Grayson College celebrated its 59th commencement ceremony Friday with 130 of the 327 fall 2018 graduates walking the stage to the sound of applause from friends and family.

“Everything we do at Grayson is designed to help students complete their goals,” Grayson College President Jeremy McMillen said. “Commencement is the largest celebration we hold on campus, and it’s my favorite event. Our graduates contribute significantly in the communities where they live, and I trust they will do great things.”

This fall’s graduates ranged in age from 18-71 years old. Earning 300 associate degrees and 103 certificates, the graduates were comprised of 35 percent male and 65 percent female. Of the graduates, 57 percent received Pell Grants.

McMillen introduced the speaker for the event, Professor Joanna Bryant, and explained she is the college’s Piper Professor Nominee, a state-wide award for excellence in teaching. A 2003 graduate of Denison High School, Bryant shared her personal story that led to her position with the college.

“If someone had told me when I graduated Denison High School that on Dec. 7, 2018, I would be giving the commencement speech at Grayson College, I would have said they were crazy,” Bryant said. “I was on a completely different path at the time. My end goal was to become a great chef and work in the best kitchens in the world.”

After earning several degrees, Bryant was working towards those very goals in California when she received the news that her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at age 57.

“My path changed at that moment,” Bryant said. “I wanted to be home in Denison. I wanted to spend as much time with her as I could. I was certain of that. However, I didn’t know how that was going to fit into my goals of being a great chef.”

That was when she received a phone call notifying her that Grayson College had received a grant to build a culinary program and was looking for a chef instructor. She applied and received the position.

“I jumped head first with three different goals — making a difference in students’ lives, encouraging service spirits and making the culinary arts and hospitality management at Grayson one of the best and most recognized in the country,” Bryant said. “I know these were some pretty ambitious goals but I’m proud to say that I think that we have achieved them in our program. There is no way that I could have achieved all of the recognition we have gotten by myself. I did it with my students. I am lucky to mentor and teach them.”

Bryant said Grayson College students are very special.

“I have shared with you a small part of my journey because I truly believe things happen for a reason,” Bryant said. “Although 17-year-old me may never have envisioned me here today, I can tell you that for certain I am where I was meant to be all along. Life is a journey and this graduation is just a step on that path.”

Rhea Bermel is the marketing and public relations coordinator for Grayson College.