They marched in pairs, their black robes swirling in the spring breeze (view the webcast of the commencement address or read the transcript.) The approximately 570 soon-to-be graduates talked about sports scores near home and new driver’s licenses for places far away as they wound over the familiar brick-lined sidewalks and past the peaceful gray-stone buildings for the last time as students. “It’s sad, because you miss it,” said Gretchen Hume, a 29-year-old AU grad, social worker and mom who lives in Nashville, Tenn.
She came Saturday to see her little sister, Michele Dreger, graduate from the same university she and middle sister Tamara Shelton did. “She’s the last one,” Shelton, 27, Greenville, Tenn., said. “It’s the first time in 12 years (our family) won’t have a student here.” Hume said she’s seen her sister grow in her time at AU (photo: graduate Andrew Rosenberg hugs Dr. Rebecca Haskett, associate professor of Business, before commencement in the Kardatzke Wellness Center).
“I’ve seen her become more secure, more secure in her beliefs,” she said.
Their parents glowed, both with pride and an increased sense of financial robustness.
“It’ll be nice not to have that annual expense,” Paul Dreger, a 53-year-old State Minister for the Church of God in Nashville, Tenn. said with a laugh.
But seriously: “It’s exciting to see her reach that milestone, and plan for the future. (AU) has led all of them into helping professions.”
Michele, he said, is planning take her degree in psychology and family studies and attend graduate school to be a marriage counselor.
“I’m excited,” Debbie Dreger, a 52-year-old program secretary at Middle Tennessee State University, said. “It’s been great.”
Meanwhile, Nadine Steele, a 55-year-old school teacher from outside Dayton, Ohio, walked her two grandnieces up the wide sidewalk to Kardatzke Wellness Center.
Their aunt, Kim Steele, would be graduating from the school’s nursing program.
“She was one of the first people inducted into their honorary society,” Steele said proudly.
Five year-old Abbi, dressed in a blue skirt and top, hung onto one hand and three-year old Emma, in a pink skirt, hung onto the other.
Abbi planned to wear a pink robe on her future graduation while Emma just looked forward to blowing kisses to her aunt.
Across University Boulevard, the marching line prepared for the moment, not far in the future, when they would walk to the tune of “Pomp and Circumstance” and into a season of change.
— LINDSAY WHITEHURST is a reporter with the Herald-Bulletin in Anderson (www.theheraldbulletin.com).