news-category: Academics

Gardner-Webb Begins Academic Year with Traditional Fall Convocation

A student accepts her plaque from GWU President Dr. William M. Downs.

Program Recognizes Students’ Achievements and Includes Remarks from Teaching Award-Winner Dr. Elizabeth Amato and President Dr. William M. Downs

BOILING SPRINGS, N.C.—Gardner-Webb University celebrated the beginning of the 2023 academic year with the Fall Convocation. Awards were presented to 56 students, and the 2021-2022 winner of the Excellence in Teaching award, Dr. Elizabeth Amato, issued a challenge to students. Gardner-Webb President Dr. William M. Downs also presented his “call to action.”  

“Convocation is a calling together, a summoning, or a convening,” he explained. “It is a time-honored academic tradition at most universities, including our own. And Convocation gives me the opportunity … to give you a brief message … and message of thanks … a message of encouragement … and a message of action.”  

He congratulated and thanked Amato for being an outstanding teacher and also recognized the faculty for the work they do. He praised their expertise, energy, dedication, passion and compassion and emphasized, “Thank you, faculty, for the paths you illuminate for our students … not only the path to graduation but also the path to a meaningful life.”  

In her speech, Amato defined liberal arts education as “the education for learning liberty. For living in this world as a free person.”  

Dr. Elizabeth Amato

She continued, “By free, I mean, you are creature who is inherently free. You were born that way. You were made in the image and likeness of God and possess a rational soul. Though you were certainly born free, you are called to participate in your education. You, in an important and meaningful way, are a co-worker in your education. It’s a pretty big responsibility.”  

Amato went on to say that a liberal arts education also prepares an individual to be happy. Quoting Aristotle, she said, “The peculiar work of a human being is not your day job. Your day job is what you do to support yourself and your family. Instead, the work of a human being is to seek happiness.”  

Happiness, according to Aristotle is to pursue a life of virtue—being a good person who does good things. “It’s up to you to decide what sort of person you’ll be,” Amato elaborated. “Take care to put good things inside of you—in your soul, mind, and heart—where it counts the most and can’t be lost or taken away from you.”  

Downs’ remarks followed Amato’s theme. He quoted Woodrow Wilson, the only U.S. President to earn a PhD. Wilson said, “You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, and a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.”

Downs noted, “At Gardner-Webb, we’ve been underscoring our own version of that message with T-shirts and posters and stickers that have exhorted you to ‘Make Your Mark’ … Now, it has probably been explained to you that the reference to Mark is a biblical one. Mark 12:30, to be specific: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’”

He challenged the students to “Make Your Mark”:

  • In the classroom: “If you see a problem, imagine a solution … and if you can imagine a solution, then go design the solution.” 
  • On the fields of competition: “Success as a Runnin’ Bulldog doesn’t just mean getting a ring, it means demonstrating to the world what it looks like to win with honor and class, it means competing with integrity, it means living your life as a champion.” 
  • In service to the community: “The world needs more Gardner-Webb. More of our nurses and health care professionals, more of our teachers, our counselors, our pastors.”
Issa Cogdell receives the Ignite Excellence plaque from GWU President Downs.

Student Awards and Recognitions

One-Year Scholastic Awards

After the completion of one year of work at Gardner-Webb, the One-Year Scholastic Award is presented to 27 students who tied for the award with perfect 4.0 averages. They are:

  • Crystal Alridge
  • Morgan Barbery
  • Justin Bender
  • Emma Duchscherer
  • Rachel Estes
  • Mollie Fuller
  • Kalem Griffin
  • Caitlyn Hamrick
  • Avery Hogan
  • Tanner Horne
  • Sydney Hudson
  • Sara Jann
  • Abigail Mcbee
  • Zoe Mina
  • Madison Peek
  • Braeden Pratt
  • Mylee Quattlebaum
  • Jackson Reid
  • Ashley Rich
  • Benjamin Rogers
  • Annali Silver
  • Austin Thorne
  • Johannes Van Wijk
  • Dylin Waldorf
  • Meredith Wayland
  • Audrey White
  • Alaina Yeater

Two-Year Scholastic Awards

Upon the completion of two years of study at Gardner-Webb, the Two-Year Scholastic Award is presented to eight students who have a perfect 4.0 average. They are:

  • Daniel Beheler
  • Theodore Drescher
  • Christian Horton
  • Kyndal Jackson
  • Reese Jones
  • Rebecca Majorel
  • Sara Roslund
  • Shelby Watkins

Three-Year Scholastic Awards

After completing three years of study at Gardner-Webb, the Three-Year Scholastic Award is presented to nine students with a perfect 4.0 average. This year’s award recipients are:

  • Leah Carpenter
  • Caleb Cook
  • Alexandra Haasser
  • Paula Harvie
  • Makayla Jibben
  • Micah Moulder
  • Emma Rayfield
  • Grace Schiefen
  • Chelsea Walters
Elise Beaver, Ignite Excellence Scholarship winner, receives her plaque from President Downs.

Ignite Excellence Scholars

The Ignite Excellence Scholarship competition serves as an opportunity for students to compete for the highest academic scholarships awarded by the University. This year, eight students received full-tuition scholarships to honor their exemplary academic achievements. They are:

  • Elise Beaver from Greensboro, N.C., majoring in elementary education.
  • Mindy Jae Brown from Polkville, N.C., majoring in elementary education.
  • Issa Cogdell from Winston-Salem, N.C., majoring in computer science.
  • Bailey Hope from Gastonia, N.C., majoring in nursing.
  • Hodges McCathern from Lexington, S.C., majoring in biochemistry.
  • Andrea Stampone from Parkland, Fla., majoring in political science and psychology.
  • Corwin Stanley from Mooresville, N.C., majoring in music.
  • Isabel Suarez from Mount Holly, N.C., majoring in psychology.

The LeGrand Ware Scholarship

The LeGrand Ware Scholarship is awarded to a student from Cleveland or Rutherford County with high academic standing who plans to major in business. This year’s recipient is Jacob Jensen from Lawndale, N.C., majoring in accounting.  

Searight Leadership Award

The Searight Leadership Award supports first-generation college students who have demonstrated leadership potential. This award will provide access to the knowledge and skills that will enable graduates to become catalysts for good throughout society and within America’s corporate structure. This year’s recipients are:

  • AJ Leyva from Cliffside, N.C., majoring in business management.
  • D’Michael Williams from Charlotte, N.C., majoring in criminal justice administration and homeland security administration.

Tucker Scholar

President Downs presents a plaque to the 2023-24 Tucker Scholarship recipient, Rachel Gaura.

The Tucker Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength Scholarship is awarded each year to one high school student who exemplifies the principles and values representative of the Gardner-Webb community. This top scholarship is made possible by the generous support of Carolyn and Robert Tucker, who exemplify these same principles and values in their personal and professional lives. The 2023-24 recipient is Rachel Gaura from Irmo, S.C., majoring in psychology.  

Gardner-Webb University is North Carolina’s recognized leader in private, Christian higher education. A Carnegie-Classified Doctoral/Professional University, GWU is home to nine colleges and schools, more than 80 undergraduate and graduate majors, and a world-class faculty. Located on a beautiful 225-acre campus in Boiling Springs, N.C., Gardner-Webb prepares graduates to impact their chosen professions, equips them with the skills to advance the frontiers of knowledge, and inspires them to make a positive and lasting difference in the lives of others. Ignite your future at

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