Class of 2024 turns their tassels to the future

Commencement celebrated the achievements of just over 200 accomplished graduates

Misty skies and cloud-blanketed mountains could not stymie the sunny disposition of the class of 2024 as they celebrated the completion of their undergraduate journeys in a Commencement ceremony in Williams Gymnasium on the afternoon of Saturday, May 4.

Just over 200 graduates gathered in the gymnasium to mark this important milestone surrounded by beaming family, friends, faculty, and staff, and the graduates themselves could not have been prouder of the successes of themselves and their peers.

Families and loved ones celebrated their graduates with custom shirts and proud cheers…

while graduates displayed their pride with decorated mortar boards.

English major and Creative Writing minor Nate Darden and Online Elementary Education major Lexi Seagle were selected to deliver Commencement addresses to their fellow graduates. Their addresses celebrated the many obstacles overcome, lessons learned, and achievements earned by the class of 2024.

The words of Darden and Seagle served not only to congratulate the class of 2024 on all they have achieved throughout their undergraduate careers, but also to encourage them as they take the next steps into the future toward new careers, additional education, or any of the other various paths that lie before them.

“As long as you find something you love and are grateful for, then fulfillment will follow. That can come from working with animals, teaching the next generation, writing stories, or anything in between. We owe it to ourselves to do what makes us happy.” 

– Darden in his Commencement speech

“As online students, our journey to this moment has been unique; filled with its own set of challenges and triumphs, yet despite the physical distance that may have separated us, we have forged a strong bond united by our shared pursuit of knowledge, and unwavering determination to succeed.”

– Seagle in her Commencement speech

In addition to the typical commencement fanfare, two graduates received recognition for going above and beyond throughout their time as undergraduate students at Lees-McRae and were awarded the H.C. Evans Jr. Fidelity Award. Named for the college’s ninth president, two Fidelity Awards are presented each year, one to a graduate of the college’s main campus programs, and one to a graduate of the college’s online/distance learning programs.

The H.C. Evans Jr. Fidelity Award is awarded to candidates for graduation who exhibit academic excellence, campus citizenship, friendliness, leadership, and service to the college community. With these criteria, it is no wonder why Evans himself referred to the recipients of the award as “Mr. or Ms. Lees-McRae College.”

This year’s recipients were Online Criminal Justice major John Gibson and Criminal Justice and Psychology double-major Camryn Belin. After dropping out of high school and earning his GED, Gibson believed that his educational journey was finished. With the encouragement of his wife and the flexibility of the college’s online programs, however, he was able to balance his educational, familial, and career obligations, and achieve his goal of earning a bachelor’s degree.  

Belin was heavily involved across campus in her four years at Lees-McRae and is known to her peers and professors as someone who never turns down a challenge, who pushes her boundaries, and who is a friend to all.

“Continuing his education has allowed him to advance his career into leadership roles, including a promotion to rank of lieutenant.”

– Vesely in her presentation of the award to Gibson

“Her faculty have noted that she is trustworthy, reliable, humble, and conscientious, and a person who has much to offer to the people she encounters in her chosen field.”

– Vesely in her presentation of the award to Belin

Regardless of whether graduates from the class of 2024 will use their newly minted degrees to enter the workforce, pivot careers, or pursue additional education through graduate studies, one thing is clear: amazing things lie ahead. Armed with the academic prowess and real-world skills they earned throughout their time at Lees-McRae, each new graduate has prepared themselves for greatness. All that’s left is for them to seize the opportunity to shine.

By Maya JarrellMay 07, 2024