Experience Commencement

Join the class of 2018 as they take their final moments on stage

One-by-one, 266 students crossed the Commencement stage to become the class of 2018.

From 18 states and five countries, the class of 2018 was an eclectic mix of main campus and distance learning students ranging in age from 19 to 64.

Regardless of their differences, each crossed the stage with smiles from ear-to-ear, taking in each moment as their families and professors stood in the crowd calling their names.

It may have only been a handful of seconds for each student, but those few seconds would stand out in their minds for the rest of their lives.



The days before

Before the graduates could glide across the stage in their traditional academic regalia, all the preparations had to be in order.

Staff and faculty worked together to unfold hundreds of white chairs on Tate Lawn with a Commencement program in each seat. Taking up nearly the entirety of the lawn, those chairs would soon be filled with family and friends visiting Banner Elk to watch their sons, daughters, family members and friends take the next big step in their lives.

With historical Tate Residence Hall as the backdrop, the scene was set for an equally as historic day in less than 24 hours. The day would be perfect, even though the threat of thunder and lightning in the forecast loomed in the distance. This, however, was what living in the mountains was all about.

No one, not even Mother Nature, could stop these graduates from taking the final step in their long journey.

Read more about the events leading up to Commencement

A look of pride

The morning of, the graduates gathered in nearby Hayes Auditorium while their families congregated on Tate Lawn. The auditorium was buzzing with excitement as students posed for selfies and group photos, asking one another to adjust their green and gold hoods or sharing how much they would miss one another once the day was done.

As the final moments ticked down, the students took their final place behind one of a few Order of the Tower members; the sound of bagpipes signaled the approach of the graduates as they made their way onto Tate Lawn.

Outside of the Hayes Auditorium doors, faculty and staff lined the walkway, symbolizing their guidance and support for the graduates in their final steps before receiving their degree. The students waved to their professors and the professors looked on with beaming smiles growing across their faces. For a few, tears welled in their eyes; this was the look of pride.

A few moments later, and as the final graduates took their seats on Tate Lawn, it was time to begin the moment everyone had gathered for—Commencement.


The adventure in store

The ceremony began with an invocation from Newland Presbyterian Church Pastor, Rev. Michael McKee, before a welcome from class of 2018 graduate, Seth Gibbons.

“These [past four] years are times that we will not soon forget,” Gibbons said.

That no matter what memories may stand out to you, “like your first day of class in the nursing building, salamander surveys at the field station or being snowed in,” everyone is a part of the Bobcat family “whether you are an online student, transfer or were on campus the whole time.”

“I’m sure that no one here could have imagined the adventure that was in store for them the first time they were led around on a campus tour by a member of the admissions team or an Order of the Tower member,” Gibbons added. “It was one of the first steps on our Bobcat journey. Now, we will take the final steps of that journey today here to receive our diploma. Today is a big day, not just for those of us graduating, but also for everyone here. If you’re here, the chances are that you have had a big impact on at least one of us that will cross this stage today. You’ve helped us get here in some way and for that we thank you.”

In fact, as the graduates would later make their way across the stage, both family and friends as well as faculty and staff who were involved in the success of the student would be asked to stand up.

Gibbons’ remarks were then followed by the presentation of the honorary doctoral degree in business administration to Paul H. Broyhill by Lees-McRae President, Barry M. Buxton, and Provost and Dean of Faculty, Todd M. Lidh.

“The honorary doctorate is given in recognition of distinguished leadership, service and dedication to Lees-McRae as well as the community at large,” Lidh said.

Broyhill, a native of Lincolnton, North Carolina, pursued his degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill before joining the army and serving in the infantry until the end of World War II. Following his return, Broyhill joined his father’s business—Broyhill Furniture. Over the years, Broyhill has contributed to multiple religious, civic and educational contributions including the Lees-McRae Broyhill Theatre in Hayes Auditorium and the Broyhill Wellness Center in Cannon Student Center.

