Class of 2018 Graduates Receive Encouraging and Moving Message from Speaker Jennifer Nettles '97


At Agnes Scott College’s 129th Commencement ceremony, 191 students received their diplomas and will begin the next step of their journey—going out in the world to make their mark on it. The diverse class of 2018 ranged in age from 19 to 53, hailed from 30 states and 10 countries and included an inspiring 12 percent of first-generation college graduates. Also among the graduates were sisters, nieces, granddaughters, great granddaughters of Agnes Scott alumnae, with one being the granddaughter of the college’s first African-American graduate Edna Lowe Swift ’71. Agnes Scott has been a Posse Foundation partner college since 2013 and also notable is that among the class were Posse Scholars from Chicago.

With majors in public health, psychology, business management, neuroscience, history and more, the new graduates are poised to succeed. A remarkable approximately 46 percent of them studied abroad in 34 different countries, including experiences Australia, Belgium, Chile, Cuba, Germany, Ghana, Jamaica, Malta, Nepal and Senegal, and 69 percent of students completed internships at organizations such as Morgan Stanley, the CDC, Our House, Global Village Project, The Home Depot, CARE USA, KIPP Schools, Morehouse School of Medicine, and the Department of Juvenile Justice.

Members of the class will continue their education in master’s and Ph.D. programs at institutions including the University of Missouri-St. Louis, Loyola University of Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, Georgia State University, Mercer University, Texas Tech University, Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Michigan, University of Washington, George Washington University, Emory University, University of Georgia, University of Chicago and more.

Some members of the class will launch careers as entrepreneurs, starting businesses in places like Hungary and China. Other graduates will launch careers at organizations such as Amazon, Deloitte, Eastman Chemical Company, IDEXX Roswell, StoryCorps, Compassion in World Farming, Golden Age Youth, Gallo Winery, Deloitte, Cordence Worldwide, Chungdahm April Academy in Korea and Agnes Scott. Others will be serving in the Peace Corps as well as with Teach for America or KIPP Schools.  

“You are the personification of empowerment. You are strong. You are motivated. You are dedicated.  You are a community of inclusive, fierce and fabulous individuals who embrace the motto, ‘You Can Do It!’,” said President Elizabeth Kiss, in her opening remarks to the class of 2018. “Go out there Riveters, and be part of that tidal wave [of women using their voices], fight for the change we so desperately need. Be a part of the change. Go out into the world and be bold!”

It was a bittersweet day for President Kiss, who after 12 years of leadership at Agnes Scott is stepping down in June to become the first female CEO of Rhodes Trust and warden of Rhodes House in Oxford, England. President Kiss received an honorary degree from Agnes Scott at her last Commencement ceremony.

In her encouraging commencement address, singer-songwriter Jennifer Nettles '97 offered inspirational words of wisdom on being flexible to change and the importance of being dreamers.

“I want you to be changelings. All the time change. I want you to be flexible to change in knowing that stasis does not equate to safety,” said Nettles. “If there is something you don’t like. Change it. Period. Be kind, compassionate, empathetic, but live authentically and without apology. Calcification makes one brittle. Brittleness makes one more likely to break. Bend, sway, dance but don’t break.” 

Nettles, who received an honorary degree at the ceremony, serves as a model of the power of dreaming to graduates. Her achievements include being honored by ASCAP for her songwriting prowess with five awards in addition to earning both an Academy of Country Music and Country Music Association Award for Song of the Year for “Stay.” The No. 1 hit also earned Nettles, as part of Sugarland duo, two Grammy awards for Best Country Song and Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group. As the first female artist to be the solo songwriter on an ACM Awards Song of the Year winner since 1972, she was acknowledged with a Crystal Milestone Award. She also made her Broadway debut in 2015 as Roxy Hart in the Tony award-winning, record-breaking musical “Chicago,” and in 2016, reprised her role as Dolly Parton’s mom Avie Lee Parton in the Emmy-nominated, holiday-themed television sequel to the ratings success “Coat of Many Colors,” “Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love.” 

“Dream of everything you want. Dream every day. Getting what you want isn't as hard as knowing what you want. Dreaming shows you what you want. I see people every day struggle to find their purpose—our wants, our desires, our longings, our dreams point the way to our purpose. They are like sign posts. Listen to those wants. Listen to those desires. Dream as much as you can. Sift through it until you find the golden one. Now is a time to do that,” said Nettles, “And yes, you must be brave to go after your dreams. You must be brave because the Universe requires it. But here is the beautiful thing about the universe: if she sees one spark, one tiny breath of bravery and truth, she will rally around you.”

She closed her speech by urging them: “Let your favorite questions be ‘What if and why not?’ Instead of ‘Why me?’ Why not ask, ‘Why not me?’ Somebody has to live her best life, achieve her goals, find love and fulfill all her dreams. Might as well be you, right? That’s how I look at it. Might as well be me! Might as well be you. I’ll do good with it. You will do good with it. It should be you living her best life and fulfilling her dreams.” 

Then, as a special surprise treat for the graduates, she ended by singing a verse from an Irish blessing.

During the Commencement ceremony, there were several notable recognitions, including:

  • The 2018 Vulcan Award recipient is Associate Professor of English Nicole Stamant. The Vulcan Materials Company Teaching Excellence Award goes to a faculty member who has made “a distinct difference in the teaching climate of the college in such areas as model classroom teaching, campus leadership, pioneering teaching methodology, creative course development and/or instructional support.”
  • The 2019-2020 recipient of the Joseph R. Gladden, Jr. Public Lecture Award is Professor and Chair of Mathematics Alan Koch. Established by the Board of Trustees to honor Joseph Gladden, who served as chair of the Agnes Scott Board for 10 years before stepping down in 2002. The Gladden Lecture Award is given every two years to a member of the Agnes Scott faculty whose scholarly activities are especially noteworthy.
  • The Kathy ’68 and Lawrence Ashe Professorship was presented to Associate Professor of Sociology Regine Jackson. Established through a gift from distinguished alumna Kathy Ashe, and her husband, Lawrence, the Kathy ’68 and Lawrence Ashe Professorship who exemplifies the ideal of a teacher-scholar and is making significant contributions to the college’s signature program SUMMIT.
  • Retiring faculty and staff honored with resolutions of appreciation were Dudley Sanders, professor of theatre, a dedicated shepherd of the theater community at Agnes Scott, after 39 years of service; Jennifer A. Lund, associate dean for international education and assistant professor of education, with 19 years of service as a beloved advocate for international students; and Ms. Betty Hart, a cherished member of the community who has worked in Dining Services at the college for nearly 44 years and is renowned for her “Betty’s Bars.”