Graduation 2015

Graduation 2015…It was amazing.


The Class of 2015 Courtesy of Southern Exposure Photography

You simply could not leave campus this weekend without knowing for certain that this is an incredible school.  In fact, as an admissions director, I wish I could somehow combine our open house events with our graduation ceremony because the whole time all I could think was, I wish everyone could see this.

THIS – this is what it is all about.  The end result, the grand finale, the culmination of years of hard work and perseverance, and friendship and community.  THIS is a day worth celebrating!

It can best be summed up in the opening remarks of senior Jensen Price’s speech…

Brookstone is all about “O’hana” and O’hana means family.

“It’s a pretty bold word,” he said.  “It’s a word with a lot of power, but it is a word that I find completely relevant and necessary when discussing the people here today.  We are O’Hana.  We, the class of 2015, are the Brookstone Family.”

Jensen can get away with using a line from Lilo and Stitch as part of his commencement address partly because of his Hawaiian heritage –  and because he’s Jensen –  but there is powerful truth in that analogy.  Brookstone really is a family.  And every single speaker this weekend from baccalaureate to graduation itself illustrated that beautifully.

Dr. Belle Harrell spoke first at Saturday morning’s Baccalaureate Service, giving a heartfelt and personal tribute to the individuals who make up the Class of 2015.  Part of the beauty of our small school is just how well our faculty knows and cares for each and every student and that was evident throughout her speech.  As she said in her closing, “I may be small in size, but I have a really big heart, that actually keeps getting bigger the older I get because students like you continue to come into my life and teach me about what it means to love.”


Following Dr. Harrell, alumnus Leland McCluskey, Class of 2008 and currently at Mercer Medical School, gave the second address.  Leland is the oldest of 12 cousins and was the first of his generation to graduate from Brookstone.  The youngest four, including his youngest brother, are members of the Class of 2105, so it was beautifully fitting to have him address this class.

Leland spoke of how Brookstone helped lay the foundation for his life’s journey.  He spoke about how two former teachers, Mr. Sam Pate and Mr. John Cole, ignited his passion for scientific discovery and the leadership and perseverance he developed while playing football.


But mostly he talked of his passion for serving others through medicine.  He challenged our students to do the same – to use the education they’ve received  and the opportunities they have to serve others – to fight for those who cannot defend themselves, to work towards solutions for debilitating disease, poverty, war, and human-trafficking.

They were challenging words delivered to a group of students fully prepared to hear accept that challenge.

Later that evening, the graduation ceremony was held.  The beauty of our campus could not be more on display.  It was absolutely gorgeous.  The rain held off and there was a slight breeze blowing.  For a mid-May evening in Georgia, it was downright pleasant outside.


The music played, procession started, and the faculty came out first dressed in their caps, gowns and academic colors.  There is no finer group of educators in Columbus, Georgia.


Then, came our graduates –  girls in white and boys in blue,  looking beautiful and distinguished and smiling from ear to ear.



And the very last one, blessed with a last name starting with “W,” came my firstborn.  My 5 pound preemie, my baby boy who came into this world and changed my life forever, now walked proudly across the quad, arm and arm with his sweet classmate, standing so tall and looking every bit the man he has become.


Our student speakers were phenomenal, showcasing two of the class of 2015’s finest.  Mary Ellen Blackmar was up first.  Heading to UGA in the fall, she has been at Brookstone since Pre-K.  She spoke with poise, humor and confidence, challenging the students to go out and create the future that they’ve been preparing for.

She said, “We come from different religions, different cultures and difference societies; however, despite our differences, we stand united.  We are a class of unified individuals that stands apart from the rest.”

Unified individuality, what a beautiful concept.


Mary Ellen Blackmar


She went on to say, “Not only has Brookstone instilled loyalty, courage, wisdom, honor, service, respect and leadership, but also individuality.  The indispensable knowledge and experiences from Brookstone will propel us into the success of the future.”

The Class of 2015 is made up of individuals who are as different as night and day in every way, yet their unique individuality, their unique passions, interests and strengths were able to grow and flourish here at Brookstone.  What a beautiful thing.

Then came Jensen, who will be heading to Stanford University next year.  Jensen first came to Brookstone as a freshman, having been selected as one of our Honor Scholars.  Compared to Mary Ellen, he had only spent four years of his life at Brookstone, but the tribute he gave his Brookstone family, the faculty and his fellow classmates, was one of the most precious things I’ve ever heard.


Jensen Price


He spent the summer before his freshman year working out with the football team, developing “a sense of trust, and a feeling of respect with my teammates that resembled brotherly love.”

He continued, “The family atmosphere didn’t stop when school started.  Instead it developed into something stronger.  I quickly learned the traditions of this great place.  There there is honor in our halls…where else can you drop your laptop on the ground in the rotunda and know it will be there at the end of the day?  I found that academic excellence can be found in a classroom with teachers who take your goals on as their own.  I saw firsthand that even when we make mistakes, we are loved when we need it most.  I have seen that acceptance and inclusion are given without hesitation.”

I could transcribe his entire speech here because it was so profoundly beautiful, but I will close with his challenge to his fellow students, “As we embark on our separate journeys into different parts of the country and later into different parts of the world…it must always be our goal to help people.  Extending an invitation into our family is one of the best ways to do that.  Because I can’t think of anything better…than being a Brookstone Cougar.  Where nobody gets left behind.  No one is forgotten.  And we are O’Hana.”


Courtesy of Southern Exposure Photography


For more photographs from graduation, please click here.


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