Brenau Women's College seniors sing the Alma Mater during this year's commencement.
Brenau Women's College seniors sing the Alma Mater during this year's commencement.

28-year-old Entrepreneur Amanda Slavin Challenges Graduates to ‘Look Back’ as Well as Forward

May. 1, 2015
David Morrison
Amanda Slavin, founder and CEO of CatalystCreativ, addressed the 2015 graduates of the Brenau Women's College.

Amanda Slavin, founder and CEO of CatalystCreativ, addressed the 2015 graduates of the Brenau Women’s College.

Amanda Slavin, the 28-year-old entrepreneur that Forbes magazine recognized as one of the top 30 marketing and advertising professionals who have not yet celebrated their 30th birthdays, cautioned members of the 2015 Brenau University Women’s College graduating class to measure success as they go forth in life “not by what you accomplish…but by who you are.”

As she spoke of the graduates’ standing at “that beautiful and amazing crossroads [of life] where you are in control” in deciding how to make a mark in life, she said the best advice she could impart is that “knowing yourself and standing up for what you believe will always set you apart from the crowd.”

Slavin said that when she in her life reached the same milestone as the graduates, completing her undergraduate and graduate studies at the University of Connecticut, she was so busy thinking about success that “I didn’t have time to look back at myself because I was too busy looking forward.” She wound up spending four years in a job from which she achieved little satisfaction and in a lifestyle that altered the image she saw in the mirror.

Slavin spoke just before the 137-year-old Women’s College awarded 167 undergraduate diplomas for studies in arts and sciences, nursing, business, music and other academic disciplines. The university planned to complete its commencement exercises on Saturday, May 2, awarding graduate and undergraduate diplomas for its co-educational programs in Gainesville and other campuses.

DeBerne Kelly tears up as her granddaughter Byronica Banks reads kind words describing how much acting as caregiver meant to Banks while she was a student at Brenau. During the 2015 Brenau Women's College Commencement, Kelly was awarded an honorary degree.

DeBerne Kelly tears up as her granddaughter Byronica Banks reads kind words describing how much acting as caregiver meant to Banks while she was a student at Brenau.

However, the university conferred the 168th diploma on a person best known on campus as “Grandma”: DeBerne Kelly, the grandmother of Brenau Student Government President Byronica Banks who graduated with the rest of the class of 2015.

Kelly came to Brenau as live-in caregiver for her granddaughter, who has the condition known as “brittle bone disease” and gets around campus in a wheelchair. However, Kelly quickly became virtually everybody’s “Grandma” among student, faculty and staff on the Gainesville campus. After Kelly’s four years at Brenau, the university Board of Trustees voted in March to award Kelly an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree. Brenau President Ed Schrader surprised Kelly with the degree in the early part of the ceremony when he called her granddaughter to the stage.

“Over the past four years, Grandma has been supportive to all of her inherited ‘grandchildren’ at Brenau,” said Banks, a general studies major from Irmo, South Carolina. “She wanted us all to see this day. She encouraged us to stay focused in our schoolwork at all times.  Whether it was reading over essays, listening and critiquing presentations, or giving us a lesson in American history just by her own life experiences, she made it her goal to push us to do our very best each and every day.  Grandma has always been our biggest cheerleader.”

In addition to diplomas, the university issued awards for academic and professional excellence.

Kassidy Reagan Locke, a health science major from Athens, Tennessee, received both the Alpha Lambda Delta Book Award, – presented to the national honor society member with the highest grade point average – and the Cora Anderson Hill Award for outstanding academic performance. Named for a Brenau alumna from Gainesville, Georgia, who had a distinguished career in journalism and public service, the latter award goes each year to the Women’s College graduate with the highest grade point average.

Julie Battle, professor of psychology and chair of the Psychology Department, received the Ann Austin Johnston Award, which includes a $2,500 prize, for outstanding teaching. Donald C. Johnston of Dublin, Georgia, established the award in honor of his wife, who was a Brenau graduate.

Bryan Sorohan, associate professor of education, received the Vulcan Teaching Award for teaching excellence and leadership with a $1,000 prize funded by Vulcan Materials Company through the Georgia Independent Colleges Association. Sorohan did not attend the 2015 commencement because he is in China, working on development of a cooperative program with Anhui Normal Institute that annually will bring scores of Chinese students to study early childhood education on the Brenau campus starting in 2016.

Kimberly Willis, who teaches conflict resolution and legal studies half time in the Humanities Department, and part-time faculty in Humanities Department and Gay Hammond, part-time faculty in Theatre Department, both received outstanding part-time faculty member awards. Hammond, who recently completed a Master of Fine Arts degree in writing from Spalding University, has written and directed numerous plays performed at Brenau through the Gainesville Theatre Alliance’s vaunted WonderQuest theater program for children.

Kelly Allen, left, poses for a selfie with her coworker and friends Menika Marshall after the 2015 Brenau Women's College Commencement where Allen graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing.

Kelly Allen, left, poses for a selfie with her coworker and friends Menika Marshall after the 2015 Brenau Women’s College Commencement where Allen graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing.

Slavin, who holds a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from the University of Connecticut, is founder and CEO of CatalystCreativ, an organization that develops innovative approaches, which it calls “experiences,” to help corporations and institutions tell their brand stories in impactful ways – particularly to the highly desirable “millennials” market sector. The start-up company received major funding from the Downtown Project, the venture-support organization established by Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, the online world’s largest online shoe and apparel shop that Amazon acquired in 2009 for $1.2 billion.

“She has mastered the importance of human connections in just about all aspects of our lives – not only for individuals but also for some of the largest corporations and institutions in the world that often lose sight of the importance of person-to-person communication in any relationship,” said Brenau President Schrader. “She has done that in an innovative and inspirational fashion. At an age when many are just starting careers and still trying to figure out what they’re going to do, Amanda is at the top of her game and still going and growing.”

The Women’s College diplomas for the 2014-15 academic year included 57 Bachelor of Science, 46 Bachelor of Science in Nursing and 40 Bachelor of Arts degrees. Remaining Women’s College diplomas this year were for studies in music, business administration and fine arts.

All told, Brenau planned to acknowledge those receiving 675 degrees in the 2015 graduation ceremonies May 1 and 2. That includes 317 undergraduate degrees and 358 graduate degrees – counting four Doctor of Nursing practice doctoral degrees.

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