UM celebrates the Class of 2023

Published 1:22 pm Monday, May 15, 2023

By NOAH WORTHAM | Staff Writer

MONTEVALLO – Several hundred graduates proudly strode across the University of Montevallo’s quad to accept their degrees during the university’s largest commencement ceremony in several years.

This year, UM celebrated 323 bachelor’s degree candidates and 102 master’s degree candidates on the morning of May 6, on the Flowerhill lawn.

“Today, we celebrate perseverance and accomplishment,” said UM President John W. Stewart III. “Those are very tidy terms for losing and winning, for content and character, for curiosity and creativity and for beating the odds. There will be unexpected pathways throughout each of your lives leading to exciting and challenging moments in which you must rise time and time again.”

The ceremony included speeches by outgoing Student Government Association President Cody Hodge and Senior Class President Desirae Billingsley.

“When I came to Montevallo, I thought I knew everything there was to know about the world, and I had the arrogance to boot,” Hodge said. “After my first few political science classes and a global pandemic it did not take long before my preconceived notions of the world fell apart and my fragile ego along with them.”

Hodge said he discovered something beautiful in the unknowable and encouraged his fellow graduates to remember their capacity for learning.

“If our capacity for learning is limitless, then it stands to reason that our capacity for loving is equally limitless,” he said.

During her speech, Billingsley expressed her gratitude for being able to lead the student body.

“This is a major milestone in our lives, and I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to serve this class as your senior class president,” she said.

Billingsley said she hopes that all her fellow graduates realize that this is just the beginning.

“Our lives are before us as we go our separate ways, but our memories on the bricks and bonds we have formed will endure forever,” she said.

Stewart expressed his gratitude for Hodge and Billingsley and commended their speeches.

“Those two may have been the best speeches I’ve heard students give,” Stewart said. “Your institution is very, very proud of you both.”

Keynote speakers Alan and Lindsey Song shared their appreciation for the academic rigor provided by UM.

“My years at Montevallo provided me with the confidence and resilience to conquer anything,” said Lindsey, who received a bachelor of arts degree from UM and pursues her craft as an artist painting and doing pottery in her studio. “I hope the same for this Class of 2023. Congratulations, and Go Falcons.”

Alan and Lindsey recently provided a substantial gift to the University, which will provide scholarships to students with financial need, as well as rename its newly opened fine arts building the Alan and Lindsey Song Center for the Arts.

“From an early age, my parents instilled the importance of hard work and education,” Alan said. “Just as important, they taught us kindness, generosity and service to our fellow human. That personal accomplishment is truly achieved in the care of others and the giving to others. For each of us here today, none of our goals could have been realized without the help, love and support of other people, so thank you family members and loved ones.”

Alan encouraged UM graduates to use their power of choice wisely.

“Choose to be a force for good in the world, choose to be a leader who inspires others to greatness and choose to be the change that you want to see in the world,” Alan said

Members of the Falcon Flight program were also recognized at commencement for earning a diploma marking their completion of the program intended to assist with developing life skills for special-needs students.

“These students have gained skills (in) technology, personal financial literacy and have been able to experience life as a college student,” Stewart said.

After every graduate received their degree, the UM Class of 2023 were inducted into the National Alumni Association by Stephanie Shaw of the Class of 1993.

“New alumni, you graduate today from a very special university,” Stewart said. “One that had placed an indelible mark on your during your years here as a student, and it will remain in your hearts for the rest of your lives. On behalf of all the members of the University of Montevallo family we extend our very best wishes and a standing invitation for you return home whenever you can.”