(This article was published Sunday, May 13, 2007, in the Macon Telegraph.)
By Amy Leigh Womack
Some Mercer University graduates tossed their caps into the air while others just let out a gleeful squeal Saturday as they filed out of University Center.
The undergraduate ceremony marked a milestone as the Townsend School of Music handed down diplomas to its first class of graduates.
Jessica Ford, a voice major from Houston, Texas, said the novelty of being a member of the first class wasn't all that important before graduation ceremonies.
"Just knowing I was part of the first class in the school of music ... it was so amazing," she said. "I'm elated.
"It's just one of those unique experiences I'll never forget."
Nearly 500 students listened as former U.S. Attorney General Griffin Boyette Bell delivered an address on American citizenship.
A 1948 graduate of Mercer's Walter F. George School of Law, Bell spoke of the country's eroding value system and challenged students to find fulfillment in their new careers.
"Good citizenship is a responsibility for recognizing our values and preserving them," Bell said.
Following the speech, Bell was inducted into the Omicron Delta Kappa National Leadership Honor Society.
As a part of the graduation ceremony, two friends were bestowed awards for service to the community.
During their freshmen year, Christy Webb of Waynesboro and Stacey Hartwell of Valdosta helped restart an after-school tutoring program at Memorial Gym in Macon.
"It taught me that I've been very lucky to be born into the family I was born into," Webb said. "Not everyone has that."
Following graduation, Webb will enter a fellowship at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, where she will pursue master's and doctorate degrees in English. Hartwell will enter Candler School of Theology at Emory University to pursue a master of divinity degree.
"I'm sad for leaving Mercer, but excited at the same time," Webb said.
Before passing out the diplomas, Mercer President William Underwood challenged the students to continue their quest for learning.
"Learning doesn't end with commencement," he said. "Learning will carry you into new areas of service."
One by one, students wearing robes adorned with multicolored stoles filed across the stage as their names were read.
Excited audience members snapped pictures and let out brief whistles and yells of "you did it, baby."
Following the ceremony, Rachael Kerley of Jupiter, Fla., posed for photos with her family on the stage.
"It's the end of four years," Kerley said. "It's gone by really fast."
To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.