Published on April 28, 2024 by Diamond Nunnally  
2024 grad

On Saturday, April 27, Samford University’s School of the Arts and Howard College of Arts and Sciences celebrated its spring graduates with a joint commencement ceremony at 2 p.m. in the Pete Hanna Center. Howard College of Arts and Sciences awarded 193 degrees and the School of the Arts awarded 84. 

The ceremony included an invocation by School of the Arts dean Lance Beaumont, a scripture reading by Biblical and Religious Studies chair Roy Ciampa, a presentation of degrees by J. Michael Hardin, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, singing of the Alma Mater led by voice professor Sharon Lawhon, and a closing benediction by Howard College of Arts and Sciences dean Dawn McCormack. 

Several university awards were presented during the ceremony. Howard College of Arts and Sciences graduates Addison Toy, a communications studies major, and Paisley Williams, a psychology and communication studies major, received two of the five John C. Pittman Spirit Awards. This honor recognizes graduating students who consistently exhibit Christian character in community life. 

Ashley George, associate professor of Communication and Media, gave the address. She is the faculty adviser for the Communication Studies honor society, Lambda Pi Eta, and the director of the faculty mentorship program at Samford. Her work as an adviser for Lambda Pi Eta earned her an “Adviser of the Year” award from the National Communication Association in 2022. She was also honored with the “Professor of the Game” by student-athletes in both 2016 and 2023.  

As an interdisciplinary researcher on social support behaviors among close family relationships, George began the address by talking about the pressure she feels as a parent to soak in every moment of her children’s lives while they’re still young. She and her husband, Thomas, share a five-year-old son named Elliot and a two-year-old daughter named Eliza.  

She said, “The piece of advice we hear most often—from friends, from our parents’ friends, from people who are grandparents, from reels on social media with sappy music in the background, from people whose kids are even just a little bit older than ours—is don’t miss it. You’ll blink and they’ll be in high school. Slow down and soak it in. Childhood is fleeting.’”  

George expressed how the constant worrying about not missing is possibly causing her to miss some of it. She said, “I’m trying to take it in. I’m trying to savor the moments. I’m not exactly sure how much more noticing or appreciating or relishing I’m supposed to do to make sure I’m doing it right.” 

Then she redirected the discussion to the original task. She said it’s not about checking off every possible thing to ensure her kids have the perfect childhood or create the most beautiful scrapbooks to document every memory, but it’s about being present. That’s what she wanted people in the room to take away from her address.  

“I don’t have paragraphs worth of inspiration to bring to you this afternoon,” George said. “I will not stand up here and pretend that I have more wisdom than the person sitting next to you. I’d simply like to encourage you with two things: First, we are so proud of you. And second, be present and invite presence.” 

As a social scientist, George mentioned research findings showing support networks as being a significant contributor to our mental and physical health. The most compelling is the notion that having access to support networks is just as effective in relationship satisfaction as enacted support.  

“This means that simply knowing that there are at least two or three people we can call on in a time of need is just as beneficial to us as actually receiving support from them,” she said.  

George emphasized that making connections in college may not be as easily accessible as it was at Samford and that it is perfectly normal to experience loneliness in the next phase. However, she encouraged students in the room to be present even in times of loneliness and to build a support system in the case of adversity.  

“I encourage you to find people who will sit with you in joy and grief and not look away," George said. "These relationships have demonstrated God’s kindness to me in periods of celebration and sorrow in ways I cannot describe.” 

Ending the speech referencing the passage read earlier in the program about Moses pleading with God about sending someone else to lead the Israelites to the promised land, she highlighted God’s response. Instead of encouraging Moses that he is capable and strong, He reminds him of the powerful promise of always being with him, saying that God’s presence is worth more than anything else. 

She said to the graduates, “We are so proud of you, not only for your achievements but for your intrinsic worth. Be present. Be present with yourself. Be present with others. Seek a community that will be present with you. And seek God’s presence in all things. He will be with you. And we will be right here cheering you on at every step. Congratulations.” 

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.