make a difference and remain open to education of any kind.
Largest Graduating Class Celebrates, Remembers Classmates
An emotional year came to a close on Saturday as the largest graduating class in Lees-McRae College history participated in commencement ceremonies. Before receiving their diplomas, the 203 seniors received some advice on the future from a voice of Lees-McRae’s past.
The Rev. Dr. O’dell Smith, faculty emeritus of Lees-McRae who served as the dean of students from 1968-1980 and then the chair of the division of social sciences from 1980-1995, encouraged the class to first determine their next step in life and then “resolve to make a difference.” Speaking of a recent encounter with an alumnus of Lees-McRae College, Smith encouraged the new graduates to emulate his example.
“He is making a positive difference everywhere he goes. … He is the kind of person who makes us feel good about being alive. … (H)e makes life better for others. For you, as Lees-McRae College graduates, it is my hope that you resolve to make life better for others.”
Smith also reminded the students to not abandon their pursuit of knowledge after leaving the halls of Lees-McRae.
“You are constantly being told by the world out there, at times referred to as the ‘real’ world, that graduates … come up short when they are given instructions to read and decisions to make,” he said. “Bridging the gap between the Banner Elk campus and the daily expectations of your employer will require the next step of refining your learning skills and becoming flexible and adaptable.”
After the conferral of the degrees, Lees-McRae president Dr. David Bushman gave the new alumni the opportunity to thank the people who had offered them support during their years at the College.
“I know the pride and happiness you are feeling at this moment, but … you did not achieve this success on your own,” he said. “You are the beneficiaries of a college staff that nurtured and aided you through the complexities of paperwork and scheduling. You have been instructed, advised and mentored by a professional, dedicated and caring faculty. And you have had the support and guidance of your family and friends, who rejoiced in your victories, who gave words of encouragement in the difficult times and who never let you quit. This is the appropriate time for your to turn, and acknowledge with your applause, all those who have helped you on this journey.”
Special recognition was given to Bridget Thornton, recipient of the H.C. Evans Fidelity Award. A business administration major and art minor, Thornton led the women’s volleyball team to a divisional title and the elite eight in the Division II NCAA national tournament. She also served as a resident assistant and participated in such clubs as Approaching The Throne and Alpha Chi.
The late Dr. H.C. Evans, the ninth president of Lees-McRae, established the award, which recognizes academic excellence, campus citizenship, friendliness and service to the college. The recipient is selected by the graduates themselves, approved by the faculty and represents the highest ideals of the graduating class.
While the ceremony was one of celebration, it also was one of remembrance. Chris Lyerly, the brother of Nathan “Griff” Lyerly who died along with two other Lees-McRae students, Michael Shope and “Arch” McFadyen, in a boating accident on March 10, accepted his brother’s diploma.
Notable guests included Mrs. Jane Baucom Stephenson ’57, incoming chair of the College Board of Trustees, and fellow board member Mr. Murray White.