By Hailey Pruitt | Photography by Jeff Montgomery | Videography by Jake Ward |
On May 7, more than 700 students, representing 39 states and 18 countries, walked across the Benson stage in three commencement ceremonies. Recommended by their deans, 11 seniors sat down with us to reflect on their time at the University, sharing memories of mentors who invested in them, a community that nurtured them and the fun they had along the way. Harding magazine is proud of them and all of their classmates and wishes them well as they move on to the next chapter, whether in graduate schools, professional careers or the world.
College of Allied Health
COMMUNICATION SCIENCES AND DISORDERS
Madeline Rubio chose Harding because she felt the spirit on campus was full of humility and everyone was friendly and down to earth. Harding felt like coming home. She is spending her summer as an intern at her home church and will return in the fall to begin the Master of Science in speech-language pathology.
INTEGRATING FAITH AND LEARNING: I fell in love with Jesus in Bible class my first semester. Since then, I’ve watched professors conduct their classrooms and speak to each other and their students in a way that shows me how to follow Jesus in every aspect of life. My professors and classmates in the communication sciences and disorders department took me just as I was and pushed me to grow into someone who learns not just for her grade but for understanding to benefit her future patients.
FREEDOM TO EXPLORE: When I declared my major freshman year, I hadn’t thought through what I wanted to do with my life. Later, I bounced around to several different majors, trying to find an option that would work with my strengths and desire to serve others. Harding made me feel safe to take that time, and I landed back in this department because of the freedom to ask questions and discover what was best for me.
A HARDING HIGHLIGHT: I loved participating in Spring Sing. I can’t believe how much sleep I lost, but learning how to dance, sing and perform alongside so many new friends was a great experience.
College of Arts & Humanities
Lydia Marshall came to Harding for its rare Christ-centered theatre program. When she visited as a high school senior, she felt welcomed by the theatre family and everyone on campus and fell in love. She will be teaching high school theatre in Huntsville, Alabama.
CHRIST AND CREATIVITY: At Harding, I learned how to share the gospel in real ways, and that’s something I want to be a big part of my future. Professionally, I learned every skill needed to teach theatre and how to foster that learning in high school students. I feel well prepared for my future.
IMAGINATION IS KEY: My favorite class was Children’s Theatre with Dottie Frye. Being in a college environment that’s very academic and professional, it was a breath of fresh air to go to a class every day and use my imagination, pretending I was a dragon or playing with toys or focusing on my senses and observation skills. It was so much fun and taught me how to help students unlock that creativity.
A ROLE MODEL: I took Acting with Dottie Frye during my freshman year and was terrified of her. But the Children’s Theatre class really clicked with me, and I loved everything we were doing. I learned so much from her, and then I tried out for Pied Pipers, the improv troupe she sponsors, and I fell in love with the creativity. She’s been so encouraging to me. I tell her all my prayer requests, and she’s understanding and also pushes me to stand up for myself. I want to be Dottie Frye when I grow up.
Eric Johnson chose Harding after years of being determined to choose a school other than the one his family — mom, sister, cousins — had attended. The summer after his junior year in high school, he attended Honors Symposium and then decided he wanted to be at a Christian university. He has loved it ever since. He plans to work and live in his hometown for a year before beginning law school.
LEARNING IN COMMUNITY: I’ve had great classes and great professors who have challenged me and helped me grow. I’ve also been given a great community of friends, and I have had so many great experiences here.
A FACULTY MENTOR: I’ve been very lucky to have several faculty members invest in me. The first one who comes to mind is Dr. J.R. Duke, associate professor of history and executive director of American Studies Institute. I met him on one of my first visits to Harding, and we talked about music and sports. He then became my advisor, and I am involved in Tenor of Our Times, a student history journal, because Dr. Duke recommended I seek it out.
A HARDING HIGHLIGHT: I studied abroad with Harding University in Australasia in Fall 2019, and we ended that trip in Japan in December 2019 with no thought of a pandemic. Within a few weeks, Japan was an international COVID-19 hotspot. I went from a semester abroad with the most freedom in my life to full lockdown. Looking back, it was an unbelievable experience.
