200+ pick up degrees at Brenau Friday


“Brenau University awarded degrees to more than 200 graduates at two winter commencement ceremonies Friday.

About 210 students completed their studies during the fall semester; 161 completed graduate coursework and 49 completed undergraduate degrees, including 30 graduates from The Women’s College.

Katara Phelps initially began working toward a degree 17 years ago, but enrolled at Brenau in 2012 after being introduced by a friend. Unforeseen obstacles prevented her from continuing in her final year, but she completed her final three classes at Brenau this summer.

“In those turbulent times, dance emerged as a steadfast companion, providing solace,” Phelps said. She also thanked Madia Cooper-Ashirifi, Ed.D., chair of the Department of Dance and associate professor of dance. “The unwavering support from friends and Professor Madia Cooper-Ashirifi became the crucial anchor that steadied me through these challenges.”

A first-generation college student, Phelps persevered. She received her degree on Dec. 15 and delivered the benediction for the afternoon ceremony. 

“This achievement is deeply personal—an affirmation that life’s desires are attainable, demanding perseverance in specific areas,” Phelps said. “The journey stands as a testament to the reward of unwavering determination, breaking generational curses, and achieving goals that once seemed insurmountable.”

As keynote speaker for both ceremonies, Interim President David L. Barnett urged graduates to continue pursuing both professional and personal development on their pathway to a fulfilling life.

“Your time at Brenau has been more than just the pursuit of academic excellence; through encounters with the Brenau Ideal, you have been challenged to consider values that define character,” Barnett said. “Just as you strive to continue your pursuit of knowledge, so, too, strive to build upon character that has been shaped by your transformative experiences at this university. Both the pursuit of knowledge and character, woven together throughout your lives as they have been while here at Brenau, will serve you well.

A mother and son also graduated together on Dec. 15. Cassandra Heggs earned her Master of Education, while Jalen Heggs earned his Doctorate of Education

“My mother and I have always been extremely close,” Jalen Heggs said. “We’ve always encouraged one another. We’ve always been there for one another in good and in sad times, so this educational experience with her has been nothing short of amazing.”

The family was familiar with Brenau already, as Cassandra Heggs is now a two-time Brenau graduate, earning her bachelor’s degree in 2014.

“As I was preparing to return to college at Brenau University, I planned to complete my master’s degree so that I could graduate with my son,” Cassandra Heggs said. “When I started in January, Jalen was almost at the end of completing his doctoral degree. I had to stay focused.”

The two kept each other accountable as they finished their studies.

“It was nice when we’d converse about various class assignments, only to discover that we had the same professor at some point,” Jalen Heggs said.

“Taking courses online was new to me and Jalen shared that time management is essential when completing assignments online,” Cassandra Heggs said. “After our discussion, I had a plan and stuck to it for each course.”

Jalen Heggs said he appreciated the support he received throughout his journey, especially College of Education Dean Kelley Brock-Simmons and his dissertation team. 

“I can truly say that I would not change my doctoral journey here at Brenau at all. The courses that I took and my research study both challenged me to become a relevant practitioner in today’s educational climate,” he said.”