Reinhardt University hosted the 134th Commencement ceremony on May 7 to honor the more than 350 graduates from the Class of 2021. The in-person event held great meaning for the Class of 2021 who faced a new way of learning and living on campus due to COVID-19 as 297 undergraduates and 58 graduate students began the next phase of their journey in life.
“The entire Reinhardt University community is excited to offer in-person commencement to honor the Class of 2021,” said President Mark Roberts, Ph.D. “Our graduates have persisted despite great obstacles, and I am so thrilled that we can perform this important academic ritual.”
The Rev. Brian Smith, pastor at Waleska United Methodist Church, provided the Invocation and Baccalaureate message, in place of a separate Baccalaureate ceremony. His message, inspired by scripture passage Matthew 9:9-13, referenced a world where the surprising and unexpected may happen. Smith offered two prayers to the graduates before they crossed the Commencement stage.
“My first prayer is you might always remember that simple and yet surprising and profound proclamation that you are among those who are loved by God. No matter who you are, where you’ve been, what you’ve been through, or what people may have said or will say to you. You are deeply loved, and you have a dignity that no one can take away.
“My second prayer for you is that you, too, might be about the work of painting and creating a beautiful and surprising world that is rooted in mercy and love and grace…may you see to make a difference in the lives of others. Be a peacemaker and a hope giver.”
Roberts addressed the graduates on the theme of persistence and going the “Eagle’s Mile.”
“Did you know half the students who enter college do not graduate? That’s not you. You’re graduating. You’ve gone through turmoil to get here. You’ve endured, you’ve experimented in labs, you’ve created, you’ve gone to clinicals, you’ve learned in modified classrooms all through a global pandemic. You’ve gone the Eagle’s Mile.”
Each graduate and faculty member adorned the Reinhardt Eagle’s Mile Medallion – inscribed with the message “You’ve gone the Eagle’s Mile” – to memorialize their achievements in such a time as this.
Alexandra Chappel, who earned a Bachelor of Music in Performance, magna cum laude, entertained the audience with a vocal presentation of “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” from “The Sound of Music.”
Following the beautiful performance from Chappel, Roberts presented Chairman of Reinhardt’s Board of Trustees Ken White with an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters. The Reinhardt alum is in his third year as chairman and is a proven leader in his community and a graduate of Reinhardt.
During his time on Reinhardt’s Board, White has donated several million dollars to theUniversity, significant funding for the institution that also supported, in part, the renovation of the Cauble School of Nursing & Health Sciences in Jasper.
“Thank you to Dr. Roberts, the Board of Directors, faculty and staff at Reinhardt. A momentous occasion for me and I am very proud and humbled to accept this honor. Sixty years ago, today, I walked across a stage and received my degree at Reinhardt. For you, this is just the beginning.”
J’aiLa Price, who earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theatre, summa cum laude, honors program graduate, provided the student reflection of hope and inspiration.
“For many of us obtaining our degrees today, we are first-generation students. For some of us, this is only our first point to our educational finish line. In March 2020, campus and the world changed forever. Classes moved online and we were forced to proceed. Through the storm, each and every one of us grabbed hold of a miracle – someone or something – helped us to stay focused and accomplish the vision we set out for ourselves.”
Price continued to reflect on her experience at Reinhardt and inspire the graduates as they look to their futures.
“Reinhardt let me know I made no mistake in choosing where to pursue my degree. God made the way, and I walked the path. I encourage you to walk the path and embark on this journey to better yourself and your community.”
Keynote speaker, Dr. Randall E. Trammell ’03, ’09, President & CEO, State YMCA of Georgia, encouraged his soon-to-be fellow Reinhardt alumni with three points: to find your purpose and be the best version of yourself, that it’s okay to change directions and to leave the world a better place than you found it.
“I share a few thoughts I have learned along my journey…not as one who has arrived but rather a fellow sojourner who’s had a bit of a head start,” said Trammell. “Let me assure you: if you can find your true calling in life, you will live with passion, make the world a better place, be richer than you could imagine and feel as though the very face of God himself is smiling on you. That may happen next week, next year or in the years ahead, but the search will be worth it and your life will never be the same again. So, for now, your purpose is to find your purpose.”
Congratulations to the Class of 2021!