Brenau winter 2021 nursing graduates
Nursing graduates celebrate after Brenau's 2021 winter commencement ceremonies. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Brenau honors more than 400 new graduates at winter commencement ceremonies

Dec 10, 2021
Alyson Shields

Brenau University celebrated more than 400 new graduates during two winter commencement ceremonies on Friday, Dec. 10, in Pearce Auditorium on the historic Gainesville campus.

For the summer and fall semesters, more than 180 undergraduate degrees were conferred — including 27 in The Women’s College — while about 230 master’s, doctoral and specialist graduate degrees were conferred. In all, graduates represented 24 states and four countries, including China, Colombia and Brazil.

Epsy Campbell Barr
Vice President of Costa Rica Epsy Campbell Barr delivers the commencement address to the 2021 winter graduates. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Vice President of Costa Rica Epsy Campbell Barr was the featured speaker at both ceremonies. She advised graduates to remember five things to achieve their goals: be ambitious, have a plan, be persistent, keep learning, and show passion and compassion. She also praised what she called “the shining generation.”

“Without a doubt, that solidarity and empathy that you have as a generation may be the most important asset in the fight for human rights,” she said. “You are a more compassionate generation with a greater commitment for justice. A more emphatic generation that wants to transform what is wrong, willing to learn from the past and build collectively to guarantee the rights for all.”

Campbell Barr was presented with an honorary doctoral degree by Brenau University President Anne Skleder, who noted that the Gainesville City Council also issued a proclamation honoring Brenau and Campbell Barr.

“For 142 years, Brenau has been graduating world-class students who have gone on to transform their lives, their workplaces, their communities and the world,” Skleder said. “I am honored to be in their presence today, and I cannot wait to see the mark they will make.”

Nearly 100 of Brenau’s newest alumni earned nursing degrees from the Mary Inez Grindle School of Nursing in the Ivester College of Health Sciences, including Tiffany Collier, an Air Force medic. Collier recently was activated in New York as part of the response to the newest coronavirus variant. Collier said while she was devastated to miss walking across the stage, she knew she was still making a difference.

“As much as it pains me to not be there to walk across the stage with pride, my life, my job and my sacrifice are bigger than me,” said Collier, whose husband, D’Michael, and her children accepted her diploma on her behalf.

Collier, one of six active military graduates in her class, commuted back and forth from her classes at Brenau to New York as she earned her degree alongside her career. She also parented her four children, all under age 10, even giving birth to her son hours after a final exam. As the only one of her siblings to become a college graduate, Collier said it was important for her family, especially her children, to see her succeed.

“I wanted to show my children that I am more than a housewife and a mom but an accomplished independent, strong woman,” Collier said. “And I wanted to show myself that I am worth it, but it’s OK. My purpose is bigger than the stage I walk on.”

Collier, who has served on three special missions while in school, encouraged other military students to keep going.

“Remind yourself constantly of why you’re doing what you do and understand that sometimes you have to go through something to get to something,” she said.

Likewise, Skleder commended graduates for overcoming great adversity to earn their degrees.

“It is an understatement to say that the last almost two years were a challenge, but they did not deter you,” Skleder said.

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View more 2021 winter commencement photos: Undergraduate   |   Graduate

Collier family
The family of Tiffany Collier accepts her Bachelor of Science in Nursing on her behalf. Collier is an Air Force Medic and could not attend winter commencement due to activation. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)