Debra Cooper reacts as she lays eyes on her daughter Staff Sgt. Markita James who told her mother she would still be in the Middle East during her mother's graduation. "She's my she-ro," James said about her mother.
Debra Cooper reacts as she lays eyes on her daughter Staff Sgt. Markita James who told her mother she would still be in the Middle East during her mother's graduation. "She's my she-ro," James said about her mother.

Surprise Veterans Reunion Highlights Graduation Ceremony

May. 2, 2015
David Morrison

When Brenau University President Ed Schrader gave his welcoming remarks at the 2015 commencement, he gave a special acknowledgment to the active duty military personnel and veterans among the graduating class. Schrader singled out one veteran: Debra Cooper from Winder, Georgia, who was about to receive a diploma for a Master of Occupational Therapy degree.

Not only had Cooper served in the U.S. Army herself, Schrader said, but also her daughter, Staff Sgt. Markita James of Dublin, Georgia, was currently serving in Afghanistan.

Then Schrader corrected himself.

Staff Sgt. Markita James hides behind her brother Michael and Brenau's Rosanne Short before surprising her mother Debra Cooper during this year's 2015 Undergraduate and Graduate Commencement.

Staff Sgt. Markita James hides behind her brother Michael and Brenau’s Rosanne Short before surprising her mother Debra Cooper during this year’s 2015 Undergraduate and Graduate Commencement.

“Actually Sgt. James is not in Afghanistan,” he said. “She is here so that she could be with her mother at graduation.”

James had stealthily positioned herself in the audience behind the graduating class, but when Schrader said the words “not in Afghanistan,” mom Cooper got the hint and began frantically looking around. The run-hug-squeal-cry mother and daughter re-union became an instant “YouTube” moment.

Cooper did calm down subsequently – long enough to take her place among several hundred on hand to receive recognition for completion of undergraduate or graduate studies in one of Brenau’s co-educational programs on several campuses and online. The university this spring conferred 358 graduate degrees, including four doctorates in nursing practice, and 317 undergraduate degrees.

The latter number included 167 undergraduate diplomas awarded at a separate ceremony on Friday, May 1, for the Class of 2015 in the 137-year-old Brenau Women’s College that remains a thriving part of the larger university. (See related article at http://brena.us/1FGexXG)

Schrader also announced in his welcoming remarks that Brenau cleared the last hurdle for opening its newest campus in Jacksonville, Florida. The university on May 1 received an official letter from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges had authorized the university to begin immediately with instruction in undergraduate and graduate programs.

Brenau several months ago completed the $210,000 4,380-square-foot build-out for leased space on the top floor of a former Bank of America four-story office building at 6622 Southpoint Drive S. in the northeast Florida city. The accrediting agency approval, however, means that the university can now hang signage and advertise its presence as well as recruit and enroll students.

Although Brenau has long-standing operations outside of Gainesville in Augusta, Fairburn, Norcross and just a few miles north of Jacksonville at the U.S. Navy Kings Bay submarine base near St. Marys, Georgia, Jacksonville will be the first out-of-state campus for Brenau since the Women’s College in the early 20th century briefly operated a branch in Eufaula, Alabama.

Schrader told graduates Saturday – many of whom had never visited the historic Gainesville campus during their tenures as students – to regard any Brenau campus as their home. “We are family and those campuses are your home, too,” he said.

 

Debra Johnson smiles to her son Christian after she earned her Master of Business Administration degree during the 2015 Undergraduate and Graduate Commencement at Brenau.

Debra Johnson smiles to her son Christian after she earned her Master of Business Administration degree during the 2015 Undergraduate and Graduate Commencement at Brenau.

Amanda Slavin, the 28-year-old entrepreneur who appears on Forbes magazine “30-under-30” list of top U.S. marketing and advertising professionals, addressed commencement groups, challenged graduates to measure success as they go forth in life “not by what you accomplish…but by who you are.”

“You are at a beautiful and amazing crossroads where you get to control the outcome,” she said. “You get to sit in these very seats today with those who love you, support you and appreciate you…. You get to do what makes you proud, you get to appreciate those who you love, you get to make the decisions to use what you have learned the past four-plus years and you get to follow your dreams. How cool is that?”

(See the full text of Amanda Slavin’s remarks at http://brena.us/1FGfGP3)

 

 

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