We are Bobcat Strong

Honoring the Class of 2020

Both at Lees-McRae and universities across the U.S. these last few weeks, commencement ceremonies have looked quite different. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most, if not all, institutions opted to shift their gatherings to virtual celebrations or postpone their in-person ceremonies to a later date.

The sudden shift to remote learning earlier this spring also left many seniors across the nation feeling that the rug was pulled from beneath them. However, Bobcats, perhaps better than any other student, know how to rise above it all even in the face of adversity.

Over the last four years, the Class of 2020 worked hard toward their degrees—staying up late studying and pushing themselves outside of their comfort zones all in the name of one of their greatest life achievements. Put simply, there was nothing, not even COVID-19, that was going to get in the way of the Class of 2020 and their desire to complete their degrees.

Though graduation didn’t look quite as they had envisioned, faculty, staff, families, friends and so many others gathered virtually on Friday, May 8 for the End-of-Year Celebration on the Lees-McRae Facebook page. There, each candidate for graduation was recognized, awards were presented to outstanding students, faculty, and staff, and the next class of the Alpha Chi National College Honor Society were inducted.

In the days leading into the event and as part of a new tradition, the Class of 2020 voted on a motto that defined them, a phrase that would be etched on a brick and installed in front of the Needham Alumni House in their honor. It should come to no surprise that the motto they chose was Bobcat Strong—two words with big meaning for the small school and the mighty class that pushed, and ultimately triumphed, in the journey to earn their degrees.

We wanted to learn what Bobcat Strong meant to members of the Class of 2020 and what that journey along the way has looked like. Meet three graduates, get to know their stories, and learn what is in store for the next chapter of their lives.


(pictured middle)
Madeline Horne

Major: Psychology

Minor: Elementary Education

Edgar Tufts Humanitarian Service Award recipient

Member and Vice President of the Order of the Tower




Why did you want to study at Lees-McRae, and why did you want to study what you’ve since graduated with?

I came to Lees-McRae with the intention of majoring in education and minoring in religion. However, throughout my first semester at Lees-McRae, my plans began to change. I took a general psychology class with Dr. Carson and absolutely loved it. As I took more classes in psychology, I found that it was where I wanted to focus. Dr. Carson and Dr. Hart were a huge help in getting me excited about psychology and wanting to learn more. I ended up majoring in psychology and minoring in education, because I have a passion for working with kids.


What is one of your favorite memories from your time at Lees-McRae?

One of my favorite memories at Lees-McRae would be last year's graduation. As a member of Order of the Tower, I was able to escort the graduating class into the gym. As I walked them down the hall towards the gym, we saw that the halls were lined with professors. Some were smiling, some were crying, but every professor was clapping to cheer on the class for everything they had worked through to get there. Definitely a special moment.


Have the challenges brought on by COVID-19 taught you anything?

It is no doubt that we're all feeling the weight of this pandemic in one way or another. However, the things I miss the most are the little things. I miss sitting in the dining hall with my friends or hanging out with someone who lived just below me or down the hall. We never got to have our last exam night breakfast, another beloved tradition. I missed the opportunity to recognize that it was the last time I was sitting in classes with my best friend, or the last time I listened to a favorite professor's lecture, the last time I cheered, and the last time I lived in a residence hall. All of these lasts went by, without anyone knowing that they were our lasts, and that's the part that hurts the most. I've learned to slow down and appreciate sitting and talking with friends, eating a meal, or worshipping together.


What does “Bobcat Strong” mean to you?

Bobcat Strong, to me, is a simple phrase that holds a lot of weight. The Class of 2020 has definitely been through it. I'm sure this isn't the way any of us imagined our senior year. Not only have we made it through our other three years of college (two for some of us), staying up all night to write papers or study for exams, making it through tough practices, or classes we never thought we would pass. We made it through going to class in two feet of snow and taking exams at 8 a.m. on a Saturday. Even under these strange, and sometimes scary circumstances, we pushed through. We got our essays turned in, we passed our exams, we participated in team Zoom calls, and some of us even presented our senior research projects over Zoom. Despite the situation, we never gave up, and that's what makes us Bobcat Strong.


(pictured third from left)
Jared Snell

Majors: Business Administration (specialization in Marketing) and Psychology

Business Administration Award recipient

Resident Assistant

Omicron Delta Kappa Honor Society

Writing Tutor for the Burton Center for Student Success



What is one of your favorite memories from your time at Lees-McRae?

