Graduation

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Saturday was graduation day, and a day of graduation it was. With ceremonies at 9 a.m., 12 p.m. and 3 p.m., the day was full of special moments in Benson Auditorium and on campus. I attended all three graduations, and a few moments really stood out to me.

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Prayer list
Board of Trustees Chairman Roy Reaves spoke in each graduation ceremony like he always does, and he said something that I’ve heard before but have never registered the impact. Each member of the board of trustees receives a list of all the names of the graduates before the commencement ceremonies, and they spend time in prayer for those students. How cool is it that graduates have their friends, family, professors and also the board of trustees lifting up their names in prayer?!

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Best commencement speech ever
Dr. Cheri Yecke spoke at 9 a.m., and after the graduation was over, I heard a graduate tell someone that Dr. Yecke had given the best commencement speech he had ever heard. Other commencement speakers included Chancellor David Burks and Provost Larry Long, who is retiring in August. It was really cool for me to hear Dr. Burks, who was president of Harding for all four of my years here as a student, and Dr. Long, as this was his last commencement as provost.

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Unrestrained exuberance
At each ceremony, President Bruce McLarty asks that audience members hold their applause and excitement until the last name is called. This is a time that he, and Dr. Burks before him, called “unrestrained exuberance.” Well, the 9 a.m. commencement was about the loudest and most unrestrained exuberance I’ve ever heard.

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At every graduation, I watched the faces of graduates turn and light up when they spotted their family members, and I saw eyes of graduates and guests fill with tears as the hugeness of college graduation really set in.

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Amen
Since December 2013, the faculty has participated in graduation ceremonies in a unique way. At the end, they all stand, face the graduates, and sing “The Lord Bless You and Keep You” to them, and they did so in each ceremony this year. Right after the song ended in one of the ceremonies, I heard a man behind me lean over to someone and say, “That right there was worth the whole trip.”

Hannah Owens, director of digital media

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The day is almost here. Students have worked for four years and more toward a college degree, and it all comes together with a bit of pomp and circumstance. There’s a lot that runs through students’ minds on graduation day. Here are a few little thoughts to get you prepared for walking day.

1. Yes, you look like a wizard from Harry Potter but so does everyone else so let’s move on.

When I graduated, both high school and college, I was slightly self-conscious about how weird I looked. Embrace the meaning of it all. You’re done! Yes, you’re wearing a silky tent and a piece of cardboard with a kitten toy hanging off the side, but what an accomplishment. We just celebrate by wearing funny clothes.

2. You won’t fall. If you do, I’ll give you $20.

This is my fifth school year working for Harding, and I’ve sat through a number of commencement ceremonies. Now I sit through four a year — three in the same day. But I can’t remember a time when anyone has fallen while walking up to get his or her diploma. If you fall, I will highlight your name in my program and mail you $20. Now all you have to worry about is making $20.

3. Be ready to smile for 2,000 photos.

Everyone gets a little crazy snapping photos. After graduations, I walk through the crowd outside the Benson crouching and covering my head like I’m in an ambush. It’s a big day, and it’s probably going to be a day you’ll want to remember down the road. So just take deep breaths and smile the day away.

4. Use #HUgrad16 to share photos and thoughts throughout the day.

5. All ceremonies will be live streamed at streaming.harding.edu.

6. Don’t take that hat off until you’re in the comfort of your own home.

Mortarboard hair is real, and it ain’t pretty. I’m looking at you, gentlemen. If you take your hat off, make sure someone helps your hair out a little. If not, you will not want those photos printed.=

7. That moment of “unrestrained exuberance” will hit you like a ton of bricks.

At the beginning of graduation, President McLarty will ask that members of the audience hold their applause and celebration until the end. Once that moment happens, a moment he calls “unrestrained exuberance,” the emotions of endings and leaving and saying goodbye that may not have happened yet very well might hit you all at once in this moment. Everyone is cheering and clapping, and you’ll feel like you just won the gold medal in academic excellence. It’s a big deal.

8. Humor your family. They will probably be more excited than you.

Your mom may cry. Your dad may give you 10 hugs and tell you how proud he is. Your grandparents will shine with pride for your accomplishments. Let them. Let them want to be around you all day. Let them take as many photos of you under the Harding University arch as they want. (But get there quick because people in that long line don’t mess around.) Let them celebrate you however they want to. You deserve to be celebrated.

