Saturday, Harding graduated its largest class in history, somewhere around 650 students. For a crowd this large, the ceremony was held in the rather uncomfortable Ganus Athletic Center. This will be the final time spring graduation is held in the GAC; next year we'll be moving to two ceremonies that will be held in the Benson Auditorium.
This was a very memorable graduation for a couple of reasons. Many of you have already heard that Brian Luke Johnson, a 27 year-old senior health care management major, died unexpectedly on March 11 of an unspecified disease. He left behind his wife Mary Johnson who was pregnant and a one-year-old daughter. This tragedy obviously shook-up a lot of people, especially since he was a Searcy native (his mother is one of our department secretaries).
Early in the ceremony, Dr. Burks awarded Brian's degree posthumously to Mary up on stage. But as everyone began to applaud, Dr. Burks interrupted the applause and said he had a special announcement. Apparently Mary had around $41K of school loans (she is still a Harding student), and this became known to a Harding student who anonymously worked to raise some money to help pay the debt.
The student was able to raise enough money to pay off the entire $41K.
As Dr. Burks made this announcement, there wasn't a dry eye in the auditorium... even Dr. Burks had difficulty keeping it together.
After the usual fan fare of speeches, reading off names, and handshakes, Dr. Burks stood up to conclude the ceremonies. Suddenly the student body president bolted onto the stage and almost shoved Dr. Burks to the side. Burks hesitated but relinquished the podium, and Charlie told the audience something about wanting to give back his degree and no longer be a "bachelor."
Then Charlie called up his girlfriend on stage, pulled out a ring, got down on one knee, and asked her to marry him. I guess she said yet because he gave the thumbs-up and walked off stage with a huge smile on his face. Ah, young love. (Someone posted the whole thing on YouTube.)
Finally, the ceremony concluded with everyone's favorite: Climb Every Mountain (OK, it's not everyone's favorite, but whoever's in charge of organize the ceremony sure must like it). Usually a female sings the song and rattles the room with the high note at the end. This time a guy sang the song: Dr. Monte Cox's son. That's a first.
A little bragging: Four of the 13 students graduating this spring with the highest level of the Honors Program ("Honors Graduate with Distinction") are Computer Science students. This is by far the highest number from any department (about 2.5% of Harding students are CS majors, but CS majors make up 31% of the highest level honor grads). Very cool.