My sophomore year, and as part of being an RA, we had to create programs for our residents. My idea was to put together games of ultimate frisbee on Tate Lawn because it was popular where I was from and so why wouldn’t it be popular here? So I started hosting regular games, and in the first few days we had 20 to 30 people show up to play! It got so big that it became an unofficial club in a way. As the weeks went on, we grew to about 50 people playing, which was big enough to start two separate games. Every Monday we played on Tate Lawn for about two hours until the sun set. Not only was it fun to play with friends and make new ones doing something that I loved playing in high school, but it was a big confidence boost watching something that I started take off like it did—it was really validating.


Have the challenges brought on by COVID-19 taught you anything?

For me, this has taught me the importance of family. We are too often as a society caught up in the "rat race" or "trying to keep up with the Joneses" that we forget what really matters; the bonds that we share. It's the people in our lives that matter when everything is stripped away; reminiscing and laughing. Each of us has a unique story to tell and lessons to teach, and I believe this pandemic has pushed us to finally start listening to each other again. I mean, sure, I took for granted being outside and being able to go anywhere I wanted, and yes it does stink, but what has made it up to me is being able to reminisce and talk with my family, my mom, my sister and just rehash old memories, talk with one another, and get closer. This time has really reinforced in me the importance of the people in your life, and not the daily distractions of your phone, because in the end, all you have is family.


What does “Bobcat Strong” mean to you?

I think Bobcat Strong to me personally means taking whatever life gives you and trying to make the best of it as you can, looking for that silver lining and those little things in life that you can appreciate. It can be anything from taking a walk on campus, watching the sunset with friends, spending the afternoon in a hammock, reading a book, or cheering on your team at a basketball game. As a class, Bobcat Strong means that though we may be a small college we are rather mighty. As a small school, sometimes we might have the cards stacked against us, but time and time again we excel regardless. People come from across the world to study at Lees-McRae and be a part of our strong, hardworking network of people. Bobcat Strong is a reflection of our institution's character; to never give up and fight to create something fantastic.


What are your future plans?

I’ll be attending the MBA program at Appalachian State University! I’ll also visit campus quite frequently as a new area coordinator for Lees-McRae residence life. I’m not sure if it has totally sunken in that the next phase of my life is about to begin, but I can tell you that at the same time I’m afraid but also excited for all the possibilities. I’m excited to meet new people, experience new things, and learn as much as I can.


(pictured fourth from right in back row)
Candice Fenton

Major: Elementary Education

Teacher Education Online Award recipient

H.C. Evans Fidelity Award recipient

Online Student



What is one of your favorite memories from your time at Lees-McRae?

Some of my favorite memories of Lees-McRae are the junior/senior days in the education program where we come together as a whole cohort and learn new things and get to mingle with all the different people in the program. Also having all the professors, and their guidance was so very valuable to my education and helped keep me focused and motivated to be the best student, future educator, and Bobcat I could be.


Have the challenges brought on by COVID-19 taught you anything?

The pandemic has taught me that things can change in an instant. I do believe that this is history in the making. The pandemic has taught me to stay strong for myself and my cohort. These challenges are what make life interesting, but overcoming them is what makes life sweeter. There is always a lesson to be learned through adversity, one just has to decipher what that lesson is to them.


What does “Bobcat Strong” mean to you?

Bobcat strong means perseverance through all challenges, to keep your eye on the prize, and to never give up no matter what the obstacle. As a group, I feel the saying embodies what we have had to go through as a class, as a cohort, and as a college through this horrible pandemic. I never imagined the end of my senior year happening the way it did. We as student teachers went from being in the classroom and saying goodbye as our students went off to spring break to the realization that we would not see them in person again. We went from in-class learning and lesson planning, to virtual classrooms and online Google meets with our students. It is just not how I expected my senior year to end, but through it all we persevered and became even stronger. Bobcat strong means perseverance through it all, pandemic or no pandemic. We as a college and a graduating class are what encompasses the meaning of Bobcat Strong.


What are your future plans?

I hope to be in a classroom of my own this Fall, and then pursue my master's degree. My goal is to one day be a distance learning educator or college professor of education. Maybe even come back to Lees-McRae if it was possible. I fell in love with the faculty, college, and staff, and the Banner Elk area. That would be a dream come true, to be able to give back and teach future educators.


For the Class of 2020 and those that came before them, earning a degree is something each graduate will have for the rest of their life. Regardless of whether a student goes on to continue their education, enter directly into their careers, volunteer, or a multitude of other pathways, the memories made at Lees-McRae will last a lifetime.

In their final days as students, faculty and staff shared their well wishes and thoughts with the class.

Congratulations to the Class of 2020!

Well Wishes for Class of 2020
By Nina MastandreaMay 27, 2020
AlumniAthleticsFamiliesCampus LifeAcademicsOnline LearningCommunity