Brenau University graduates were given a special sendoff on May 4 and 5 by Georgia state Sen. Butch Miller, who was the keynote speaker for the 2018 spring commencements.
Born in Macon, Georgia, and raised in Hall County, Miller has been a senator for over eight years and in 2017 was appointed president pro tempore. He shared the story of his own education and pursuit of political office from the time he sat in their seats as a 23-year-old graduate.
“Accomplishment is the sweetest of all joys,” Miller said to the class of 2018. “When you work for something, it makes it all the more enjoyable, and I know you all value your educations.”
Brenau President Ed Schrader noted the commencement marked several important firsts for the 140-year-old university. The Women’s College marked its largest number of graduates completing the work for the Certificate of Women’s Leadership, while Brenau graduated its first cohort of 37 Doctors of Physical Therapy who completed the three-year program. Additionally, the first cohort of Chinese students in the 2+2 program from Anhui Normal University graduated, with 17 students earning their Bachelor of Science degrees in early childhood education.
“We understand that the first cohort of graduating students is a landmark,” Anhui Provost Provost Duanming Zhou said as he addressed the commencement audience through an interpreter, “but this cooperation is just a beginning, and we certainly believe that our partnership will be expanding to all areas [of academics] that we will be able to discuss with your president [Dr. Ed Schrader].” Addressing the graduating students in the audience directly, he said, “You are absolutely a great model of the cooperation in higher education between China and the United States.”
“I am very proud to say that is happening simultaneously as we are marking the largest number of graduates in the history of the Women’s College completing the work for the prestigious Certificate in Women’s Leadership,” Schrader said.
The Friday ceremony in Pearce Auditorium on the Gainesville historic campus included conferral of 134 diplomas on new graduates of the 140-year-old Women’s College. The Women’s College class of 2018 comprised 41 candidates for Bachelors of Science, 25 candidates for Bachelors of Arts, 47 candidates for Bachelors of Science in Nursing, 11 candidates for Bachelors of Business Administration, eight candidates for Bachelors of Fine Arts and two candidates double-majoring with B.A. and BBA degrees.
Saturday’s ceremony conferred degrees to the Brenau University undergraduate and graduate candidates. In all, Brenau recognized about 382 individuals in the ceremonies, including 223 undergraduate and 159 graduate degree candidates.
Randal Robison of Cumming, Georgia, who received his Master of Arts in Teaching degree during the Saturday commencement, presented a special prayer during the ceremony for the military graduates. He was an Army chaplain for 21 years before retiring in May 2016, and plans to pursue a second career in teaching children with special needs.
Twenty military students graduated over the weekend, including two in the Women’s College, seven undergraduates from the day program and 11 graduate students.
“As we graduate and receive our diplomas, may our achievements be held to a degree that serves others,” Robison said. “May we never forget those who fought to preserve our nation’s freedoms and liberties at times of war and peace, so that this day could be celebrated… Let us move forward this day in a spirit of excellence in all that we do to make a difference in the world we were called to serve.”
Brenau annually recognizes faculty members for outstanding academic and professional performances. Studio Art Program Director Claudia Wilburn received the Ann Austin Johnston Outstanding Faculty Award for teaching. The award, established by Donald C. Johnston of Dublin, Georgia, is named after his late wife, a 1939 Women’s College graduate. It includes a $2,500 prize.
Katie Mitchell, director of the Writing Center and English instructor, received the Vulcan Teaching Award for teaching excellence and leadership. The award comes with a $1,000 prize funded by Vulcan Material Co. through the Georgia Independent Colleges Association. Dr. Jill Hayes, professor of nursing, and Amanda Buono, instructor of occupational therapy, received Outstanding Part-Time Faculty Awards.
Finally, Mason Garland, a Bachelor of Science in biology degree candidate from Hoschton, Georgia, and Ella Kleinschmidt, an early childhood education degree candidate from Queensland, Australia, received Cora Anderson Hill Academic Awards. Both winners are student-athletes – Garland is a softball player and Kleinschmidt is a member of the swimming and diving team. The honor, named after a Brenau alumna from Gainesville who had a distinguished career in public service – and journalism later in life – is awarded to Women’s College graduates with the highest grade-point average through four years at Brenau.
Miller commended all the graduates for their hard work. He encouraged them to let nothing distract them from the pursuit of their dreams and to do all they can for the good of society.
“Everyone on this lawn today has dreams and aspirations they haven’t shared with others,” Miller said. “There’s something you want to accomplish, perhaps beyond your degree. There’s something you want to do, maybe in your family, maybe in your life, maybe in your role in your community … Don’t be afraid. Step out, and make a difference. You are the leaders. You are our tomorrow.
“We’re expecting big, big things of you.”