA and is a member of Phi Beta Kappa. McAlister’s extensive service stretches into her role as a student partner at the Studio for Teaching & Learning Innovation and her membership of the Chi Omega Fraternity.

McAlister served as a research assistant before becoming the only undergraduate fellow for the William & Mary Law School’s Center for Criminal Justice Policy and Reform under the guidance of Vice Dean Kami Chavis. She researched how Conviction Integrity Units across the nation can exonerate those wrongfully convicted. As an intern at a law firm specializing in prosecutions, McAlister learned the intricacies of seeking a conviction. She also investigated the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act’s effect on habeas corpus petitions for the “actually innocent”  for a William & Mary alumni-funded nonprofit.

In late 2020, McAlister helped her peers register the William & Mary Innocence Club as a recognized student organization. She served as the club’s vice president of outreach for three years before taking the helm as president in her senior year. Throughout her years as a member of the Innocence Club, she organized dozens of events with guest speakers, including influential exonerees and lawyers.

McAlister also serves as vice president of outreach on the executive board of Camp Kesem, a “free summer camp for children coping with a parent’s cancer.” Even after camp is over, she continues to build relationships with the children and their families.

The Thatcher Prize for Excellence in Graduate and Professional Study

The Thatcher Prize was created in honor of the 21st Chancellor of William & Mary, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The award is presented annually to recognize an outstanding student in graduate or professional study. The winner is selected on the basis of scholarship, leadership, character and service. The recipient of the 2024 Thatcher Prize is Holly L. Gruntner Ph.D. ’24.

Gruntner earned her doctoral degree in history from W&M. Throughout her studies, she garnered numerous research fellowships and grants through top-tier research entities, such as the Library Company of Philadelphia, American Antiquarian Society, Huntington Library and Massachusetts Historical Society. Additionally, she held a 2022-2023 prestigious dissertation fellowship at the Winterthur Museum and represented her work at more than ten academic conferences or speaking engagements. 

A nominator described her research as “groundbreaking — literally.”

Gruntner’s dissertation, “From the Ground Up: Practical Gardens and Horticultural Knowledge in Early America, 1700-1830,” explores how Americans built practical knowledge in their kitchen gardens. One nominator wrote, “Her study of vernacular botany and the production of scientific knowledge in the 18th century changes our understanding of how scientific knowledge was produced during the Enlightenment, and of who was producing it.” 

Nominators describe Gruntner as a “stalwart, calm leader” who brings compassion and understanding to her work as a teaching assistant and instructor. Gruntner served four years in student government as vice president and president of the History Graduate Student Association, and as a senate representative and then president of the Graduate Student Association. Nominators applaud her “integrity, diligence and commitment to serving her fellow students.”

In a nominator’s words, Gruntner consistently resolves “to go above and beyond for everyone around her, especially the graduate community at William & Mary.” 

The Thomas Ashley Graves Jr. Award For Sustained Excellence In Teaching

Named for the 23rd William & Mary president, the Thomas Ashley Graves Jr. Award honors excellence in teaching and commitment to student education. Recipients are selected annually by the W&M president from nominations submitted by each of the academic deans.  

This year’s awardees are Nancy Combs, Ernest W. Goodrich Professor at William & Mary Law School, and Deborah Steinberg, CSX Professor of Marine Science at the William & Mary’s Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

Nancy Combs

According to nominators, Combs’ work demonstrates William & Mary’s commitment to providing a creative, engaging and personal education.  

A renowned scholar in international criminal law and international human rights law, Combs is a prolific academic with several publications and speaking engagements to her name – and has international experience as an expert witness and as part of expert groups.  

Her courses, nominators noted, are carefully curated to be relevant to her students’ lives and inspire them to aim high. 

Nominators highlighted Combs’ commitment to her students, to whom she provides career counseling and advice, and her role in promoting diversity, equity and inclusion throughout the university.  

 In two decades of teaching, Combs has received prestigious teaching awards and outstanding student evaluations. Before academia, she served as a legal advisor to the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal and the Eritrea-Ethiopia Claims Commission at The Hague.  

Nominators lauded Combs’ unparalleled command of her subject matter and her mentorship activities, demonstrating that “excellence in teaching and scholarship are not just compatible, but mutually generative and enriching.” 

Deborah Steinberg

Steinberg is a world-renowned authority on the role of zooplankton in the ocean carbon cycle.  

Her research program has been defined as a training ground for students to contribute to impactful science. Several of her students have been part of major Antarctic research cruises, and recent classes have participated in a research cruise in the York River, an experience that many ranked as the highlight of their education. 

In 23 years at William & Mary, Steinberg has mentored several graduates and undergraduates – as well as high school students and postdoctoral researchers.  

Her “Fundamentals of Biological Oceanography” class, one of the most popular at VIMS, is an example of her gift for teaching and for bringing course contents to life. 

“One of the most valuable lessons that Debbie taught me is to hold on to the joy in our work,” commented a student. 

Nominators praised Steinberg’s teaching excellence in the classroom and in the field and noted her influence “for generations to come” on the graduate and undergraduate marine science programs.

