Looking back on her 40 years at Bridgewater College, Cynthia Howdyshell-Shull ’86 is proudest of her involvement in every commencement ceremony since she became Registrar in August 1988. It’s been her responsibility to make sure every diploma given out on commencement is in order and ready to go when the day arrives. Howdyshell-Shull has served under eight academic deans/provosts, four presidents and one interim president, all of whom played an important role handing out that prized document to thousands of Bridgewater graduates. But she’s been the person on the platform and behind the scenes making sure the correct diploma is in hand.
“Phil Stone [President of Bridgewater College from 1994 to 2010] once told me, ‘You have never handed me a wrong diploma,’” she says.
Howdyshell-Shull, who is retiring at the end of the 2022-23 academic year, wasn’t sure what she wanted to do upon graduating high school. She earned two associate degrees from Blue Ridge Community College, one in 1981 and another in 1982, and learned about a position opening in BC’s registrar’s office in 1981. She was soon working full-time as a secretary and finishing her bachelor’s degree at Bridgewater.
She earned her B.S. in business administration in 1986 and an M.B.A. at James Madison University in May 1988, the same year she was named Assistant Registrar at BC. Months later, she was promoted again to Bridgewater’s registrar and has remained in that position ever since. Although she completed doctoral coursework in higher education administration at the University of Virginia in the mid-1990s, she decided that she would be happiest focusing her attention on her role as registrar and didn’t go on to finish the degree requirements.
Howdyshell-Shull speaks of everyone she’s worked with over the years with gratitude and affection.
“Bridgewater’s been so good to me,” she says.
Dr. Wayne Geisert (College President from 1964 to 1994) allowed her to take leave much like a sabbatical (not usually granted to staff) to take doctoral courses at UVA. Dr. Dale Ulrich, Provost when she was hired, helped her “find my niche.”
In April 2019, Howdyshell-Shull received the College’s Daniel Christian Flory Award, which recognizes “the staff member who made the most outstanding contribution to fulfilling the mission of Bridgewater College.”
Commencement is a moment of farewell for Bridgewater graduates, a rite of passage in which they say goodbye to the world they’ve known for years and prepare to head off to a new one. Howdyshell-Shull says that she loves walking across campus after commencement is over and everyone has departed. No one is prouder to see Bridgewater’s students graduate successfully and flourish.
— By Olivia Shifflett