Almost 200 Graduate from Averett University at Outdoor, In-Person Commencement Ceremony

Posted on May 8th, 2021 by Cassie Jones

For the first time from the Frank R. Campbell Stadium, Averett University conferred degrees of almost 200 graduates outdoors on Saturday, May 8, from its E. Stuart James Grant North Campus.

The graduating class of 2021, aged 20 to 60, includes 17 veterans and seven international students from Australia, Bahamas, Canada, Denmark, Sweden and the United Kingdom. At least 40% of the graduates are first-generation college attendees.

Of the 197 who earned their degrees, 163 walked in today’s commencement ceremonies. The University conferred degrees at both the baccalaureate and master’s level, with 60% graduating from the traditional program and 40% from Averett Online (formerly Graduate and Professional Studies).

With 750 people in attendance, the stadium was socially distanced and all were masked. Graduates were allowed up to three guests each, and seating was grouped accordingly.

“We have found a way to celebrate this momentous achievement in your lives, and we are very thankful to be celebrating this commencement ceremony with you – in person, together,” said Averett President Dr. Tiffany M. Franks. “Ladies and gentlemen of the Averett University Class of 2021, you and your loved ones have faced — and have persevered through – historic challenges this year. Today, we lift up this entire class of 2021…you all have exceeded our expectations and have shown remarkable determination during this unprecedented year.”

Franks introduced commencement speaker U.S. Air Force Colonel Kim N. Campbell, director of the Center for Character and Leadership Development at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado, which serves the Air Force Academy by advancing character and leadership development in preparation for service to the nation. Campbell is a highly decorated and distinguished command pilot who has flown combat missions in Operation Southern Watch, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. Since being commissioned in 1997, she has climbed the ranks and served as Squadron Commander, Operations Group Commander, Air Force Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council, Military Assistant to the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and an instructor in the Department of Military and Strategic Studies at the Air Force Academy.

Campbell’s message for the graduates: “You can’t have courage without some fear.”

The A10 command fighter pilot, with more than a combined 1,700 flight hours and 375 combat hours, reminded graduates that nothing in life is totally predictable. Despite all of those hours and all the training, only one thing is for sure, she said.

“Nothing – nothing – ever goes exactly as planned…so when the mission for life doesn’t go as planned, we’re prepared to respond, we’re prepared to take action in those critical moments.”

Campbell detailed a terrifying story of a 2003 flight mission in Iraq when she was just a young fighter pilot who had recently completed her training.

“I faced one of those critical moments that would forever make an impact on my life…It was one of the most terrifying moments of my life.”

During flight over Bagdad, her aircraft had been hit by an air missile. She could hear and feel an explosion that rocked her in the cockpit, causing hundreds of holes and damaged flight control systems. The airplane began to plunge out of control, heading straight for the ground above enemy territory where fire fight was happening and the enemy was shooting up. Knowing lives were on the line and systems were down, she needed to make every second count.

“I set aside my fear, I regained my composure and I engaged our backup emergency system,” she recounted.

The airplane slowly began to climb – a moment when she realized she may actually make it out alive. For that, she credits being prepared, having practiced, and having planned for contingencies.

“The airplane had been destroyed, and I was lucky to survive, but I was in one piece.”“It turns out, it’s what you do when you are scared that matters. It’s not the fear that matters; it’s about being able to step up and stand up in the face of fear, to have the courage to persevere even when you’re afraid,” said Campbell.

While her experience is one to which most of us can never relate, Campbell challenged graduates to recognize the fears they may encounter in their own lives and to still be brave in the face of those fears, things like “the fear of failure, not being good enough, or taking risks knowing we can fail.” Instead of doing nothing, use it as an opportunity, she encouraged.

“Be the leader and team member who can be afraid and brave at the same time,” said Campbell.

“When you take action in the face of fear, when you create a culture of courage, then you also create an environment of trust that builds deeper relationships, inspires loyalty and enables your team to perform at their best, even when they’re scared.”

After a standing ovation, Franks returned to the podium to present Campbell – someone she described as a true American leader and a true pioneering woman” – with an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters for her distinguished military service, the highest honor a university can bestow on an individual.

The ceremony included the traditional bagpipe processional, an invocation from University Chaplain Skyler Daniel and performance of the national anthem by student Khalil Farmer. Rev. Dr. Daniel Carlton ’90, chair of the Averett Board of Trustees, welcomed graduates and guests on behalf of the board, and Dr. Gary Tucker ’85, mathematics professor and division chair, sang the Alma Mater. Vice President of Academic Affairs and Student Success Dr. Timothy Fulop presented the graduates and recognized those receiving awards, including:

Traditional Undergraduate Awards (Highest GPA):
Mary C. Fugate Award: Kaylee Beth Webster
Grace V. Crenshaw Award: Afia Swewaa Nyantakyi

Averett Online Awards (Highest GPA):
Malcolm Knowles Award: Charles Stanley Moorefield, III
Frank Campbell Award: Emilia Dawn Kinsley

Student Awards of Distinction:
C.L. Davenport Award for Excellence: Lindsey Bateman
Curtis Bishop Award: Gabrielle Porter
American Legion Citizenship Award: N. Grayson Eaton

View the full recorded ceremony here, and find more photos from the day here.