Suzanne Austin named keynote speaker for 226th Commencement

March 8, 2020

Suzanne Austin, member of the graduating class of 1970, will be the keynote speaker for Cheshire Academy’s 226th commencement ceremony scheduled for May 30. This year’s commencement marks the school’s 50th anniversary of girls returning to campus. 


Austin, who is one of six girls to graduate from Cheshire Academy in its historic first year of returning to a coeducation campus, currently serves as the senior vice provost and senior international officer at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She is also a professor of epidemiology at UAB’s School of Public Health, and has a secondary appointment in African American Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences. 


“I was very excited when I received the invitation to speak at commencement,” reflected Austin. “It is a great honor and I am very proud to have been asked. It is hard for me to believe that it is the 50th anniversary of coeducation at Cheshire Academy.” 


Austin’s uncle, Gilbert Austin, is a graduate from the class of 1949. Her parents chose to enroll her due to her uncle’s enriching experiences at Cheshire Academy at a time when other college-preparatory schools were reluctant to change due to costs and other concerns with going coed. 


At its founding in 1794, Cheshire Academy accepted both boy and girl students. A new charter in 1836, however, eliminated the school’s coed status, resulting in the Academy being a boys’ school for over 100 years. In the fall 1969, girls were once again welcomed as day students and, in 1975, as boarding students.  


“When the school decided to accept female students, my parents thought it would be a great opportunity for me,” explained Austin. “I had a wonderful experience. I found the work academically challenging, and I enjoyed the culture of the campus.” 


Austin received her B.A. from North Carolina State University, her M.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and her Ph.D. from Duke University. 


“I’m honored and excited that Austin accepted the invitation to speak at this year’s commencement,” stated Head of School Julie Anderson. “How different life must have been for Austin and the five other girls in the first year of welcoming girls back to the Cheshire Academy campus. Her message will provide insight and experience our graduates will take with them for the rest of their lives.” 


When asked what she is looking forward to most about returning to campus, Austin said “meeting with students.” 


“I have spent most of my career as a faculty member and university leader either teaching students or working to ensure that they have the resources they need to be successful,” she said. “I love spending time with talented young people.”