UA Commencement Ceremony Brings High Profile Speakers

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The University of Arkansas held its Fall Commencement Ceremony Saturday at Barnhill Arena. More than 800 undergraduates, graduates and law students closed an important chapter in their lives.

Chancellor G. David Gearhart began with a moment of silence to remember the victims of the mass shooting in Newtown.

Cody Neely, who earned a bachelor’s degree in Agriculture Food and Life Sciences, said it was the right way to start the ceremony.

"Our nation is hurting right now,” Neely said. “Everyone needs to be with them in Connecticut."

U.S Navy Secretary Ray Mabus was the commencement speaker. Mabus, who was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2009, leads the Navy and Marine Corps. He’s responsible for 900,000 people and 400 ships.

Arkansan W. Stephen Smith, a world-renowned voice teacher and professor, received an honorary Doctor of Arts and Humane Letters. Civil rights leader Vincent Harding, who worked with Martin Luther King Jr., received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.

Brandie Benton, who earned a PH.D in curriculum and instruction, said all three speakers motivated the audience.

"They were really inspirational, so I'm starting to think ahead on what I can do to give back," Benton said. She’s a professor at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia.

The new graduates clutched their diplomas thinking of the bright future that lies ahead.

"Thrilling, exciting, I can't believe it's over,” said Alex Bentoson, who earned her bachelor’s degree in Agriculture Business. She will soon hold a manager position in Kraft Foods in Virginia.

Jay Greene, Education Policy professor, mentored his PH.D student Stewart Buck and said he is very proud to see him grow academically.

"I think ceremonies really help people understand the magnitude of what they have accomplished and give them the energy to move forward with those degrees to accomplish great things," Greene said.

Dare Chronister, who received her master’s in higher education, looked back on their college experience.

"Working on campus, getting to meet everybody in the profession and actually getting to work with those people that I aspire to be was a really good experience," Chronister said.  She has a job as director of campus life at Conners State College in Warner, OK.

Neely, who has a job at Tyson Foods, said he’s excited at the career that lies ahead.

"Looking forward to it, having the certainty of knowing what I'm going to be doing after school,” Neely said. “It's a big milestone, just excited to be done.”

Former NBA star and Razorback player Darrell Walker graduated with an online degree in education in human resource development. He is the current assistant coach with the New York Knicks.