2013 Commencement Returns to Front Lawn

Dec 10, 2012
Brenau Staff

Former State Department Official Anne-Marie Slaughter and Newsweek Columnist Eleanor Clift to Speak

The last time Brenau held commencement exercises outdoors, Ronald Reagan was president and the university did not technically exist until its status changed from “college” to “university” about five years later. But Brenau’s $6.5 million expansion of graduate health professions programs involves Georgia Mountains center renovations that require the university to return to the tradition.

Brenau University will recapture this spring a tradition that has been on hold for close to a quarter of a century when it moves its commencement exercises on May 3 and 4, 2013, to the outdoor venue on the “front lawn” of the historic Gainesville campus.

For 25 years the university has held graduation ceremonies in the 2,500-seat arena at the city-owned Georgia Mountains Center. However, the arena will no longer be available because of the actions of the Mountains Center’s new tenant: Brenau University.

With occupancy effective Dec. 15, Brenau in January plans to begin extensive renovations, converting the single-floor 19,000-square-foot arena into two floors of about 36,000 square feet of classrooms, laboratories, offices and other academic space. Pending approval by accrediting agencies, Brenau plans to base doctorate in physical therapy and other health care-related professional programs there.

Anne-Marie Slaughter mug shot
In a celebrated national magazine article about the role of women in society, Princeton Professor Anne-Marie Slaughter, Brenau’s May 3 commencement speaker, chronicled her decision to give up the historic role as the first woman in a prestigious State Department post.

“That gives us an excellent opportunity to return to the tradition of celebrating the graduation of our students in a very picturesque setting,” said Nancy Krippel, the provost and vice president for academic affairs. “We will have two lovely ceremonies.”

About 300 students from the undergraduate Women’s College will graduate on Friday evening, May 3. The Saturday morning ceremony on May 4 will be for about 450 graduate degree candidates and undergraduates from various Brenau campuses and online studies. 


Internationally Renowned Speakers

Friday’s speaker will be Anne-Marie Slaughter, former U.S. State Department director of policy planning, the first woman to hold the influential post and the widely heralded architect of the blueprint for elevating development and leading through civilian power as the pillar of American foreign policy.

She left the post after two years to return to academia as professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University.

She wrote about the difficulty in women’s balancing career and family in an article titled “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All” in the July/August 2012 issue of The Atlantic.

In the first four days after publication, the piece attracted 725,000 unique readers, making it measurably the most popular article ever published in that magazine. In the same period, it received over 119,000 Facebook “Recommends,” making it by far the most “liked” piece ever to appear in any version of the magazine. Within several days, it had been discussed in detail on the front page of the New York Times and in many other media outlets, attracting attention from around the world.

Eleanor Clift mugshot
Newsweek Columnist Eleanor Clift, who as one of the top Washington journalists has covered every president since the 1970s, literally had to join a celebrated lawsuit to break out of the steno pool in the magazine’s “Mad Men” world of the 1960s.

Saturday’s speaker will be Eleanor Clift, internationally known political reporter, television pundit and author.

She is currently a contributing editor for Newsweek magazine, where she began working in the 1960s in the secretarial pool. Clift was one of more than 40 female employees of the magazine who filed a class-action lawsuit against their employer in the 1970s when the magazine employed no women as editors or correspondents, a lawsuit that put in motion a chain reaction of social change in newsrooms and media companies throughout the United States.

Her column, “Capitol Letter,” is posted each week on the Newsweek and MSNBC websites. She is a regular panelist on the nationally syndicated show The McLaughlin Group and she is also a political contributor for the Fox News Channel.

Clift is a board member of the International Women’s Media Foundation. 

Practical decision

John S. Burd, the former president of Brenau who made the decision to move commencement to the Mountains Center following the 1986 graduation, said a number of factors influenced the decision, including weather and ambient noise. If it rained, the only backup plan available at the time was to move the single ceremony inside to Pearce Auditorium, which only seats 750. With the numbers of graduates increasing every year, the lack of facilities capable of handling larger crowds meant many guests could not be accommodated.

However, Krippel said planning will address all such contingencies, including locking in the massive sanctuary and facilities at the First Baptist Church of Gainesville as a backup venue.

“I don’t recall that we were mad about the move to the Mountains Center, or anything like that,” said Amy Flagel Scandrett, an Allen, Texas, resident who was a member of the Class of 1987, the first group to graduate in the Mountains Center. “It was a whole lot bigger and air conditioned. But I like the idea of having graduation on campus. Brenau is all about tradition, and while the Mountains Center was bigger, I think you lose some of the closeness you might have by sticking close to campus.”

Two years ago the university initiated a Saturday program in which graduate students involved in the commencement came to the main campus for hooding ceremonies in their respective colleges. Following those, all Saturday graduates and their families were invited to a picnic on the front lawn, and for many, particularly online graduates and graduates from other locations, the event marked the first time they’d set foot on the historic campus.

Brenau Trustee Anna Jacobs of Gainesville, a member of the 1986 class that was the last to graduate on campus, agreed that moving commencement back to campus is a good idea.

“That decision will enable Brenau graduates to enjoy the beauty and tradition that so many graduates have enjoyed through the years,” she said. “Women’s College graduates and their families in particular can experience this milestone in the spring on the grounds where the graduates’ educational careers began.”

Since the 30-year-old Mountains Center was losing money each year as a convention and events venue, the city agreed to a leasing arrangement with Brenau under favorable terms for both parties.

Brenau’s investment in the project totals about $6.5 million. That includes costs of renovations, building technology infrastructure, equipment for high-level health-related graduate programs and research, and other costs associated with starting new professional health care programs. Funding will come from the university with monies raised through donations, grants and possibly bonds.

The investment will put into action Brenau’s long-term plans to expand graduate-level programs leading to masters degrees and doctorates in the health care and rehabilitative services professional disciplines like physical therapy, pharmacy and physician assistant preparation.

 Initial estimates project that, once the programs that Brenau envisions for the Mountains Center operate at planned capacity, Brenau’s expansion in the Gainesville town square area will result in $40 million a year in direct economic impact.