Georgia Chief Justice Carol W. Hunstein told more than 400 Brenau University graduates today that she felt a special bond with them because as a group they represented a changing definition of students’ seeking higher education now and in the future.
Hunstein spoke at the Georgia Mountains Center, just a few blocks from Brenau’s Gainesville campus, to a packed house of about 2,500 people, including friends and family members of more than 400 undergraduate and graduate degree recipients from Brenau’s regional campuses and online programs.
She pointed out those who were about to receive both undergraduate and graduate diplomas included single mothers and single fathers, people who’d put off educations – sometimes for decades – to raise families, active duty military personnel who are making a transition to civilian life or continuing their military careers, and people who had faced all sorts of adversity.
She explained when she was 23, the age by which most “traditional” students had completed undergraduate degrees and were ready to “get on with real life,” she was a divorced single mother with only a high school diploma and had lost a leg to cancer. But, thanks to her own tenacity and a state government rehabilitation program, she became the first in her family to go to college.
Because of that, she said, she was able to go onto law school, overcome a sexist mentality in Georgia to become the first female Superior Court judge in DeKalb County and only the fifth to serve at the Superior Court level throughout the state. She was the second woman to be a permanent member of the Supreme Court and its top justice.
“I had experienced ‘real life’ long before I was prepared,” she said, acknowledging that many of the graduates in the audience had waited to later in life to pursue higher education. “My story could be your story.”
The university also conferred on Hunstein an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.
“You, as our chief justice and as a person, have set a splendid example of an ‘extraordinary life’ – not only for the members of the Class of 2010, but for all of the Brenau family today and in the future,” said Brenau President Ed Schrader as he introduced Hunstein.
Other Special Recognitions
Further cementing its commitment to the expansion of its online learning platform, the university also presented an outstanding faculty award to Annaleah Morrow of Lake Worth, Fla. The business communication professor, who has worked in higher education for about 20 years, has been teaching in the Brenau program since 2007. She holds a Master’s degree in human resources development from Palm Beach Atlantic University and is in final stages of completing a Ph.D. in education administration from University of Nebraska.
The ceremony also highlights some student accomplishments:
Norma Mondragon, an accounting major from Sugar Hill, Ga., received the Outstanding Business Administration Award.
Debbie Rogers, from Harlem, Ga., majored in education with a specialty in early childhood development on the Brenau Augusta campus. She received the Outstanding Future Educator Award for undergraduates.
Wendy Davis, from Flowery Branch, Ga., received the graduate student award as Oustanding Future Educator. The Florida Atlanta University graduate, earned a Master of Arts in Teaching degree from Brenau.
Isaac “Ike” Webster, a 2009 graduate who had majored in theater arts, received a certificate for completing the special Brenau fifth-year program in opera performance.
All told, there are 612 members of the Class of 2010 from Brenau’s regional campuses and online programs. Many of those who did not participate in the Gainesville commencement elected to receive their diplomas in later ceremonies on their home campuses. The Brenau Women’s College in Gainesville held is commencement ceremony on Friday, May 7.
The class of 2010 is the largest ever at Brenau. The university conferred undergraduate degrees on 455 students and graduate degrees to 375.
In the ceremony, Schrader also acknowledge another student who will receive her degree later. Katie Dugan, a 17-year-old senior at Brenau Academy, is the first graduate of the Academy’s early college program in partnership with the university. When she receives her high school diploma on May 22, she will also receive a two-year Associate of Arts degree from the university.
Hunstein Was ‘A Perfect Choice’
Schrader said that Chief Justice Hunstein was a perfect choice to address the diverse mix of Saturday graduates, many of whom, like her, would fall into the category of “nontraditional students” who pursued their educations.
Hunstein has served on the state’s high court since 1992. Born in Miami, she received an Associate of Arts degree from Miami-Dade Community College, a Bachelor of Science degree from Florida Atlantic University and a law degree from the Stetson University College of Law.
According to long-time friend Ken Frank, a lawyer who chairs Brenau’s humanities department and hosts Hunstein frequently as a guest lecturer in the Women and Law course he teaches periodically, “as a student of the law, her written decisions from the bench are well reasoned, extremely well supported by the law and logic, and she seeks to build consensus among her colleagues on the bench.” who received undergraduate and graduate degrees.
Hunstein told the graduates that “you already have proved that you are capable of hard work, commitment and sacrifice.” Now, she added, “it is time to reflect on who you are, where you have been and where you will go in the future.”
Originally published on 6/01/10