Lees-McRae College conferred degrees upon 202 graduates during commencement exercises Saturday, May 10 inside Williams Gymnasium on the campus in Banner Elk.
President of the Student Government Association, Ms. Heather Peterman, addressed the students saying, “As you move into the next stage of your life, remember how important it is to take time out for you…Take in your surroundings, figure out what matters to you and cherish it…To my graduating family, I would once again like to say congratulations, we did it!”
With the assistance of the chairman of the Board of Trustees, Mr. Harvey Lowd, President Barry M. Buxton presented this year’s commencement speakers with honorary doctoral degrees. Mr. Thomas H. Brigham, Jr. ’72 was awarded an honorary doctorate of business administration and Ms. Jane B. Stephenson ’57 was awarded an honorary doctorate of humanities.
Mr. Brigham, a Lees-McRae College Board of Trustees member and former chairman of the Board, is the Chairman of ARC Realty and President and CEO of ARK Real Estate Strategies, LLC, located in Birmingham, Ala. After accepting his honorary degree, Mr. Brigham gave his commencement address titled, “Pursuing your passion and living life for significance.” Mr. Brigham said, “I want to begin my remarks by quoting a verse of scripture written by the apostle Paul in the book of Philippians, chapter 2, verses 3-4. ‘Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.’”
He continued, “About 43 years ago I was a struggling young guy who did not have direction in life… [my father] gave me an ultimatum: either live life by the values and standards [I was] brought up under or find [myself] in the military… fortunately my dad marched me down to meet with Dr. H.C. Evans, who was president of Lees-McRae at that time. My father turned into a Philippians 2 father at that point in my life. Fortunately for me, Dr. Evans was also a Philippians 2 college president and man… Dr. Evans gave me a chance at Lees-McRae College but told me to keep my nose clean…I took that chance and your alma mater and my alma mater gave me a chance to build a new foundation for my life. It was because Dr. Evans, much like Dr. Buxton is doing today, believed in investing in the lives of young men and women… It was also because the faculty, staff and administration at Lees-McRae were Philippians 2 people, just like I’m sure you experienced during your time at Lees-McRae.”
After Mr. Brigham’s speech, Ms. Stephenson took the stage to accept her honorary doctorate of humanities. Ms. Stephenson is the former Appalachian Director for the Steele-Reese Foundation and founder of the New Opportunity School for Women. During her commencement address titled, “Leap into life and make a difference,” she said, “As I look back through the years I have an even greater appreciation of Lees-McRae because I know how much influence this school had on my life and the road my life has taken…We cannot even imagine how many lives have been changed for the better because the Rev. Edgar Tufts had a vision of making a difference by offering education to the children of these mountains and beyond, and now you, too, are beneficiaries of this vision.”
She concluded her speech by saying, “My greatest wish for you today is that you, too, can feel the joy of knowing that your accomplishments in life have made a difference to others and the world in which you live. I challenge you to heed the words of John Wesley, a British clergyman, who wrote these words in the mid-1700s: ‘Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as you ever can.’ Congratulations to each of you. Go forth from here today and leap into life with all of your energy, compassion and commitment to make a difference as long as you ever can.”
At the conclusion of Ms. Stephenson’s address, degrees were conferred upon the 202 graduates by President Buxton.
After the conferral of degrees, two graduates were honored with the H.C. Evans, Jr. Fidelity Award. Named after the late Dr. H.C. Evans, ninth president of Lees-McRae College, the Fidelity Award recognizes academic excellence, campus citizenship, friendliness and service to the College and community. The recipient is selected by the graduates themselves, approved by the faculty and administration, and represents the highest ideals of the graduating class. Dr. Evans used to refer to the Fidelity Award recipient as “Mr. or Miss Lees-McRae College.”
Dr. Ken Craig, chair of the Division of Humanities, presented the award for main campus to Meagan Kelly, a native of Hickory, N.C., who earned her bachelor of arts in religious studies and graduated magna cum laude. During his speech, Dr. Craig said, “The recipient of the H.C. Evans Fidelity Award for main campus is, indeed, a student admired and respected by faculty, staff, administrators and her peers for her extraordinary spirit and leadership. This recipient has been very involved during her time at Lees-McRae College both inside and outside of the classroom. When you don't find her in the library studying to make sure she excels academically, you will find her in a hammock or climbing walls, rocks, and trees.”
Mr. Bo Bennett, vice president of extended campus and online learning, presented the award for extended campus to Erin Lunsford, a native of Fletcher, N.C., who earned her bachelor of science in nursing and graduated summa cum laude. In his speech, Mr. Bennett said, “From the first day of class this student was excited, jovial, positive, encouraging and engaging. It was rare to see her without a smile on her face…During the second year of the program it was discovered that this student was battling cancer. She was receiving chemotherapy treatments and was very sick during many classes. She never lost her positive attitude and her jovialness…She remained encouraging and engaging with her fellow classmates… God bless this student for being so strong and determined.”
For more information about commencement at Lees-McRae, please visit lmc.edu/commencement. To view photos from the 2014 commencement ceremony, please visit Lees-McRae College’s facebook page at facebook.com/lmc.edu.
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