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Class of 2012

Young Harris College conferred 146 degrees on graduates participating in the College’s commencement ceremony on May 5 in the YHC Recreation and Fitness Center, including 99 seniors earning degrees in biology, business and public policy, communication studies, English, history, music, musical theatre, outdoor leadership and theatre. This marks the second year that YHC has awarded bachelor’s degrees since receiving accreditation in 2008 to offer four-year programs. Read on to find out more about outstanding students from the Class of 2012.


146 graduates
9 Associate of Arts graduates (liberal arts)
4 Associate of Fine Arts graduates (art, music)
34 Associate of Science graduates (science, allied health, business, education)
43 Bachelor of Arts graduates (communication studies, English, history, music, musical theatre, theatre
56 Bachelor of Science graduates (biology, business and public policy, outdoor leadership)
11 Honor’s Program graduates
2 Associate degree graduates with Highest Honors (4.0 GPA)
10 students that graduated Summa Cum Laude (4.0 GPA)


Commencement Awards

Dr. Charles R. Clegg Outstanding Scholar Award
Heather DelGiorno, Rachel Wilkes, Miriam Torres, Heidi Sherlock, Mayeli Medina

Zell B. Miller Leadership Award
Allison Matulia

Young Harris Spirit Award
Tara Shiver

Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award 
Austin Freeman

Mary Mildred Sullivan Award 
Ali Neese

Click here to find out more about these awards.

Honors Ceremony Awards

Joseph Wilson Boone ’31 History Award
Thomas Crosby

Luke Rushton ’42 Scholar Athlete Award
Rachel Wilkes

Outstanding Biology Student Award
Rachel Wilkes
Emma Witherington

Outstanding Graduate in Business and Public Policy Award
Julie Kelley

Outdoor Leadership Outstanding Senior Award    
Tyler Burns

Outstanding Senior in English Award
Heidi Sherlock

Outstanding Paper in an Upper Division English Course Award
Heidi Sherlock

Religious Life Outstanding Senior Award
Amanda Noonan
Jordan Fleming


Please note: All bios were written in May 2012.

  • Rebecca Armstrong (theatre) of Covington, Ga., plans to pursue a career in stage management. She has accepted a position as associate stage crew supervisor at Brevard Music Center, where she has previously worked as the stage manager for the Porter Series and on the run crew for the Summer Institute and Festival.
  • Vincent Brannigan (business and public policy) of Martinez, Ga., secured a position as a field engineer at Geocon, a geo-professional company that provides geotechnical, environmental and geologic services for the natural environment and sustainable development.
  • Amy Dalton (communication studies) of Augusta, Ga., accepted a position as a common area coordinator for General Growth Properties, a publicly traded real estate investment trust based in Chicago.
  • Jordan Fleming (musical theatre) of Marietta, Ga., was accepted into Columbia Theological Seminary’s master of arts in practical theology program with a concentration in Christian education.
  • Austin Freeman (theatre) of Hartwell, Ga., earned his degree in theatre and plans to pursue a career acting onstage and in films. He will perform in the outdoor drama Unto These Hills in Cherokee, N.C., during summer 2012.
  • Mallory Holland (outdoor leadership) secured a position with Adventure Treks, a company that provides educational outdoor programming across the United States. Holland will serve as a wilderness instructor for the company’s “Oregon Cascades Adventure” program.
  • Eric Hoppe (business and public policy) of Alpharetta, Ga., was accepted into Georgia State University’s graduate program in economics.
  • Jennifer Mathis (outdoor leadership) of Atlanta, Ga., will serve as a canoe expedition instructor at Talisman Programs, a company based in Zirconia, N.C.. that provides experiential adventure summer camps for young people with learning disabilities.
  • Carlos Ocampo (business and public policy) of Lawrenceville, Ga., accepted a position as a sales consultant for the Cleveland Indians baseball team.
  • Jennifer Watford (outdoor leadership) of Cedartown, Ga., will serve as a program director for Alabama's Special Camp for Children and Adults (Camp ASCCA).


Please note: All spotlights were written in May 2012.

