Celebration and joy filled the Crown Coliseum as Methodist University honored its newest graduates Saturday.
A large congregation of family, friends, faculty and staff filled the arena for Methodist University’s 50th annual Winter Commencement Ceremony, cheering on 120-plus students who received their diploma on stage – including 15 graduates who became the first graduates of the university’s online degree programs.
Methodist President Stanley T. Wearden delivered an inspiring message to the graduates, noting the load of health and financial challenges students have faced the past several years.
“You didn't let any of the pressures and stressors of our current time beat you. You found ways to keep going and to get the most of your time at Methodist University. You have shown that you are strong, resilient, creative and caring,” said Wearden. “Graduates, I’m proud of you because in the face of all we have experienced, you have found the courage to complete your MU degrees in dignity and style. I’m proud of you because you understood the power and importance of working together as one community. We have, indeed, moved forward together.”
Wearden then introduced commencement speaker John “Mac” Healy, the Methodist board of trustees’ immediate past chairman. Healy has lived in Fayetteville since 1978 and is the president of Healy Wholesale, a beverage distributor. Healy is well known for his contributions to the Fayetteville and Methodist University communities over the span of several decades.
“I can’t think of any greater example of overcoming obstacles than you, the graduates. This world threw everything at you and you never quit,” Healy said. “Our world needs you more than ever right now. Every day, you can choose the person you want to be. I challenge you to make a positive impact on everyone you encounter, hold an attitude of gratitude, and to continue making Methodist University proud.”
Following Healy’s speech, Wearden presented Healy with an honorary doctorate of humanities degree for his keen vision in business, and his extraordinary devotion to education, community and family.
Continuing a tradition that started in 1985, the university recognized the origins of graduates by honoring Charlisa Lawrence-Joseph ’22 – a native of Dominica majoring in healthcare administration. The flag of Dominica will now hang inside the university’s Berns Student Center, bringing the total number of countries represented by MU graduates to 128.
This year’s Distinguished Graduate Award went to Jillian Drinkard ’22, a business administration major with a concentration in PGA management. Truly epitomizing what a student-athlete is at Methodist University, Drinkard had one of the top-five GPAs in the class, was named an Academic All-American multiple times, earned DIII Women’s Golf All-American honors multiple times, and was a member of MU’s DIII women’s golf national championship team in 2021.
“I want to thank all the Methodist University staff and faculty for making today possible,” said Drinkard. “My time in the classroom and on the golf course taught me that not every day is going to be your best day, to not focus on the last shot but the next one, and that life isn’t about awards or statistics. Class of 2022, stay true to yourself and listen to your heart. We were put on this Earth to make a difference around us. We’re not promised tomorrow so continue to be grateful for the opportunity to chase your dream.”
Afterward, the moment everyone was looking forward to finally arrived: the conferring of degrees. As each graduates’ name was called, they stepped to the center of the stage where they participated in a hooding ceremony, a time in which an individually-selected sponsor (often a parent, spouse, child, professor or friend) hoods the graduate to mark their academic achievement. Then, graduates received their well-earned diploma from Wearden.
As the graduates moved their tassels from right to left at the conclusion of the commencement, the newest Methodist University alumni sang the beloved alma mater together.
Before graduates and their loved ones could embrace in celebration outside of Crown Coliseum, Wearden left graduates with one last piece of advice.
“Congratulations graduates, family members and friends. This is a significant achievement, and it will change your lives in many ways both tangibly and intangibly,” said Wearden. “This is your university today, and it will always be your university. Stay in touch, share your accomplishments with us, and stay involved. This is a great institution, and as we all work to make it even better, we will need your help.”