Tom Tillar, vice president for alumni relations for 20 years before announcing plans to step down this fall, and Karen Roberto, a University Distinguished Professor and leader in the field of social gerontology, will deliver the keynote addresses at Virginia Tech's 2015 fall University and Graduate School Commencement ceremonies on Friday, Dec. 18.

Tillar will speak to undergraduate students at the University Ceremony, which begins with a procession at 10:30 a.m., and Roberto will speak at the Graduate School Ceremony which begins with a procession at 2:30 p.m.

Both ceremonies will be in Cassell Coliseum. Approximately 2,000 students will be honored for completing their academic degrees at the end of the summer and fall terms at the two events.

Those seeking more information on the ceremonies should visit the Virginia Tech Commencement website.

University Commencement Speaker: Tom Tillar

Tillar, a member of the Virginia Tech Class of 1969, began his career at the university in student union and Greek life programming in what is today the Division of Student Affairs. After completing graduate work, he joined the Virginia Tech Alumni Association staff in 1975 working with its chapters, reunions, and annual giving program.

He was named director of alumni relations when a new model for the association configured its staff in an alumni relations department. Also, as secretary-treasurer of the independent alumni association, Tillar serves as an officer of its executive committee and board.

In the mid-1990s, upon the retirement of Vice President for Alumni Relations George E. “Buddy” Russell, Tillar was appointed his successor, and held the position for the next 20 years.

During Tillar's career at Virginia Tech, the number of Hokie alumni grew from 40,000 to more than 240,000 today. During that period, the number of active alumni chapters nearly doubled.  

Tillar helped plan, design, and raise funds for the Holtzman Alumni Center, which opened in 2005 as part of the new alumni and conference center complex encompassing the Skelton Conference Center and Inn at Virginia Tech. Under his leadership, an initial “Summer around the Drillfield” program grew into a series of themed events, the “Drillfield Series.”

Tillar served as interim senior vice president for advancement from February to July of this year, starting the integration of alumni relations, development, and university relations under a unified advancement model.

In January, Tillar will join the Pamplin College of Business as special assistant to Dean Robert Sumichrast.

Graduate School Commencement Speaker: Karen Roberto

This year, the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors awarded Roberto a University Distinguished Professorship — a rank bestowed on no more than 1 percent of Virginia Tech faculty whose scholarly attainments have attracted national and international recognition.

Early in her career, fresh out of Texas Tech University with a doctoral degree in human development, Roberto refined questionnaires, knocked on doors, and went into people’s homes to get a sense of how their lives changed as they grew older. In the process, Roberto made discoveries about elder abuse, the unspoken effects of illnesses, and the hidden health conditions of aging people and their families — information she shares with Virginia Tech students and the world.

A family gerontologist with an eye for the social trappings of older people and their families, Roberto relies on natural curiosity and basic questions to get a clear picture of rural older women, family relationships and caregiving, elder abuse, and coping with chronic conditions such as osteoporosis, pain, falls, and cancer.

Roberto joined the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences at Virginia Tech in 1996 as the director of the Center for Gerontology. Roberto mentors undergraduate and graduate students and uses her position as a research administrator to mentor new and experienced faculty members. Dozens of Roberto’s former students serve in leadership positions in community service organizations and academia across the United States.

In 2006 Roberto was named as the founding director of the Institute for Society, Culture, and Environment, where she established an infrastructure to advance the university’s extramural funding portfolio in the social sciences and humanities. Through individualized faculty attention, competitive grant and fellowship programs, creation of new centers and initiatives, and an affiliate network with more than 45 research centers, laboratories, and programs across Virginia Tech, the institute has expanded the university’s social science research agenda.

Roberto has traveled around the world to inform medical and scientific audiences in Korea, Hong Kong, Australia, Turkey, Ireland, Costa Rica, and Canada about her discoveries.

Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.

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