Hannah Owens, director of digital media

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The spring 2016 Harding magazine is coming to a mailbox near you in just a few short weeks. The “Your Words” section features our readers’ answers to the question “What is the one thing you wish you could go back and tell yourself about life after graduation?” Spring commencement is coming up this Saturday, and Harding magazine staff will be sharing responses to that question throughout the week.

The last chapel of the spring 2015-16 school year was Friday, April 29. A tradition for the last chapel of the school year, graduating seniors came up to the front of the auditorium as fellow students sang “The Lord Bless You and Keep You.” This is always a moving moment for me to witness, but that wasn’t what I will take away from this year’s chapel.

If I could go back and tell myself one thing about life after graduation, I would say, “Hannah, no matter what you think and how you feel, you’re ready to go.” When I was a senior in my last semester, I worried that I hadn’t been paying enough attention in classes to succeed in my career. I dreaded doing life without my dearest friends nearby. I wondered if I had worked enough, studied enough and learned enough to be ready.

So much of post-grad life is unknown. Where will you live? What will you do? Who will you do it with? And the big question in my mind was, “Am I ready?” The answer is yes! Harding gave me teachers, friends, and unforgettable experiences that contributed to the person I am today. I didn’t doubt Harding — I doubted myself. Chancellor Emeritus Clifton Ganus provided students with words of confidence and assurance in Friday’s chapel.

“You have been able to sit at the feet of great teachers who love God and who love you, and that’s the best kind of teacher you can get,” Ganus said. “You’ve been blessed by a multitude of students and friends. You’ve had a good education. You’ve been strengthened and stretched. You’ve had experiences that have helped you grow and develop. You’re ready to go, and we’re ready for you to go because you accomplished that for which you came.”

Hannah Owens, director of digital media

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Savannah Rackley presents her senior speech on Friday, April 15.

Savannah Rackley presents her senior speech on Friday, April 15.

Because graduation is growing steadily nearer, 22 days if you were wondering, we heard senior speeches in chapel all week. I love senior speeches. Each one is different, but they each speak to a shared experience at the University we love.

Mostly the speaker will reminisce, thank various faculty members who acted as mentor or friend, or leave a call to action for underclassmen. These are usually gentle reminders to seize the day. Stay up late talking with suitemates. Get up early on a snow day to enjoy before it melts. Hike Pinnacle or visit the Zonkey. Say yes to opportunities like social clubs or international programs. Say yes to building relationships.

If I were giving a senior speech, I think I would also include a call to action for my fellow graduates. I would encourage them to take a minute in the rush to May 7 and embrace some of the everyday things about Harding that you don’t know you will miss. Have a big group dinner with all your friends. Go to a home devotional. Spend sunny days on the front lawn. Sing in chapel. The last few weeks can be busy and stressful, but take a minute to savor the college days that you won’t have again.

Shelby Dias, director of news services

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This fall marks the beginning of an annual event held in celebration and preparation of each of the University’s two commencement ceremonies. Grad Fest is a one-stop event for all University students who are graduating and participating in commencement ceremonies in December.

As students walked across campus to class this morning, they passed a big, white tent on the front lawn buzzing with activity for December graduates. The event, which is going on today and tomorrow, allows students to take care of their technical requirements for graduation and also celebrate the academic milestone with their friends and fellow graduates.

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Brittani Malec, President Bruce McLarty, Cara Loy and Lindsey Helms pose for a photo outside the Grad Fest tent.

“It was a fun, celebratory time for seniors to interact with their friends while picking up their caps and gowns and taking pictures,” senior Rebecca Neely said. “It was also a good location to take care of everything at once.”

Grad Fest serves as the location for students to pick up their caps and gowns for commencement ceremonies. I remember picking mine up when I graduated in 2011. I visited a table in the student center, received my package, and headed back to my room to open it up and see what everything looked like. Grad Fest provides the perfect opportunity for students to put on their regalia and take photos with friends, Buff the Bison graduate or Dr. McLarty at a photo booth.

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Ahmad Scott takes advantage of the photo booth with Buff the Bison at Grad Fest.

“I think that Grad Fest is a really good idea because it’s a fun and exciting time for graduating students, and it’s just one more way to have camaraderie with other students and departments on campus,” Neely said.

In addition to following up with the registrar’s office and financial aid, graduates have the opportunity to visit a variety of stations to prepare for their last few months as a Harding undergraduate student. Career Services is there to provide resume reviewing and other professional services. Generation HU and Alumni Relations are there to connect with new graduates and begin a relationship between the University and students as new alumni.

