People well spaced on a stage.

Virtual baccalaureate service celebrates 2020 graduates

To honor the graduates of 2020, Brenau held a virtual baccalaureate ceremony on Dec. 11, in a mostly empty Pearce Auditorium to celebrate the more than 700 new alumni.

The baccalaureate ceremony — Brenau’s first since 1994 — was not intended to take the place of commencement, but was instead an opportunity for the university to recognize the graduates’ hard work through reflections, dance and music. The 2020 graduates included 119 from The Women’s College, 266 undergraduate and 322 graduate students.

Brenau President Anne Skleder, accompanied by a small, masked and socially distanced group of faculty, staff, students and alumni shared a message from Board of Trustees Vice Chair Emmie Henderson Howard, WC ’01, before making her own comments.

Brenau Provost Jim Eck speaks to an empty Pearce Auditorium during the university’s live-streamed baccalaureate service. No in person attendance was allowed in accordance with the university’s culture of prevention. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

“The spirit of Brenau has a special poignance this year after a period that has brought us challenges and opportunities of both growth and grace,” Howard wrote. “It’s been a year of, shall we say, curveballs — but one that reminded me and my fellow board members the reason we chose to serve this institution, and that reason is simply you.”

Skleder started by expressing gratitude for the hard work of students and the faculty and staff that supported them throughout the year. She ended her reflection by congratulating Brenau’s newest alumni.

“You will continue to make Brenau proud,” Skleder said. “Please remember the world needs each of you to make it what we all hope it will be. You are prepared. You are resilient. You are equipped. You are Brenau strong.”

Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Jim Eck reflected on the graduates’ accomplishments over the past year
and how a Brenau education will prepare them for the future.

“The university’s mission is to challenge students to live extraordinary lives of personal and professional fulfillment,”
Eck said. “Your sense of personal and professional fulfillment, earning your college degree during 2020, must be profound. How affirming it must be to know, personally, that despite all the challenges that you’ve had to overcome, you have graduated nonetheless.”

Kayla Muirhead, front, Jodie Jernigan and Madison Freeman perform a “Kpanlango” a dance from Ghana, during Brenau University’s live-streamed baccalaureate service. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Department of Dance Chair Madia Cooper-Ashirifi introduced students from her world dance class who performed Kpanlango, a West African dance that celebrates life and recognizes “peace within and among us.” Senior Madison
Freeman, junior Jodie Jernigan and Kayla Muirhead, WC ’20, performed the dance, which was dedicated to graduates as well as in memory and to the family of Brenau senior Keiara Ivory Lyons, who passed away unexpectedly in November.

Baxter Bryan scholar Amber Simmons speaks during Brenau’s live-streamed baccalaureate service. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Senior Amber Simmons, 2020-21 Baxter-Bryan Scholarship recipient, commended graduates for their resilience. “When COVID seemed to put us one step behind, you all took 10 steps forward,” Simmons said.

Alumni Association President Brooke Statham, WC ’00, and Alumni Director Ashley Carter, WC ’09, BU ’12, also greeted the graduates, who joined the more than 28,000 Brenau alumni worldwide.

“Your past accomplishments, your future achievements, the way you live your life and the values that mold you reflect upon the educational values of Brenau,” Carter said.

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