UM honors the class of 2024 during spring commencement

Published 2:08 pm Monday, May 13, 2024

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By NOAH WORTHAM | Managing Editor

MONTEVALLO – Students proudly strode across Flowerhill lawn in honor of a momentous milestone in their lives as they accepted their degrees during the University of Montevallo’s Spring Commencement ceremony.

Students, faculty, staff, family, friends and members of the UM community gathered on May 4 to celebrate the UM class of 2024—the majority of whom began their college journey in fall 2020 amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The UM class of 2024 was comprised of 297 candidates for bachelor’s degrees and 99 candidates for graduate degrees.

“Starting (college) during a pandemic is rather brave,” said Coltan Rodano, president of the student government association. “These graduating seniors braved these adverse conditions and found success. They have both struggled and shown great resilience. I look forward to seeing what all of you accomplish.”

UM President John Stewart began commencement by expressing his gratitude to faculty and staff as well as the many community members who help make the ceremony possible. Following Stewart’s comments, student trustee Aubrie Chastain led the invocation and graduating senior Veronica Conely led the singing of the Star-Spangled Banner.

Stewart also recognized those earning a diploma from Falcon Flight. The program is a partnership between Shelby County Schools and UM that began in 2018 and allows students with learning disabilities to attend classes at UM and learn life and jobs skills that will allow them to continue their journey into adulthood after finishing high school.

“These students have gained skills in technology, personal financial literacy and have been able to experience life as a college student,” Stewart said. “Congratulations to our Falcon Flight graduates.”

Outgoing Senior Class President Abigail Heuton delivered a speech to the seniors and expressed how UM would always be a home to the graduates.

“You belong at Montevallo, whether you stay here for the rest of your life or come back in 10 to 50 years, it’ll feel like you never left,” she said.

Stewart introduced Shelby County Schools Superintendent Lewis Brooks who served as the keynote speaker for this year’s address.

“In my tenure as president, there hasn’t been a single occasion I can remember where I’ve had the honor of introducing a triple graduate of the University of Montevallo,” Stewart said. “Today we celebrate your accomplishments and perseverance, and Dr. Brooks knows and exemplifies both of those characteristics.”

Brooks has worked in the field of public education for 33 years and earned three degrees from UM, including a Bachelor of Science in 1988, a Master of Education in 1999 and an educational specialist degree in 2003. He also holds a doctorate in instructional leadership from Samford University.

During his address, Brooks focused on the acronym, FREE, which stands for faith, relationships, education and economics.

“Faith is the knowledge that deep down inside, things will get better and brighter days will come amid challenges,” Brooks said. “Relationships allow you to have a lasting impression on others, and them on you. An education opens your eyes and ears to the great wealth of opportunity that is available to you. And ultimately, the secret to understanding economics and money is to spend less than you make for a very long time.”

Brooks closed out his address by encouraging the class of 2024 and extending his congratulations.

“Class of 2024, I believe that you have been given the best FREE advice that you can have,” he said. “This is your moment, enjoy and celebrate this accomplishment. Now is the time for you to go out into the world and be great. Congratulations, and best wishes to you for a bright and prosperous future.”

Following the keynote address, Stewart awarded Brooks with the President’s Award before the ceremony continued with the traditional conferring of degrees.

After students walked across the stage and received their degrees with a smile, Eddie Baker, president of the UM National Alumni Association, inducted the class of 2024 into the UMNAA.

“I am pleased to welcome you, the class of 2024, into our alumni family,” Baker said. “Today, you join us in our dedication to serve this institution, its faculty, its staff and its students. We welcome you to visit often, serve faithfully and give how you are able. You always belong at the University of Montevallo.”