College of Bible & Ministry
BIBLE & FAMILY MINISTRY
Noah Jordan chose Harding because he knew he was called to youth ministry. He ended up following a girl to Searcy, and she is now his fiancee. He will be working as a youth minister in Columbus, Georgia.
PREPARED AND COMMISSIONED: I didn’t come here with a lot of Bible knowledge, but I did know that if I was going to work with the spirituality of children and adults, I had to know what I believe. Harding has helped me look at Scripture and know how to consider context and be humble in my understanding of what it is to be a Christian. Harding also has provided me with resources to connect with other ministers and participate in internships outside the classroom.
FACULTY INVESTMENT: I was a teacher’s assistant for James Bury, who teaches Greek and biblical interpretation. He mentored me and gave me advice as well as resources for paper writing. Dr. Monte Cox’s classes in living world religions and spiritual disciplines also made a great impact on me.
A HARDING HIGHLIGHT: Studying abroad in a combined program with Harding in Greece and Florence, Italy, was a highlight of my college experience. Getting to go to Greece and Israel and walk where the apostle Paul and Jesus walked and see what they saw — it provided perspective for my understanding of Scripture.
ADVICE TO FRESHMEN: You are loved. You are worthy. Not because I say so, but because he does. You are a child of God.
College of Business Administration
FINANCE AND INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS
Julio Montenegro came to Harding as a recipient of the Walton International Scholarship. He will partner with Manna Global Missions doing development work in Costa Rica.
LEADERSHIP THROUGH SERVICE: Harding has prepared me to be a servant leader, a philosophy that will shape my life as a professional. It’s not just about the education I’ve received but also about the ethical foundations of a Christian university.
MODELS OF PROFESSIONALISM: Mike Allen provided great resources to help me go deeper into studies of international business. From Ellis Sloan, I learned not only how to be a good finance student but also how to be a professional and how to relate to other people as an ethical Christian in the business world.
A HARDING HIGHLIGHT: I went on the American Studies Institute leadership trip to Washington, D.C. The purpose of the trip was to learn about the business world, democracy and the foundations of the U.S. government. We visited the U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Department of Justice and Boeing headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. It was a good opportunity to apply the knowledge and leadership experience I have as a business student.
ADVICE TO FRESHMEN: Harding provides a lot of opportunities. It’s just a matter of being able to be open with ourselves and with other people about our passions. It’s important to share with other people the goals we have in mind and learn how to take advantage of opportunities to achieve them.
College of Education
Chenyang (Hope) Li
Xi’an, Shaanxi, China
Hope Li attended her senior year of high school in Washington, D.C., living with a host family that had three sons who attended Harding. Her host family brought her to Searcy for a visit, where she learned there was a large group of Chinese students on campus, making her feel even more comfortable. She plans to return in the fall to pursue a master’s degree to teach English as a second language.
PERSONALIZED EDUCATION: Since English is my second language, I always have trouble turning in my assignments on time because I have to write them in Chinese and then translate them into English. All my professors gave me the time I needed. They not only helped me with my teaching but also helped me grow my faith.
A DREAM COME TRUE: I have always wanted to be a teacher since I was a little child. In China, we only focused on academic grades, but here we were taught that we should also care about students’ personal lives. Kids come to school with different backgrounds and experiences, and that’s why I chose the English as a second language program in graduate school. I know what it’s like to struggle with languages, and I want to help them.
A HARDING HIGHLIGHT: I’m involved in the Chinese church on campus. We are trying to get more Chinese students to join us because most of them are non-Christians.
College of Nursing
Brandon Johnson chose Harding because he was looking for a faith-based community and an excellent nursing program. He will be getting married and moving to Virginia to work as a surgical intensive care unit nurse.
HIGHLY SKILLED: Harding’s nursing program is daunting, but as a senior looking back on all the knowledge I’ve gained, I can see that everything was relevant and important. Meeting other nurses in clinicals and hearing about their experiences showed me that Harding goes above and beyond, with high standards in each class.
