Megan Chandler, right, and Chelsea Schultz react after processing into Pearce Auditorium for the spring commencement ceremony for the Women's College at Brenau University. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)
Megan Chandler, right, and Chelsea Schultz react after processing into Pearce Auditorium for the spring commencement ceremony for the Women's College at Brenau University. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Radio Personality Kirsten Winquist Tells Women’s College Graduates that Chasing Dreams Requires ‘Grunt Work’

May. 5, 2017
Kristen Oliver

Kirsten Winquist, a voice of Jimmy Buffett’s Radio Margaritaville, told the members of the 2017 Brenau University Women’s College graduating class to be willing to “do the grunt work” to build the life they want.

“You’ve probably been told a dozen times to follow your passion,” Winquist said in her May 5 commencement address. “But I’m going to add to that. Follow what you love, what thrills and excites you, but be willing to do the grunt work to get there.”

Kirsten Winquist delivers the commencement address during the spring commencement ceremony for the Women's College at Brenau University. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Kirsten Winquist delivers the commencement address. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

At the Friday ceremony in Pearce Auditorium on the Gainesville historic campus, the university conferred 125 diplomas on new graduates of the 139-year-old Women’s College. The Women’s College class of 2017 comprises 49 candidates for Bachelors of Science, 34 candidates for Bachelors of Arts, 23 candidates for Bachelors of Science in Nursing, 10 candidates for Bachelors of Business Administration and nine candidates for Bachelors of Fine Arts.

Brenau President Ed Schrader – a declared Jimmy Buffett fan and regular listener of Radio Margaritaville – said he was impressed by Winquist’s success, passion for her work and commitment to lifelong learning.

“She has demonstrated that a person can have a career that is totally fun, but you have to be serious about it,” Schrader said. “She got to where she is today – to what many would consider a dream job – by hard work and tenacity in sticking with what she loves doing. It takes a lot of courage to expand out of your comfort zone and love it at the same time.”

While Winquist is known for being behind the mic with more than 30 million SiriusXM listeners and online subscribers at Margaritaville.com, she is also the program director for Radio Margaritaville – the worldwide station owned by Buffett – and she serves as a liaison between Margaritaville Holdings Inc. and SiriusXM.

Winquist grew up in what could be the setting for Margaritaville – Safety Harbor, Florida – and played the trombone. At 11 she was selected to be a part of America’s Youngest Jazz Band, where she performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland. By age 16 she had traveled the country performing with the Spirit of Atlanta Drum and Bugle Corps.

Her passion for music led to an interest in radio and studies in communications and sociology. She shared a story of her first job in radio, when she overheard two of her bosses discussing her voice. They declared it “too young, too light, too girly, not authoritative enough.” Later that week she was removed from the position.

“But just because someone or several people have determined your failure, does not mean you have to accept it,” she told the graduates. “You can let their rejection fuel you, and you can find a place that values your uniqueness.”

She reminded the graduates that their commencement marks the day they can begin to build the life they envision.

“I want to impress on you that this day is great because it is the start of building toward who you really want to be,” she said. “Everyone here is at a starting line of some kind. Jimmy Buffett started out with an old guitar, performing on the streets of Key West and New Orleans. Now he’s not just a profoundly successful businessman and musician, he’s also something that I can genuinely say is rare with many ‘successful’ people: He’s happy.”

Schrader not only welcomed Winquist, but he introduced and awarded an honorary degree to Pete Miller, chair of the Brenau University Board of Trustees.

“We could not have navigated as carefully and accurately the troubled economic and social waters that you know we have all been through in this society, and which we have sailed, without Pete Miller’s hand on the tiller steering the board of trustees,” Schrader said. “Pete has been a great friend and trusted ally.”

Brenau also recognized several students and faculty members for outstanding academic and professional performances.

Kaitlyn Salters receives the Cora Anderson Hill Academic Award from Provost Nancy Krippel during the spring commencement ceremony for the Women's College at Brenau University. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Kaitlyn Salters receives the Cora Anderson Hill Academic Award from Provost Nancy Krippel. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Mary Kaitlyn Salter, senior health sciences major from Tifton, Georgia, received the Cora Anderson Hill Academic Award. 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 the Women’s College graduate with the highest grade-point average through four years at Brenau. Salter posted a perfect 4.0 and graduated summa cum laude.

Nicole Browning, assistant professor and coordinator of biology in the Mathematics & Science Department, 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.

Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Nancy Krippel presents Perry Daughtry, assistant professor of psychology, with the Vulcan Teaching Award during the spring commencement ceremony for the Women's College at Brenau University. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Perry Daughtry, assistant professor of psychology, receives the Vulcan Teaching Award. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Perry Daughtry, assistant professor and undergraduate coordinator in the Psychology Department, 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.

Margie Gill, adjunct faculty in the Psychology Department and assistant director of the Center for Counseling and Psychological Services, and Ben Leaptrott, accompanist and adjunct faculty in the Music Department, received Outstanding Part-Time Faculty Awards.

In all, Brenau plans to recognize about 404 students in the 2017 commencement ceremonies May 5-6. That includes 217 undergraduates and 187 graduate students.

General inquiries: info@brenau.edu, +1-770-534-6299 or +1-800-252-5119 | Admissions: admissions@brenau.edu, +1-770-534-6100 or +1-800-252-5119 ext. 6100