“Going to Grad Fest really put into perspective for me that this stage in life is ending, and I’m moving on to something else,” Neely said. “I loved my time at Harding, and Grad Fest gave me a great opportunity to celebrate that.”

Hannah Owens, director of news services

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Saturday, I shot all three graduation ceremonies. As a photographer, so many things were the same, and at the same time they were all unique.

05-10-14-5120-2The first graduate I spied at the 9 a.m. graduation was my friend Ben Buterbaugh. Ben is the son of Harding magazine editor Tom Buterbaugh, whose office is next door to mine in the Public Relations Office. I remember the day Ben was born, and now I am seeing him graduate from college. I might have felt old for just a minute as I snapped his photo.

05-10-14-5551Programs are an important part of graduation. I spend a good amount of time with the program sorting out who is who in the line of march photos for each graduation. I spied Chancellor Burks reading the program as the processional played for the 3 p.m.graduation. I imagine he was looking for the name of his granddaughter Emily Ann Burks who graduated with a degree in communication sciences and disorders.

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I found this couple reading their programs as they waited for the doors to open for 3 p.m. graduation.

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Lots of photos are taken at graduations. I took 1,419 photos myself. In one of those photos, Lady Bison basketball player Deshelle Boyce posed for a family selfie after she received her B.B.A. in health care management.

05-10-14-5268-2Lots of different emotions are a part of graduation. This past December there was an ice storm that canceled school the last day of chapel when the student body traditionally sings “The Lord Bless You and Keep You” to the seniors. Dr. Bruce McLarty decided that the faculty should sing to the seniors at the December commencement, and it was so moving that he decided to keep it as a new graduation tradition. As we sang to the students and as the Alma Mater was sung, some tears were shed. There is a sadness to the passing of such a great time in life as the college years are.
05-10-14-5455-2Seeing those tears makes me get a little emotional, too. I love Harding like these students love Harding. I am little sad to see this group go because I have so many friends in this class. On the other hand, I am really excited to see them confidently go knowing that they will be a blessing wherever they end up.
The last photo on my memory card is a shot of me with my friend and fellow photographer Jerry Eberly. Jerry and all my other friends who are part of my Harding family are what make it great to be at Harding for me.

Jeff Montgomery/photographer

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Today is the day.

Today, my name will be announced, and I will walk across the Benson stage, closing this beautiful chapter of my life.

It is almost impossible to believe this time has come. Was it not yesterday my parents helped me move into Sears dorm? Surely it has only been a few days since I performed in Spring Sing freshman year. Over the years, emotions of nervousness and confusion have changed to feelings of confidence and security. Harding, formerly a very foreign place, is now my home.

Harding University has offered me limitless opportunities. Freshman year, I joined women’s social club Zeta Rho and Concert Choir. As an anxious and apprehensive freshman, I decided to go on a spring break mission trip to Knoxville, Tenn., which transformed my perspective on poverty in America. Sophomore year, I began working in the public relations office as the social media student worker, the same semester I started working on the yearbook staff. I learned how to balance 17 credit hours with two jobs. My worldview expanded as I traveled with the HULA program to Chile in spring 2012. The following year I returned to South America on an internship to Peru and Bolivia where I studied Spanish and missions. I have spent my senior year serving as the editor-in-chief of the Petit Jean yearbook, a transformative experience.

Part of my job as editor was to choose the theme for the 2014 yearbook. After months of planning, “Venture” became the theme for the book, and the word quickly grew close to my heart. This word embodied the opportunities for growth we had as a university, and the universal uncertainty everyone feels as freshmen.

Today, the word venture takes on a new meaning. These four years have been incredible and have taught me more lessons than I can list. I have overcome trials and made amazing friendships at Harding, but my time here is done. I am preparing to enter into a very unknown future. While I can turn around to view all of the mountains I have already climbed, I know there are many more to come. I have assurance despite this, as I know scaling the mountains in life leads to a beautiful perspective. With every new challenge there comes an equal chance for abundant joy.

When my name is called today, I plan to walk with certainty. I will step with faith trusting God will continue to lead me. Next, I will exit that stage full of joy, knowing something great is on its way.

Today is a new venture.

