The 2015 graduating class of Brevard College turned their tassels before a crowd numbering near 1,000 on Saturday at the College’s 162nd commencement exercises held on the Betty Neale Academic Quadrangle.
“Each of you becomes an esteemed graduate of Brevard College, and we will proudly claim you all as BC alumni,” said Brevard College President David Joyce in his opening welcome to the graduates.
Clad in the traditional academic regalia of cap, gown and colorful hoods, the newly minted scholars gathered together under crisp blue skies, poised and eager for what lies beyond the gates of their alma mater.
This year’s graduates are a diverse class, with students from the U.S ., Brazil, Finland, Israel, Mexico, the Republic of South Africa and Venezuela.
They are a class who performed, experimented, wrote, painted, paddled, volunteered, photographed, climbed and taught their way through four years of hands-on classes demanding engagement and focused reflection every step of the way.
The Class of 2015 performed 9,700 hours of community service, garnered high achievements in both scholastics and athletics and was instrumental in helping Brevard College become the first academic institution in the Southeast to commit to divesting from fossil fuels.
“We didn’t just learn chemistry, creative writing, economics and 3-D design,” said Thea Dunn, an English major from Weiden, Germany, who was chosen as one of the graduating class speakers. “We learned how to learn, and, hopefully, to love it.”
Brevard College, a four-year liberal arts college founded in 1853, is the longest ongoing private institution in Brevard.
The college employs 51 full-time faculty, 118 full-time staff, and is home to 705 students from 31 states and 33 foreign countries. The college recently saw a surge in enrollment for both the fall 2014 and spring 2015 semesters.
“As a part of the privileged educated elite, it is up to us to live by our beliefs, to stand out with grace, and to own where we have come from,” Dunn said. “It is our responsibility to lead our generation and the next in the inevitable challenges we will face as members of this world.”
Throughout the hour-long commencement ceremony, several students were recognized for their distinguished achievements at the college.
Two graduates were awarded the Presidential Award for Scholarship: Steven Heebner, from Hendersonville, and Heidi Kaartinen (also chosen as a graduating class speaker), from Espoo, Finland; demonstrating that one can achieve academic excellence whether you’re an ocean away from home or in your back yard.
Kaartinen began her speech in her native tongue before asking her peers to reflect on how they have influenced Brevard College and how the college has influenced them.
“For many of us graduates, Brevard College has become our second home, and the people we have met here have formed into our own version of modern family,” she said.
This is a sentiment that Anne Anthony understands well. Her daughter, Rachel Anthony, a music major from Mount Pleasant, S.C, was honored Saturday for her moral character, citizenship and leadership both on and off campus with the prestigious C. Edward and Brona N. Roy Good Citizenship Award.
“Brevard College has provided unique opportunities for Rachel to engage with her faculty at every level,” said Anne Anthony. “Not only have they provided classroom instruction, but they have been her mentors, advocates, friends, and her parents.
“These relationships have enabled her to grow as a person as well as academically and as an artist.”
Dunn and Kaartinen were among three students who received the Presidential Award for Distinction, honoring outstanding leadership, service and academic achievement.
The third graduate, Kara Fohner, is an English major from Mills River pursuing a career in teaching.
Joyce, in his final words to the college’s newest class of alumni, reminded graduates that they would forever be a member of theBrevard College family.
“We pray that you have developed the ability to discern an opportunity and act upon it, if it is the right thing for you,” he said in his traditional charge. “Your education does not end here. Live your life to the fullest. Be open to its opportunities. God bless you all in your endeavors.”
Once “Guarded Well By Mountains,” as the official Brevard College hymn goes, by the end of the commencement exercises the graduates seemed ready to take on their next adventures.
After leading the crowd of proud parents and friends in the hymn, Anthony smiled at her peers, leaned into the microphone and shouted: “Hats off to the class of 2015!”