Amherst native Ashton Mays is the recipient of the 2018 Presidential Medal, the highest honor a Sweet Briar student can attain. The award was announced during the Academic Recognition Dinner for Dean’s List and First-year Honors List students in Prothro on Tuesday night.
To Mays, a psychology major and sociology minor who transferred to Sweet Briar in 2016, the announcement came as a “huge surprise.”
“I really just couldn’t believe that I was the person chosen for this incredibly prestigious award,” she said. “It is such an honor, and I am so very thankful.”
While the medal rewards intellectual achievement, honorees must also have shown distinction in a combination of areas, including community service; the arts; global awareness; fitness and athletic achievement; and leadership, civility and integrity of character.
Mays, who has held a 3.9 GPA while also achieving licensure as a Centra Health Nurse’s Aide, has exhibited that kind of distinction, said Sweet Briar College President Meredith Woo.
“In addition to her stellar academic work and excellence as a citizen in our community, she is a thoughtful and kind young woman, demonstrating fairness in her actions and decisions, and exuding tremendous and contagious energy,” Woo said during the dinner. “She is a remarkable example of the best of Sweet Briar women.”
Psychology professor Jessica Salvatore agrees, noting her student’s advanced understanding of complex topics and her ability to bring everyone along with her.
“Ashton is a gifted thinker, more like a grad student than an undergrad,” observes Salvatore. “She has taken several classes with me that involved full-semester group learning ‘missions.’ She can be counted on to see the nuances of things — so I have several times entrusted her with tricky aspects of these group projects — and to do what needs to be done for all in the class to succeed.”
Mays’ leadership skills are reflected in and outside the classroom. She is a member of Phi Theta Kappa, Alpha Lambda Delta, Eta Sigma Phi, Omicron Delta Kappa, Psi Chi and Pi Gamma Mu honor societies and has served as a departmental tutor, HR assistant and vice president of the Student Government Association. She’s been an orientation leader and resident advisor, a Sweet PEA, Sweet Spirit, president of the Sweet Tones and a member of several tap clubs, including BAM, Aints ‘n’ Asses, Taps ‘n’ Toes and Chung Mungs.
“Community involvement is a huge part of my Sweet Briar experience and has definitely helped me find my niche,” Mays said in a recent interview. “One thing that’s really awesome about Sweet Briar is that there is something for everyone to enjoy and be a part of, no matter what their interests are.”
Having grown up on campus, Sweet Briar wasn’t always Mays’ first choice. She wanted to explore a different campus, but just one semester at a large public university changed her mind. When she was ready to transfer in 2016, the choice was easy.
“I think what really drew me back to Sweet Briar was the sense of community and sisterhood,” she said. “After seeing all of the hard work that alumnae and friends of the College had put in to save the school, I wanted to go to a school that empowered women to be a part of something bigger than themselves.”
Mays plans to continue that mission after she graduates this spring. She’s hoping to complete an accelerated bachelor’s degree in nursing.
In the meantime, she’ll celebrate a bit — this weekend, “when she has time from her studies,” said mom, Cathy Mays ’84, director of hospitality at Sweet Briar.
“Words cannot express how proud I am of Ashton’s many accomplishments,” Cathy added. “I have shared with her on numerous occasions how she reflects the true Vixen spirit. As an alumna, I am delighted to see her continue the legacy and love for Sweet Briar!”
Naturally, Mom’s support last night also included the traditional “Holla, holla” chant to remind her daughter of one of Sweet Briar’s core values: “There truly is ‘nothing that you cannot do’ when you believe in yourself and work hard,” Cathy said.