Marcus McGill (business and public policy) of Young Harris, Ga., was accepted to at least nine different institutions, including Asbury Theological Seminary, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Wake Forest University School of Divinity. “After graduation, I will also be marrying my college sweetheart, Brittany Starrett, who graduated this year with her associate degree,” he said. “I met her in Enotah Hall and I knew from that moment on I was going to ask her to marry me.” The two will be tying the knot shortly before McGill begins seminary to earn his master of divinity degree this fall. “I will be following in the path of previous generations of my family, such as my great-grandfather, Oda Rogers, my grandfather and hero, Jimmy Rogers, and my uncle, Ricky Rogers, just to name a few,” McGill said. “I chose this path because I sense a call to the ministry, and I believe one needs to be equipped and educated to do that sort of work in this day and age. YHC offers so much to its students, one of which is an environment of faith, hope and love.” McGill credits several mentors with steering him in the right direction while at YHC, including many professors who challenged him to excel academically. Outside of the classroom, McGill served as a Student Government Association senator during his freshman year and went on to become part of the SGA executive board as Sergeant at Arms. He also worked as a resident assistant on campus and completed a business and public policy internship during the summer with the Towns County Probate and Magistrate Court. “While at seminary, I hope to be equipped and strengthened in my faith and knowledge of Jesus Christ. I also look forward to any connections I will make with other future ministers,” McGill added.

Genevieve Rodriguez (music) of Calhoun, Ga., was accepted into Lee University’s graduate program in music education and will work this summer at the internationally renowned Interlochen Arts Camp in Interlochen, Mich., where aspiring young artists in grades 3-12 from around the world gather to learn and perform alongside leading artists and instructors. “Music has been a part of my life ever since I was born. I come from a family of musicians and I want to keep the family tradition going,” said Rodriguez. “At YHC, I have definitely gained discipline as a musician and as a person. My love for music has also grown with this experience.” During her time at YHC, Rodriguez served as president and chaplain of the Susan B. Harris Society, president of the Inter-Greek Council, a member of the Young Harris College Choir and Chamber Choir, and a member of the Inter-Religious Council. She is a member of the Collegiate National Association for Music Educators, and regularly competed in the National Association of Teachers of Singing State Competition during her studies. She worked with the 21st Century After-School Program at Union County Middle School in Blairsville, Ga., for two years, was a student worker at Duckworth Library for two years, and served as the choir director at Mountain Presbyterian Church in Blairsville, Ga., during her senior year. “I learned a lot of leadership and people skills during my time at Young Harris,” she said. “I learned how to be myself and how to stand up for what I believe in, which is important because I can now work with many kinds of people.” In the future, Rodriguez plans to obtain a career in the field of higher education and would like to attain a doctorate in pursuit of this goal. “I will never forget my professors at YHC,” Rodriguez said. “They are an inspiration to me and help me persevere.”

Emma Witherington (biology) of Winder, Ga., was accepted into the University of West Florida’s graduate program in biology. “I have always loved science, and knew early on that I wanted to work in marine biological research,” said Witherington, who is looking forward to living on the Gulf coast and traveling to Indonesia for a research excursion through the program. A recipient of the Outstanding Biology Senior Award, Witherington credits her success at YHC to her professors. “The biology professors at YHC are absolutely amazing, and each one has a passion for their specific area of expertise,” she said. “They also provide students with a strong background in biology and connections to go as far as possible after graduation. I’ve received countless recommendations and unlimited support throughout my four years at YHC.” Witherington was a charter member and president of YHC’s chapter of Roots & Shoots, a global environmental and humanitarian youth program of the Jane Goodall Institute. “I’ll never forget the night I got to eat dinner with Jane Goodall at YHC President Cathy Cox’s house and see her deliver a lecture on campus the following day,” she said. Witherington also worked as a resident assistant, a tutor in the Center for Writing and Speaking, and an assistant in the Young Harris College Beetle Lab. During her studies, she completed a research internship at Mote Marine Laboratories in Sarasota, Fla., where she studied the effects of boat traffic over the Siesta Key grass flats and movement activity of Florida manatees. In the future, she hopes to publish her graduate research and eventually move onto a doctoral program. “I will miss the closeness I had with my professors at YHC,” she said. “I spent many hours in my professors’ offices talking through what I wanted to do later in life. They helped me more than I can say.”

Zach Thompson (outdoor leadership) of Cartersville, Ga., recently accepted a position as a youth minister at First United Methodist Church of Union County in Blairsville, Ga. “I believe that a person’s best experience with God is through nature,” he said. “I hope to gain a deeper relationship and understand of God by teaching His word to these youth, while also making an impact in the lives of the youth I will be ministering to.” During his time at YHC, Thompson was highly involved in religious life on campus. He spoke multiple times during meeting of the “Underground” bible study as well as the College’s annual Spiritual Life Retreat. He is a member of Alpha Omega fraternity, and has worked as an instructor at the rock climbing wall inside the YHC Recreation and Fitness Center for two years. Thompson has also taken advantage of every opportunity to go kayaking, hiking, camping, and rock climbing throughout his four years at YHC. “Through the outdoor leadership program, I have gained confidence in my ability to teach others, facilitate participants and lead people in the backcountry, he said. “I have also gained personal teaching and facilitation philosophies, as well as personal environmental ethics.” Thompson worked as a wrangler at SK Horses in Estes Park, Colo., where he led guided trail rides daily to guests into the mountains with trail destinations climbing to over 9,500 feet. He attended the Annual Adventure Education Conference and completed a Wilderness First Responder (WFR) course facilitated by Landmark Learning in conjunction with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) and Wilderness Medicine Institute (WMI). He also took part in a pilot course called “Processing the Experience,” in which YHC students selected, planned and led weekly adventure activities for elementary and middle school students in a local after-school program. “The thing I will miss about Young Harris is the friendliness of this place,” Thompson said. “There is something about these mountains and the Enchanted Valley that makes this place home to me.”

