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Queens Recognizes Outstanding Students and Community Leaders at Commencement Ceremony

May 09, 2024 By Queens University Communications

For more than 75 years, Queens University of Charlotte has recognized exceptional students and community members during commencement with the prestigious Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award. Founded in 1925 by the New York Southern Society, the award serves as a lasting tribute to Algernon Sullivan, an esteemed lawyer, businessman, and philanthropist of the late 19th century. The award is presented to individuals who embody the very qualities that distinguished Sullivan’s life: exemplary character and a dedication to humanitarian service. For the first time in its history, Queens recognized not one, but two deserving students.

Ryan Byrd & President Lugo

The first award was presented to Ryan Byrd ’24, a dedicated student leader and advocate, lauded for his commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Byrd served as president of the Black Student Union, was the co-leader of the iBelong Male Mentoring Program, and was the lead tutor for Time Management Tutor. His compassion and dedication often extended beyond campus and into the community, serving as an advocate for mental health and wellness initiatives.

At the podium, Queens University President Dan Lugo acknowledged Byrd’s impressive list of accomplishments, including prestigious scholarships, a position serving as a public health and social work intern for Messy Roots, and most recently received the Human Service Studies Outstanding Student Award.

“What truly sets Ryan apart is his selfless dedication to serving others, often without seeking recognition,” said Lugo. “His advocacy for wellness is equally inspiring. He has made it his mission to promote holistic well-being within the Queens community and beyond. His unwavering commitment to serving youth facing mental health or developmental challenges is a testament to his compassionate nature and genuine desire to make a difference in the world.”

Byrd accepted the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award to rousing applause from his peers. When asked about receiving this award, Byrd said, “Not only did I have the amazing opportunity to attend Queens University and receive a wonderful education, but I also reaped the benefits of being planted in a nutrient-rich environment that allowed my gifts and talents to grow and flourish!” He continued, “I am thankful for the opportunities that allowed me to contribute to Queens and I value how much Queens has contributed to me. Winning the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award was a true testament to the meaningful community that I became a part of at Queens.”

Eleanor Williamson & President Lugo

The second award was presented to Eleanor Williamson ’24. A scholar and student leader, Williamson was recognized for her intellectual curiosity, academic achievements, and service to the university and broader community. Williamson consistently distinguished herself in the classroom, fostering dynamic discussions and demonstrating a deep understanding of complex topics.

“Eleanor is a dedicated member of the Queens community who epitomizes the qualities of leadership, scholarship, and service that define the essence of our institution,” said Lugo. “As she prepares to embark on the next chapter of her journey, we take pride in knowing that Eleanor will continue to make a profound impact wherever she goes, striving to cultivate community and understanding.”

Williamson’s academic excellence was reflected in her induction into Theta Alpha Kappa, the National Honors Society for Religion and Theology. She was a receipt of the organization’s undergraduate achievement award in 2023. Beyond academics, Williamson’s leadership has shone through her involvement with the Belk Chapel, Phi Mu sorority, and the Campus Union Board. She actively volunteered her time with Levine Children’s Hospital, the Stan Greenspon Center, Crisis Assistance Ministry, and other impactful community organizations.

“I am so honored to have received the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award,” said Williamson. “Queens has done so much for me and my time here has shaped me into the leader I am today. I would not have been able to serve the community and my peers without the role models I have learned from at Queens. This is an honor that I will carry with me as I move into the next chapter of my life.”

Carolyn & Sam McMahon & President Lugo

The ceremony also celebrated community recipients Carolyn and Sam McMahon Jr. ’54 in recognition of their lifetime commitment to education and service. Sam McMahon Jr. , a Queens alumnus and former president of the Men Students’ organization, is renowned for founding Southeast Hotel Management, which became the world’s largest Days Inn franchiser. His leadership extended beyond business, as he invested in his employees and their children by providing a free college education for any child who chose to pursue a degree. McMahon’s dedication to Queens University was further demonstrated by his service on the Board of Trustees and his enduring support for music and the arts alongside his wife, Carolyn.

Carolyn McMahon’s passion for music led her to devote much of her life to sharing the gift of music with others. At Queens, the Carolyn G. McMahon Center for Music stands as a testament to her dedication. Together, the McMahons have enriched the lives of countless students through scholarships, endowed professorships, and their instrumental role in funding the renovated Gambrell Center, ensuring continued access to the arts for future generations.

Their generosity further extends to supporting Queens’ Composer in Residence program featuring Malek Jandali, a world-renowned composer and pianist originally from Syria, who as an undergraduate, benefitted from the McMahon Music Scholars program.

“The number of students whose lives have been changed by the McMahon’s generosity is incredible,” said Lugo. “On behalf of the entire Queens community, we are grateful for your exemplary leadership and dedication to improving and enriching the lives of our students and others throughout the world. You embody our motto ‘Not to be served, but to serve,’ and we are proud to honor you with the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award.”

As they received the award, McMahon stepped up to the podium to address the crowd. “Carolyn and I are eternally grateful for this honor,” he said, “We appreciate it and wish to thank the entire Queens community.”

The presentation of the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Awards served as a powerful reminder that the spirit of humanitarianism thrives at Queens. These exceptional individuals leave behind a legacy of compassion and commitment, inspiring future generations of Royals to make a difference in the world.