The sound of bag pipes and drums this past Saturday, May 20th signified the start of the 2017 processional march and commencement ceremony to celebrate the accomplishments of LaGrange College students who have earned their degrees and are embarking on a new future.
President McAlexander welcomed all in attendance, acknowledged the importance of the faculty and families and challenged the new graduates to “carry the ideas of your alma mater’s mission out into the world, continuing the challenge minds, to inspire souls, and to search always for truth – to carry the values that have guided your experience here – to be ethical and caring, and to value civility, diversity and excellence.”
The LaGrange College Chamber Choir sang “A Mighty Fortress is our God” in a beautiful performance preceding the awards presentation.
Senior Asti White presented Dr. McAlexander with a check for $1,300, the result of the annual Senior Giveback Challenge. There was a new college record set as a result of the high level of Senior participation in 2017 – signifying the impact that LaGrange College has had on this graduating class.
Timothy Barnes received the Waights G. Henry Jr. Leadership Award. This is the highest award given to a student. The award is based on significant achievement in three areas: scholarship, service and leadership. In his acceptance speech, Timothy talked about the importance of identifying his passion in his first year and the transformation experience provided through his four years at LaGrange College. In closing, Timothy left his classmates with the message of facing any of their fears with their “head held high and always remember what it is to be a Panther” as he believes that “God has placed the best things in life on the other side of terror.”
Beth Farokhi, President of the Alumni Executive Committee, presented the Distinguished Service Alumni Award to Nancy Mitchell Morris, class of 1960. The recipient of this honor is selected based on his/her continuation of devotion to and support of LaGrange College and its mission to challenge the mind and inspire the souls of young men and women. In her acceptance speech, Nancy recalled a woman (Stella Bradfield) that she never met, but also a woman that she would never forget as it was through her scholarship fund that Nancy received the support she needed to attend LaGrange College. Stella taught at LaGrange College during the early 1900s and upon retirement established a scholarship fund for future students.
Thirteen years ago, Nancy lost both her son and husband to untimely deaths. Wanting to provide other students with the same opportunity and to memorialize their names, Nancy established scholarship funds in both of their names. A scholarship to LaGrange College was established in memory of her son. It is her hope that students who receive this scholarship to La-Grange College will occasionally think of her son, as she did Stella Bradfield. Morris hopes that the scholarship recipients will benefit greatly from the transformative experience the college is able to provide all of its students.
With an impressive resume and an endless list of ways she has served LaGrange College post graduation, Janet Mabrey Gipson Caswell was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humanities. Having listed Mrs. Caswell’s many accomplishments for the audience, Dr. Alexander proclaimed that her greatest attributes and qualifications for this honor were “[her] joyous spirit that touches everyone she meets – [her] exuberant hospitality, business acumen and personal resources that have benefited this college and helped ensure that every student has the opportunity to be transformed.”
Judge Richard W. Story Story, class of 1975 and U.S. District Court judge for the Northern District of Georgia, delivered the moving commencement speech for the 2017 graduates. In his address, he encouraged graduates to choose to be kind. “The sad truth is that we have lost our sense of civility,” he said. “We can no longer engage in meaningful discussions about substantive issues without having those discussions descend into bitter, personal attacks. We have lost the ability to listen to one another with an open mind, and are unwilling to consider that we could possibly be wrong about a matter.”
Story credited our dependence on digital communication as the key factor in challenges with meaningful connectivity. “We don’t see the people with whom we are communicating or hear the inflections in their voices,” he said. “Thus, much of the emotion is missing.” There is no magic solution to the problem, he said, but each of us has the power to make a difference, one person at a time.
And how can we make a difference? Story stated “At the expense of being profoundly simplistic, I suggest to you that the early 20thcentury author and critic, Henry James, offers a good point from which to begin. He said, ‘Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.’” Speaking directly to the graduates, Story concluded by reminding the students of the value of their experience and education through LaGrange College and their responsibility to direct change. “You have received an education here that not only challenged your minds but inspired your souls,” he said. “You have been uniquely prepared to be an agent for change, to be servant leaders. So graduates, my charge to you is so, so simple,” he concluded. “Be kind.”