A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Campbellsville University awards degrees to record number of students during spring commencements

By Joan C. McKinney
Campbellsville University

“Be kind and work hard, and I promise you amazing things will happen,” Ashli Schmidt Watts, senior vice president of public affairs for the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, told a record number of 2,279 students who received degrees from Campbellsville University during three commencement ceremonies May 3 and 4.

A total of 2,592 students received degrees upon completion of all requirements for graduation during the 2018-19 academic year.

There were 2,011 students receiving master’s degrees; 255 receiving bachelor degrees and 12 being awarded associate degrees in the May 3 and 4 ceremonies.

A 2004 graduate of Campbellsville University, Watts told the students: “My advice is to work hard. Show up early. Be the last to leave. Remember that no task is too small. Be a team player.

“If you are asked to make the office coffee, make the office coffee. And if you don’t know how to make coffee, learn. Pay attention during meetings! Put your phones down every once in a while, and look people in the eye. I know these are things we all hear, but you will have to work to prove yourself.”

Brett Pierce of Campbellsville gives a thumbs up before the Master’s Commencement ceremony begins at Campbellsville University on May 3. (Campbellsville University Photo by Ariel Emberton)

She told the students, “You will walk across the stage today with dreams of what you hope to accomplish and what your life should be. But I will tell you the key to success isn’t to dream, it’s to do. I’d encourage you to instead of being a dreamer – be a doer. It’s hard work that actually makes things possible. Hard work is the only real way to make your dreams a reality.”

Watts said Campbellsville University is a “special place” where graduates walk away with a first-class liberal arts education where professors challenge you and encourage debate and discussion.
“But, as you know, it’s more. It’s more because Campbellsville puts Christ at the center of everything. It is more than just an education.”

She said, “The biggest lesson I learned here at CU was not learned in a political science or history book. It was the overall culture of treating people with love, dignity, respect and kindness – even if you disagree with them.”

Watts, who received a degree in political science and history from Campbellsville University, spearheads all lobbying and advocacy efforts for the state’s largest business association, the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.

She and her staff work with members of the executive and legislative branches of Kentucky state government to encourage public policies that positively impact Kentucky’s business and economic climate and promote quality of life and educational attainment.

In introducing her, Dr. Michael V. Carter, president of Campbellsville University, said Watts is “highly respected in Frankfort among our state’s decision makers and among the business leaders of the Commonwealth.”

Watts was presented the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award for an adult community member “for her exemplary record as a Christian servant leader working to improve opportunity and quality of life for all Kentuckians and representing her alma mater, Campbellsville University, with dignity and grace in all areas of her life.”

Jessica Johnson, who graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology with a Chemistry and English minor and who is from Clarkson, Ky., received the student Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award.
Campbellsville University was selected in 2002 to participate in this prestigious awards program that honors the memory and legacy of the late Algernon Sydney Sullivan. There are some 70 colleges and universities in the South that are approved by the Sullivan Foundation to annually present these awards to one graduating senior and to one adult from the community.

Sullivan was a lawyer, devout Christian, mediator, powerful and appealing orator, a courageous citizen during perilous times, a noted philanthropist and a devoted family man.

In the first ceremony Friday afternoon, James “Buzz” Cason, known as the “father of Nashville Rock,” was presented with an honorary doctorate of musical arts. Cason is a former member of the Campbellsville University Board of Trustees.

Carter said Cason has been “living the rock and roll dream” since the 1950s and is a musician, songwriter, publisher, author and a friend of the university. He said Cason has been a successful vocalist behind superstars such as Elvis Presley, Conway Twitty and Kenny Rogers.

His most famous song was “Everlasting Love.”

Cason was nominated to the Nashville Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in 2005, inducted into the Nashville Public School Hall of Fame in 2006 and was honored by the Country Music Hall of Fame in their “Poets and Prophets” series and is a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.

Cason has conducted various workshops for Campbellsville University students and hosted students in Nashville “reaching out to encourage and pour into our music department,” Carter said. He said Cason helped raise money to present the Oak Ridge Boys in concert at Campbellsville University.

Cason thanked the Lord for being a part of Campbellsville University and said, “It has truly been a blessing.” He said he fell in love with the university and feels at home there. He dedicated his doctorate to his mother, Rosa Cason.

