Amber Simmons reacts to being named the recipient of the Baxter-Bryan Scholarship. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Brenau senior Amber Simmons awarded annual Baxter-Bryan Scholarship

Sep 18, 2020
Kathryne Davis
From left: Mirella Reily, Amber Simmons, Faith Grooms and Olivia Eafano. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Amber Simmons said she didn’t expect to be the recipient of the Baxter-Bryan Scholarship, Brenau’s highest academic honor, and was overcome with emotion when she heard her name called.

“I was overwhelmingly excited,” said Simmons, an elementary education major from Marietta, Georgia. “I knew that I was a strong candidate, but I was surrounded by other also very strong candidates that would have been so deserving of it. It made me really happy. I was filled with so much anxiety. Then Dr. Debra Dobkins handed me my plaque, and I burst into tears.”

Every year, five students from The Women’s College of Brenau University are nominated for the award, which is normally announced during spring Honors Convocation but was pushed back this year due to COVID-19. The scholarship, which covers tuition, room and board for the student’s senior year, has been awarded for the past 30 years. It was established by Joe W. Baxter, who named the scholarship for his sister, Carfax Baxter, and friend, Morris Bryan Jr.

After she was nominated, Simmons waited a while to share the news with her mother because she didn’t want to get her hopes up.

“I FaceTimed my mom when I came back to my room after getting the scholarship,” Simmons said. “I held the camera up and showed her the plaque. She said, ‘I’m so proud of you. I knew you would get it. This just made my day.’ I also said in my interview for the scholarship that all I want to do is make my mom proud, so the fact that I did means the world and more.”

Ashanti Brown, nursing major from Douglasville, Georgia, was the Baxter-Bryan runner-up and received the $6,700 Sidney O. Smith Scholarship, named after the former Brenau trustee and U.S. district judge. Smith was the fourth generation of his family to serve on the leadership board of the institution and remained an active member until his death in 2012. Brenau’s graduate school is also named in his honor.

Ashanti Brown was the recipient of the Sidney O. Smith Scholarship. (Photo courtesy of Ashanti Brown)

“When I first heard that I was receiving this award, I was overjoyed,” Brown said. “This award means that all my sacrifices and all the hard work I’ve put into my studies were noticed and justified. I know you do not always get rewarded for doing your best, but when you do, it feels pretty amazing.”

The three other Baxter-Bryan finalists were Olivia Eafano, acting major from Gainesville, Georgia; Faith Grooms, elementary education major from Commerce, Georgia; and Mirella Reily, studio art major from Marietta, Georgia. Each received $2,500 Provost Scholarships.

“The five Baxter-Bryan Scholarship finalists are outstanding Brenau students, and they personify the Brenau Ideal by upholding their commitments to both academic excellence and service within their local communities,” said Provost Jim Eck.

In addition to their academic successes, the five finalists are very involved on campus. Some of their activities include being part of athletic teams, sororities and honor societies, as well as volunteering as Tiger Tutors and campus tour Golden Guides, serving as resident assistants and working in the Writing Center and with the Gainesville Theatre Alliance.

“Choosing the scholars is the best day and the hardest day,” said Amanda Lammers, vice president of student services and selection committee member. “The best because each student is such a joy to work with, and the hardest because choosing a winner is so very difficult. This year was certainly no exception. Each nominee is a fine representative of Brenau.”