Mackenzie Lee, student worker

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When my dad told me to be ready and waiting very early on the Monday morning following my 1978 Mother’s Day graduation in the Ganus Athletic Center for the trip home to Pennsylvania, I knew he meant it. My dad was one of those people who truly believed if you weren’t 15 minutes early, you were late!

I stood in front of my dorm, the Heritage Center in the middle of campus, in the dawn waiting. I was surprised when he, my mother and my sister weren’t there at the time specified. As I stood there, I grew nostalgic thinking this might be the last time I ever set foot on the grounds of Harding.

This art major decided to run down the street to the Stevens Art Center for one last look. Much to my surprise, two of my friends, Polly Mullen and Anthea Harvey, had decided their last night on campus would be spent printmaking. Pulling it off the press, Polly signed and handed me one of her prints titled “Never Letting Go,” which hangs in my home to this day.

Print in hand, I said goodbye and ran back to the Heritage just as my dad pulled up. I added to the already packed car a print that even today serves as a reminder of what makes Harding so special: the relationships formed that always remain with you.

Harding now graduates the day before Mother’s Day and for the first time will have three ceremonies. My son will be in the first one at 9 a.m. as he receives his B.S. in athletic training on the Benson Auditorium stage. It will be a full day as my daughter, who will be a cheerleader for the Bisons in the fall, receives her diploma from Searcy High at 7:30 p.m.

When our 900 plus graduates go out into the world, I hope they never let go of the tie that binds us together — our Lord and Savior.

Tom Buterbaugh, editor/designer

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Left: Graduation Day, 2008. Right: Graduation Day, 2013

Left: Graduation Day, 2008. Right: Graduation Day, 2013

I’m fortunate enough to say that I’ve graduated from Harding twice: once with my B.A. in English in 2008 and again with my M.Ed. in English in 2013. Each had their similarities — the black robe and funny hat, family coming to celebrate, pomp and circumstance — but who I was at the time was very different.

The first time I was celebrating a milestone, a great accomplishment in its own right. But I was scared to death about what was going to happen afterward. I had very few post graduation plans. While my fellow graduates stood in line outside of the Ganus Athletic Center waiting to file in for commencement, they talked about their upcoming first jobs. “I’m going to be teaching in China!” “I’m going to be writing for an ad agency!” “I’m going to grad school!” But I didn’t have a job waiting for me. I was jumping off the cliff and was completely unsure whether or not there would be a net at the bottom. My husband and I were staying in Searcy where he had a job lined up and grad school to start in the fall, so it wasn’t into the complete unknown, but I was scared just the same. Luckily, in July 2008, I was hired to work in the Public Relations Office as publications writer, proving that a net was there all along.

Graduating the second time was much different. I wasn’t scared about what the future held because this ceremony didn’t mark a change; it marked the completion of something I was passionate about. I had missed being in the classroom and being challenged academically, so I had gone back to school for myself. Between balancing work, school, teaching a class and home life (I had my son in the middle of grad school), I had finally finished my M.Ed. Sitting in the Benson with my master’s hood, I was proud — and relieved! Seeing my son’s face in the crowd as I crossed the stage to receive my diploma, all of the stress from the past two years melted away. It had all been totally worth it.

Graduation means different things to everyone. For me, each time was a celebration of moving forward on the path God set for me. The black robe and funny hat were just a convenient bonus.

Jennifer Hannigan, publications writer

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Though graduation is something that every Harding University alumnus has in common, it has changed significantly throughout the years. With May commencement at the end of the week, the staff of Harding magazine wanted to share some memories and reflections from our diverse University backgrounds spanning many decades.

On Saturday, approximately 950 graduates will walk across the Benson Auditorium stage in three separate ceremonies to receive bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. On May 14, 2011, I joined approximately 699 other graduates in the last commencement honoring every May graduate in one ceremony. Times have changed.

My graduation ceremony was held in the Ganus Athletic Center, which was transformed into a prestigious, black and gold stage for all 700 graduates and our families and friends, who filled the bleachers on both sides. All of the graduating seniors were seated in rows in the middle of the gym. I was extremely eager to walk across the stage, signifying an end to my four years of undergraduate hard work.

Since the audience has to hold their excitement until the end, an eruption of applause and cheering filled my ears after the last name was called. People on both sides of me were clapping and yelling, including my own family and closest friends. My eyes filled with tears as my undergraduate career came to a close with the people that mean most to me surrounding me. It was a moment I’ll never forget.

Hannah Owens, news director

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