“Paul, we are particularly grateful to you for your support of our beloved Lees-McRae,” Buxton said. “To date, the Broyhill Family Foundation has donated over $1.1 million to Lees-McRae.”


Buxton's final Commencement

Before graduating the class of 2018, Buxton took the stage one more time as the 2018 Commencement speaker.

His time on stage marked the final time he would do so. On May 31, 2018, Buxton would retire as 15th president of Lees-McRae and leave the post he first took in June 2010.

His start at Lees-McRae marked a new chapter for the College, and in the following years, would be marked by campus-wide transformations from its academic buildings, residence halls, grounds, academic programming and even its technology infrastructure.

In his professional career spanning more than 35 years, Buxton has been a teacher, researcher, author, and community leader throughout the South. Born in nearby Blowing Rock, North Carolina, the High Country native brought a new perspective to the small mountain college.

His Commencement speech gave suggestions on how to be successful and insight on happiness.


Welcome class of 2018

Finally, finally, it was time to graduate the class of 2018.

Up the each student went before meeting President Buxton mid-stage with diploma folder in hand. Many graduates quickly exited the stage, but a few others took their time and chose to linger a moment to wave to their families in the crowd or do a short dance.

As the deans called each name on stage, many had to take a moment to personally congratulate their students who they’ve had the chance to get to know over the years. In some cases, they paused a moment to give a quick hug and wipe away a tear.

The crowd of 266 graduates bobbed in their seats, their decorated caps embezzled with jewels, ribbons and glitter glimmered in the sun.

A tradition in academia, now it was time for the turning of the tassel from left to right to signify the recognition of earning a degree.

“On the recommendation of Provost Lidh and with the authority vested in me by the Board of Trustees of Lees-McRae College and the State of North Carolina, I hereby confer upon each of you the appropriate degrees as listed in the official Commencement program with all the rights, privileges and responsibilities pertaining, thereto,” Buxton said. “The trustees, faculty, staff and administrators of Lees-McRae are very proud of you. Congratulations on your achievements!”

Last, but certainly not least, it was time to announce the two winners of the H.C. Evans, Jr. Fidelity awards presented by Dean of the School of Business and Management, Amy Anderson, and Interim Associate Provost for Distance Learning, Ava Yamouti.

“For 23 years, Lees-McRae College has recognized graduating seniors who embody the best qualities of a Lees-McRae student,” Anderson explained. “Named after the late Dr. H. C. Evans, ninth president of the College, the Fidelity Award recognizes academic excellence, campus citizenship, friendliness, leadership and service to Lees-McRae and the surrounding community.”

Anderson added that Dr. Evans used to refer to the Fidelity Award recipient as “Mister or Miss Lees-McRae College.”  

“A Business Administration major with concentrations in Marketing and Finance, from Hillsboro, North Carolina, please join me in congratulating Keegan Crabtree as the 2018 [main campus] recipient of the H.C. Evans Fidelity Award,” Anderson announced.

Following Anderson, Yamouti approached the podium to announce the recipient of the distance learning H.C. Evans, Jr. Fidelity award.

“She represents resilience, courage and diligence,” Yamouti said of the recipient. “This tenacious student was faced with more than her fair share of obstacles while in attendance at Lees-McRae but she never let those obstacles prevail…from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, please join me in congratulating Teresa Hine as the 2018 recipient of the off campus H.C. Evans, Jr. Fidelity Award.”

Just as fast as the ceremony had begun, following the last few announcements—the college hymn and the benediction—Commencement 2018 had come to a close, but the excitement had just begun.

Once the final graduates exited their seats, the friends and families of the graduates were reunited once again.

Holding their caps down on their heads, the former students ran towards their loved ones in hugs and handshakes accompanied by squeals of delight. Faculty and staff joined in on the fun with hugs and congratulations to the now-alumni of Lees-McRae.

By Nina MastandreaMay 10, 2018
AcademicsCommunityOnline LearningAthleticsFamiliesAlumniCampus Life