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YOUNG HARRIS, Ga. — Young Harris College conferred 195 degrees on graduates participating in the College’s Commencement Ceremony on Saturday, May 11 in the YHC Recreation and Fitness Center. The College awarded bachelor’s degrees in art, biology, business and public policy, chemistry, communication studies, creative writing, economics, education, English, environmental science, history, interdisciplinary studies, management, mathematics, music, music education, musical theatre, outdoor leadership, psychology, religious studies, Spanish and theatre.

Significant portions of this year’s Commencement Ceremony were led by graduating seniors. Senior interdisciplinary studies major Leslie Ballew delivered the invocation. Senior communication studies major and 2018-2019 president of the Student Government Association Lexi Hooper provided greetings from the student body. Several members of the Class of 2019 sang songs selected for the special occasion. The Commencement address was delivered by senior outdoor leadership major Paxton Spessard, who urged graduates to leverage the gift of the Young Harris experience to improve their communities.

“Go forth, fail forward, default to kindness, seek to understand, be authentic, live boldly and follow your bliss. Those may sound like simple statements, but I think it takes a lifetime to truly comprehend their weight,” Spessard said to the graduates. “If we strive to conduct ourselves in this manner and move closer to these elusive ideals, I’m confident that the ultimate aims of this institution, the telos of Young Harris College, will become manifest. Our lives will be brimming with purpose and passion and adventure. And may our hearts be forever Mountain Lion purple.”

YHC President Dr. Drew Van Horn presented Rev. Dr. Don A. Harp, ’61, with an honorary doctorate of humane letters, as well as the Young Harris College Medallion, which is the highest honor bestowed by YHC to alumni and friends who have made extraordinary contributions to the College.

A YHC graduate, Rev. Dr. Don A. Harp has served in the North Georgia Conference of The United Methodist Church for more than 45 years. He currently serves as minister emeritus at Peachtree Road United Methodist Church in Atlanta. Harp served as pastor and theologian-in-residence and taught in the contextual education program at Emory’s Candler School of Theology until his retirement in December 2018. He has served as a YHC trustee since 1989 and has been instrumental in the growth of the College for more than 30 years.

YHC Provost Dr. Jason Pierce announced the seniors who received special acknowledgments.

The Dr. Charles R. Clegg Outstanding Scholar Award, which was named in memory of a beloved past president of the College and recognizes graduating seniors with the overall highest grade point average, was presented to Paxton Spessard of Cumming, Georgia.

YHC is among an elite group of colleges and universities that annually bestow the prestigious Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award and Mary Mildred Sullivan Award on a male and female graduating senior, respectively. Created in 1890 to honor the servant leadership of their namesakes, the awards are given annually by the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Foundation to individuals whose nobility of character and dedication to service sets them apart as examples for others. This year’s recipients were Leslie Ballew of Ball Ground, Georgia, and Khalid Johnson of Decatur, Georgia.

Alejandro Lemus-Gomez of Young Harris, Georgia, was presented with the Zell B. Miller Leadership Award for significant contributions to campus life at YHC as an outstanding leader and role model.

Mayra Leyva of Athens, Georgia and Bakari Garvin of College Park, Georgia both received the Young Harris Spirit Award, which recognizes students who best demonstrate outstanding levels of personal integrity, friendliness and engagement with the campus community.

In his final charge to the graduates, President Van Horn said, “There are tremendous voices, wonderful actors, talented athletes, activists, innovative thinkers, counselors and leaders in this class. You have minds and hearts as big as the mountains that surround this campus, and you’re ready to go empower and inspire.  You can accomplish anything you set your mind to. While uncertainty can be scary, do not let fear gain a foothold in your life . . . remember that the world that you will tend belongs to something bigger than any human.”

About Young Harris College

Young Harris College is a private baccalaureate and master’s degree-granting institution located in the beautiful mountains of North Georgia. Founded in 1886 and historically affiliated with The United Methodist Church, Young Harris College educates, inspires and empowers students through an education that purposefully integrates the liberal arts and professional studies. The College has three academic divisions: Arts and Humanities, Professional Studies, and Mathematics, Science and Technology, with more than 1,400 students enrolled in its residential and Early College programs. The historic campus in Young Harris, Georgia has completed major campus improvements to accommodate the College’s growth. LEED-certified campus improvements include the 121,000-square-foot Rollins Campus Center, residence facilities and a 57,000-square-foot recreation and fitness center. The College is an active member of the NCAA Division II and remains a fierce competitor in the prestigious Peach Belt Conference. For more information, visit