Dominika Jasova, center, walks to the podium during the 2015 Brenau Women's College Commencement. Jasova graduated with a Bachelor of Business Administration Degree.

2015 Women’s College Commencement

Amanda Slavin, founder and CEO of CatalystCreativ, addressed the 2015 graduates of the Brenau Women's College.
Amanda Slavin, founder and CEO of CatalystCreativ, addressed the 2015 graduates of the Brenau Women’s College.

Amanda Slavin, the 28-year-old entrepreneur that Forbes magazine recognized as one of the top 30 marketing and advertising professionals who have not yet celebrated their 30th birthdays, cautioned members of the 2015 Brenau University Women’s College graduating class to measure success as they go forth in life “not by what you accomplish…but by who you are.”

As she spoke of the graduates’ standing at “that beautiful and amazing crossroads [of life] where you are in control” in deciding how to make a mark in life, she said the best advice she could impart is that “knowing yourself and standing up for what you believe will always set you apart from the crowd.”

Slavin said that when she in her life reached the same milestone as the graduates, completing her undergraduate and graduate studies at the University of Connecticut, she was so busy thinking about success that “I didn’t have time to look back at myself because I was too busy looking forward.” She wound up spending four years in a job from which she achieved little satisfaction and in a lifestyle that altered the image she saw in the mirror.

Slavin spoke just before the 137-year-old Women’s College awarded 167 undergraduate diplomas for studies in arts and sciences, nursing, business, music and other academic disciplines. The university planned to complete its commencement exercises on Saturday, May 2, awarding graduate and undergraduate diplomas for its co-educational programs in Gainesville and other campuses.

DeBerne Kelly tears up as her granddaughter Byronica Banks reads kind words describing how much acting as caregiver meant to Banks while she was a student at Brenau. During the 2015 Brenau Women's College Commencement, Kelly was awarded an honorary degree.
DeBerne Kelly tears up as her granddaughter Byronica Banks reads kind words describing how much acting as caregiver meant to Banks while she was a student at Brenau. During the 2015 Brenau Women’s College Commencement, Kelly was awarded an honorary degree.

However, the university conferred the 168th diploma on a person best known on campus as “Grandma”: DeBerne Kelly, the grandmother of Brenau Student Government President Byronica Banks who graduated with the rest of the class of 2015.

Kelly came to Brenau as live-in caregiver for her granddaughter, who has the condition known as “brittle bone disease” and gets around campus in a wheelchair. However, Kelly quickly became virtually everybody’s “Grandma” among student, faculty and staff on the Gainesville campus. After Kelly’s four years at Brenau, the university Board of Trustees voted in March to award Kelly an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree. Brenau President Ed Schrader surprised Kelly with the degree in the early part of the ceremony when he called her granddaughter to the stage.

Amanda Bonilla hugs her friend
Amanda Bonilla hugs her friend Samantha Miles after receiving her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.

“Over the past four years, Grandma has been supportive to all of her inherited ‘grandchildren’ at Brenau,” said Banks, a general studies major from Irmo, South Carolina. “She wanted us all to see this day. She encouraged us to stay focused in our schoolwork at all times. Whether it was reading over essays, listening and critiquing presentations, or giving us a lesson in American history just by her own life experiences, she made it her goal to push us to do our very best each and every day. Grandma has always been our biggest cheerleader.”

In addition to diplomas, the university issued awards for academic and professional excellence.

Kassidy Reagan Locke, a health science major from Athens, Tennessee, received both the Alpha Lambda Delta Book Award, – presented to the national honor society member with the highest grade point average – and the Cora Anderson Hill Award for outstanding academic performance. Named for a Brenau alumna from Gainesville, Georgia, who had a distinguished career in journalism and public service, the latter award goes each year to the Women’s College graduate with the highest grade point average.

Julie Battle, professor of psychology and chair of the Psychology Department, received the Ann Austin Johnston Award, which includes a $2,500 prize, for outstanding teaching. Donald C. Johnston of Dublin, Georgia, established the award in honor of his wife, who was a Brenau graduate.

Bryan Sorohan, associate professor of education, received the Vulcan Teaching Award for teaching excellence and leadership with a $1,000 prize funded by Vulcan Materials Company through the Georgia Independent Colleges Association. Sorohan did not attend the 2015 commencement because he is in China, working on development of a cooperative program with Anhui Normal Institute that annually will bring scores of Chinese students to study early childhood education on the Brenau campus starting in 2016.

Kimberly Willis, who teaches conflict resolution and legal studies half time in the Humanities Department, and part-time faculty in Humanities Department and Gay Hammond, part-time faculty in Theatre Department, both received outstanding part-time faculty member awards. Hammond, who recently completed a Master of Fine Arts degree in writing from Spalding University, has written and directed numerous plays performed at Brenau through the Gainesville Theatre Alliance’s vaunted WonderQuest theater program for children.

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