Lyon’s Mortar Board chapter wins national honors

Lyon College’s chapter of Mortar Board received five national honors from the Mortar Board National College Senior Honor Society.

The Order of the Tartan Chapter won the Gold Torch Award for the third straight year and three Project Excellence awards. Mortar Board advisor, Dr. Irosha Nawarathne, also received an Excellence in Advising award.

Madison Grant, ’20, the outgoing president of Mortar Board, said the Golden Torch Award is presented to chapters that go above and beyond. To be eligible, chapters must complete all their paperwork, have all of their membership dues paid, and perform service projects on campus.

“It was inspiring to see how the chapter came together when our whole year changed,” Grant said. 

“Our Mortar Board chapter has a history of high standards,” said Melanie Beehler, ’20, “so it felt good to continue that legacy amidst what was happening outside of campus.”

Lyon received Project Excellence awards for the LEAD Conference, the virtual Student Creative Arts and Research Forum (SCARF) and the new Humanities, Arts, Sciences and Technology (HATS) event. 

The LEAD Conference is held in the fall and teaches high schoolers how to be successful leaders. SCARF is held in the spring and gives Lyon students the chance to share the work they have pursued both in and outside of the classroom with their peers. HATS is a new companion event for SCARF that gives Lyon freshmen the chance to showcase the original research they have worked on during their first semester.

Nawarathne said SCARF was originally planned to be an in-person event, but Lyon students were dismissed from campus a week before it was scheduled to take place because of concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was really rough. We had worked so hard on SCARF, and we had it all ready to go. The students were upset, and I was upset.”

Fortunately, she said, Mortar Board and the SCARF committee worked with the Office of Strategic Marketing and Communication to hold the event virtually. The executive committee of Madison Grant, Kendra Kelley, Navy Griffin, Melanie Beehler, Daniel Armstrong, Sean O’Leary and Christen Johnson helped organize the virtual SCARF.

“We had an excellent executive committee this year,” Nawarathne said. “Everybody was well involved and ready to take on leadership roles.”

“It was heartbreaking that SCARF had to be cancelled in real-time because so many people put a lot of work into various aspects of the conference,” Grant said. “However, we did get to host it virtually, which gave the participants their chance to show off their hard work.”

Beehler and Grant said seeing Nawarathne recognized for Excellence in Advising by the national Mortar Board organization felt great.

“Dr. Irosha was a great help in moving SCARF to a virtual platform!” said Beehler. “She dedicates a lot of time to helping us with events and encouraging us to take the lead.” 

She continued, “In regards to Mortar Board, she is a perfect example of what an advisor ought to be.”

Grant submitted the nomination for Nawarathne and was “so honored to then see her receive the award.”

“We held a personal award ceremony virtually for her, and it was so difficult to surprise her.”

The executive committee organized a Zoom call with Nationals to present the award to Nawarathne, along with flowers and a framed photo of this year’s members.

“She always goes above and beyond to help us be the best chapter we can be,” Grant said. “She was beyond deserving of such an incredible award.”

Nawarathne felt “truly honored and humbled” to receive the award from the national organization.

“The opportunity to work with an exemplary group of students like Lyon’s Mortar Board members is a gift I value more than any special award,” she said.

Nawarathne concluded with some advice from her personal experience being a first-generation college student in Sri Lanka more than a decade and a half ago. As much as she was supported by her loved ones, she said there was enough negativity to discourage her from reaching her dreams.

“Don’t let society define who you are or decide what you should be,” Nawarathne said. “Embrace who you are and dream big!”

She encouraged students to not only live their dreams but to also help others achieve their dreams.

“Serve more, judge less! Be the difference!”