Jack Tripp (business and public policy) of Fayetteville, Ga., plans to travel for several months before engaging in philanthropic work around the southeastern United States. “My education at Young Harris helped me find that those who have the ability to take action have the responsibility to take action,” he said. According to Tripp, the business and public policy program at YHC provides students with the necessary tools to begin impacting the world before graduation—something Tripp will strive to continue to do while pursuing a career in public service. “The most important piece of the Young Harris experience is the exploration of the human condition,” he said. “With exposure to literature and the arts found at Young Harris, students are able to search deep into areas of themselves that they knew existed, but never previously knew how to reach.” During his studies, Tripp completed an internship in Washington, D.C., in the office of U.S. Representative Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.), the congressman who serves Tripp’s hometown district. He also served as a counselor at Camp Kaleo in Forsyth, Ga., for two years. Tripp worked as a College Representative and Student Ambassador at YHC and gained valuable leadership experience as Student Government Association Vice President. He also served on the Honor Council, sang in the Young Harris College Choir and was highly active in Greek life and religious life on campus. “I will miss the atmosphere at YHC the most,” Tripp said. “This is a magical place that allows for unparalleled growth both in and out of the classroom.”

Tara Shiver (music) of Covington, Ga., has been accepted into graduate programs in arts administration at Savannah College of Art and Design and the University of New Orleans. She hopes to fuse her passions for the arts and nonprofit organizations by obtaining a career that will allow her to work on a college campus, in a concert hall or at a museum. “I chose a music degree because it challenged my abilities. I had terrible stage fright issues and now they are down to small butterflies,” Shiver said. “I also wanted to grow in my knowledge as a musician, and the music faculty has been such a great resource.” During her studies, Shiver worked as a counselor at Camp Hawkins, a Georgia-based summer camp for youth coping with varying developmental disabilities, and as a recreation director at the internationally renowned Interlochen Arts Camp in Interlochen, Mich. During her senior year, she worked as a clarinetist at McConnell Memorial Baptist Church in Hiawassee, Ga. “I believe that my time at YHC gave me strength and determination,” Shiver said. “This College provides so many opportunities for students to get involved, which made my experience very memorable.” Shiver served as president of the Campus Activities Board, treasurer of Phi Alpha Phi, and president of the Mu Phi Epsilon international music fraternity. She also worked as a College Representative in the Office of Admissions and served as a START Orientation leader. “I will really miss my friends. YHC has become my home and they are my family,” she said. “I will also miss the mountains; we were so blessed to get to look at that beautiful view every morning.”

Amanda Noonan (English) of Smyrna, Ga., will attend the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., where she will pursue a master’s of divinity degree with concentrations in women’s leadership and apologetics. “I know that going into ministry is the right path for me,” she said. “I hope to gain more academic knowledge of theology and philosophy that will better equip me to do work for God’s kingdom.” Noonan was highly involved in religious life during her studies, participating in the “Underground” bible study, the chapel planning team, and Breaking Free Ministries. She served as president of the Inter-Religious Council, president of Baptist Collegiate Ministries and president of the “Souled Out” drama ministry. She was also president of F.E.A.T. (Future Educators & Administrators of Tomorrow), a member of Phi Alpha Phi sorority and a member of the Sigma Tau Delta international English honor society. In 2010, Noonan spent a semester completing mission work as part of Hands On, a mission program for college students and young adults offered by the International Mission Board. She also attended the Interfaith Youth Core’s Interfaith Leadership Institute conference in Washington, D.C., during her studies. In addition to these memorable experiences outside the classroom, Noonan also believes her studies at YHC have contributed to her personal growth during the last four years. “I learned how to write academic papers more effectively, and doors have been opened for me to write creatively,” she said. “Through majoring in English at Young Harris, I gained a better understanding of different cultures, religions, people and life in general.”