Carter told the students, “This is a very special day – a day that you are genuinely going to remember.” In his 20th year as president, he said the year officially concludes the university’s 113th year of Christian higher education.

He told the audience enrollment in fall 2019 was over 13,000 and was 12,209 in the spring, both records. The population includes students from 88 countries, 47 states and 117 of Kentucky’s 120 counties.

Carter said the university has extended its $61.2 million capital campaign, “Our Time, This Place” to $100 million to better serve the students. He said the university has not raised tuition the last few years and, this upcoming year, will reduce tuition in some areas.

Carter, in his charge to the graduates, urged to follow fellowship, leadership and scholarship – words on the university’s academic seal.

Steeley Shacklette of Elizabethtown files out of the Powell Athletic Center gymnasium following the undergraduate commencement ceremony on May 4 at Campbellsville University (Campbellsville University Photo by Ariel C. Emberton)

He said leadership is that quality in which a leader takes those around him to a higher level than they thought possible for themselves.

He said the graduates must continue their scholarship by more education and be leaders who can solve problems and be people of grace. He urged them to “love others and look beyond their faults.”
He also encouraged them to reach out to family and friends and say “thank you.”

Three students responded to Carter’s charge. At the first Friday ceremony, Allison Marie McGillick of Kettering, Ohio, who received a master of arts in school counseling, said, the graduates have something better than Thor, the god of thunder. “We have the power and love of the one true God, the Creator of the Universe, within us and fellowship, leadership and knowledge inspiring our every move. Dr. Carter, we will not let you down.”

Cassie Janiece Emery of Cloverport, who received a Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education P-5/interdisciplinary early childhood education, said, “Regardless of why or how we got here, though, we all had one thing in common: we came expecting. Campbellsville, we are so happy that you didn’t just meet our expectations – you exceeded them. As we turn the page and close the cover on this chapter of life, we look ahead knowing that this isn’t the end but only the prequel of what’s to come.”

Brayden Christian Russell of Lawrenceburg, who received a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration with a management emphasis, said he came to Campbellsville as a “shy, skinny walk-on to the football team” but found himself in over 13 maximum security prisons sharing the love of Jesus, all because of CU. He said there is “no limit to what you can accomplish. The only person that can stop you is staring at you in the mirror.”

Carter and Dr. Donna Hedgepath, provost and vice president for academic affairs, presented the graduates at each ceremony.

Darryl Peavler, a 2003 undergraduate and 2005 graduate student at Campbellsville University, who serves as director of alumni relations, told the graduates they are coming into a network over 15,000 graduates.

He told the graduates to enroll in Campbellsville.AlumniFire.com where they will have access to fellow alumni that are experts in their field who are looking to hire Campbellsville University graduates and are willing to provide career advice and coaching.

He urged them to pray for their alma mater and give of their resources.

Co-valedictorians for May 2019 were Jordyn Raechelle Bray of Somerset; Shannon Sue Britton of Taylorsville; Keilah Keren Coverstone of Burkesville; Cassie Janiece Emery of Cloverport; Matthew Owen Farthing of Hopkinsville; McKenna Shae Hill of Smith’s Grove; Yoshiki Kaneko of Nakano, Japan; and Kimberly Ann McClendon of Somerset.

Salutatorian was Corbin Michael Harris of Leitchfield.

The valedictorian for December 2018 was Hope Joan Michelle Scott of Shepherdsville; and Rebecca A. LaFever of Louisville, was salutatorian in December 2018.

Henry Lee of Campbellsville, chair of the Campbellsville University Board of Trustees, gave the invocation at all three ceremonies. Dr. Damon Eubank, chair of the Faculty Forum and division of social science and professor of history, gave the benediction at all ceremonies.

Dr. Tony Cunha, dean of the School of Music and associate professor of music, led in the singing of “The Solid Rock” and “Campbellsville, We Love Thee.”

The Campbellsville University Brass Ensemble played the processional and recessional at all ceremonies. Cunha and Jennifer Tinnell, director of bands and instructor in music, directed the ensemble.

Joan C. McKinney is the director of the Office of University Communications at Campbellsville University

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