Algernon Sydney Sullivan Awards

The Sullivan Award, given in the form of a medallion, is in recognition of influence for good, taking into consideration such characteristics of heart, mind, conduct and demonstrating a spirit of love and helpfulness to others. It is awarded each year to two individuals from the graduating student body and to a third person who has a close relationship to the university.

Daniel A. Bess ’24

There was one overarching theme to Daniel A. Bess’ time at William & Mary: a relentless dedication to making a positive impact. 

So many people benefited from that aim. Among them were his fellow students, administrators, local middle schoolers, members of nearby First Baptist Church and candidates running for office. 

Bess ’24 graduated with a major in finance and has accepted a job offer resulting from an internship at Morgan Stanley. As a nominator commented, this accomplishment “speaks volumes about his academic prowess and readiness for the professional world.” 

Those attributes were honed in numerous ways at W&M. As a resident assistant, Bess “displayed remarkable dedication to supporting and guiding his peers, fostering an inclusive and supportive living environment,” wrote one nominator. 

His involvement with the Student Assembly, where he served as a Class of 2024 senator and Finance Committee and Organizational Budget Allocation committee member, showcased his aptitude for collaboration and advocacy. 

As a President’s Aide, wrote a nominator, he revealed “adept communication of student concerns and thoughtful proposals for solutions (that) garnered him respect and trust from both students and faculty alike.” 

Embodying the power of his voice, Bess won the state Oratorical Competition presented by Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. His speech centered on how education can uplift troubled communities. Putting those theories into practice, Bess was led to mentor middle schoolers, support voter registration drives, work in the community gardens and volunteer with the First Baptist Church and its “Let Freedom Ring” Foundation. 

As a nominator wrote, “Whether it’s reading to elementary school children or empowering middle and high school students to pursue education, Daniel consistently demonstrates his dedication to making a positive impact.”  

Nominators also wrote that Bess set an example of humanity for others to follow. 

If you don’t know Daniel by name, you surely know his face and smile,” wrote a nominator.

Catherine G. Cable ’24 

Catherine G. Cable ’24 never did anything the easy way at W&M. Instead, her many supporters wrote, she did them the right way. 

That was her guiding principle, and as one nominator said, she met challenges by staying true to her guiding principles. Cable graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in international relations, a minor in data science, membership in Pi Sigma Rlpha, the National Political Science Honor Society, and the gratitude and respect of all who interacted with her. 

That would include her colleagues at the GeoLab, where she supervised a team of 12 undergraduate researchers who crafted an article detailing the impacts to Ukrainian coal mines by the recent war with Russia. The article was published on, an intelligence community site out of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and amassed over 300,000 views. 

She also built strong relationships within W&M’s American Bosnian Collaboration. The program selects four to seven students each summer to teach English and nonviolent communication skills to teenagers in Bosnia. Cable fundraised to attend and spent a summer instructing Bosnian youth.  

A nominator shared that “she opened up dialogues about course themes that were unique or challenging. She went above and beyond to truly understand what the course themes mean in a real-world setting.”  

Closer to home, she served as a campus tour guide and vice president of communications for Delta Gamma. Cable performed a systematic review of the social sorority’s by-laws and “spent countless hours modernizing them,” yielding many operational improvements. 

Her peers, colleagues and professors said they appreciate Cable’s hard work and generosity. One nominator noted that as an orientation area director, Cable would “go beyond her responsibilities to help improve others’ college experiences.” 

Described as warm, enthusiastic and keenly intelligent, one nominator wrote that she was “fiercely loyal, yet approachable and kind — a combination that allowed her to shine as a leader.” 

Sue Hanna Gerdelman ’76 

Presidents, whether they be of the United States or William & Mary, have long sought counsel from Sue Gerdelman. 

As executive assistant to the assistant to the president for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, she worked on briefings for U.S. President George W. Bush. She served in the federal government in numerous other roles, including as the associate director of the National Economic Council. 

W&M President Emeritus Taylor Reveley LL.D. ’18 wrote, “Presidents and vice presidents of W&M have for years turned to Sue for quiet guidance and reflection as her always helpful insights help us steer the ship of state.” 

As a student at William & Mary, Gerdelman studied elementary education. She participated in the Mermettes synchronized swim team and was a member of the Pi Beta Phi sorority. A former school board member, Gerdelman steadfastly promotes public good. A nominator shared that Gerdelman’s “commitment to serving the broader community reflects her deeply held values of civic engagement and social responsibility.”  

When Gerdelman and husband, John ’75, returned to Virginia, she joined the Board of Trustees of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation. She is a past president of the separate Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, Inc. At her alma mater, Gerdelman chaired the William & Mary Foundation Board and served two terms on the Board of Visitors. As board secretary, Gerdelman led with immense care, her nominators said. 

In 2011, Gerdelman received the Alumni Medallion, the most prestigious award given to alumni for their leadership, professional accomplishments, and commitment to William & Mary. One nominator wrote, “I had countless opportunities to see how Sue dealt with other people. It was with a nobility of spirit and generosity of manner that was inspiring to behold. It was also with a cheerfulness and sense of fun that raised the spirits of everyone around her.” 

Related story: Allison Fears Ph.D. ’24 earns Thatcher award for trailblazing work in rural school counseling, antiracism and social justice advocacy

, University News & Media