PERSONAL CONNECTION: The most influential professor in my nursing career is Dr. Greg Brooks. I was really struggling early in the program, and he saw something in me that was worth advocating for and helped me see my potential. He talked with me weekly and communicated with other professors, helping me succeed in their courses. He could have ignored me, but he invested in me.
A HEALTH CARE HIGHLIGHT: In high school, when I was originally considering what career I wanted to pursue, I was thinking about being a paramedic. My dad is a firefighter and paramedic, and he offered to let me ride along with his crew. That experience of watching paramedics leading at the scene and treating multiple patients … They were bold and equipped with so much knowledge and ultimately were saving lives. It was inspiring. That was the moment that I knew I wanted to be in health care.
College of Sciences
BIBLE & MINISTRY AND MATH WITH TEACHER LICENSURE
Alina Westbrook Stout chose Harding because it was close to home and she loved the Harding community. She and her husband are moving to Oklahoma where he will be a youth minister, and she will teach Algebra I.
MATH AND MINISTRY: Harding has prepared me for my future better than I could have expected. I just finished my student teaching semester, and I feel very prepared to start my job in August. I also think my Bible degree has helped with the ministry my husband and I are planning to do. We are prepared to help the church, and we have a good depth of understanding to apply to our careers.
GLOBAL EXPERIENCE: I studied abroad with HULA, Harding’s program in Latin America, which was an amazing experience that encouraged me to learn more Spanish. I also did an internship in Albania with Global Outreach, and I’ve enjoyed working with local churches and supporting them each summer.
A HARDING HIGHLIGHT: I’ve been a part of the Thundering Herd marching band throughout my time here and have really enjoyed all the memories I’ve made with them playing baritone at the football and basketball games.
ADVICE TO FRESHMEN: It’s okay to change your mind.
Fort Collins, Colorado
Thomas Marshall transferred to Harding from a public university in Colorado upon marrying his wife, Lydia, and joining her in Searcy. He was excited about research opportunities with the NASA space grant and the close-knit community. He will join Special Aerospace Services in Huntsville, Alabama, as a design engineer.
EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING: Harding does an amazing job at educating students in a really well-rounded way. In the engineering department, we are taught technical skills and also interpersonal and presentation skills. The faculty show us all aspects of engineering with real-world experiences. Dr. Massey has made a difference in my life, both in and out of the classroom. I enjoyed the opportunities he gave me to explore the science behind many different subjects that might not be offered in a specific class.
A TRANSFER’S PERSPECTIVE: I’ve been able to be part of two different school systems, two different atmospheres. As a Christian in a public university, I learned to seek out relationships. At Harding those relationships are abundant, and I’ve been able to create connections that are meaningful. I’ve learned how to interact with people no matter the circumstances.
A HARDING HIGHLIGHT: My favorite memory was the snow day [in 2022] when campus was closed, but Tacker’s Shake Shack opened and started selling milkshakes. Everyone was out in the snow drinking milkshakes.
Mary Grace Golden
COMMUNICATION STUDIES AND PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION
Mary Grace Golden went to Honors Symposium after her junior year of high school and chose Harding because of the community it brings and the opportunity to be involved in many different things. She will begin graduate school at Purdue University, pursuing a master’s degree in organizational communication and working as a graduate assistant.
INTENTIONALLY MENTORED: During my freshman year, I was recruited by Dr. James Huff to join the Beyond Professional Identity research lab, and we met several times a week throughout my college career. He helped me learn qualitative research, and we’ve submitted a manuscript for publication. We focused not only on academics but also on how we can use academics to be good Christians and do good in this world.
SEEKING A CHALLENGE: I started in the Honors College my freshman year because I wanted a challenge. Honors contracts allow us to add to assignments or create different assignments that allowed me to research topics that I was interested in, creating an academic plan that worked for me. I also completed a multi-year study on political identity of Christian women for my senior honors thesis and presented it at conferences in several places including Austin, Texas, and San Francisco.
ADVICE TO FRESHMEN: Branch out. Do anything you’re even a little bit interested in, and you might find something you love. Be confident in yourself because Harding gives us opportunities to grow in ways we never thought we could.
Powder Springs, Georgia
APPLIED STUDIES SCIENCE
Jesse Hutcheson chose Harding after visiting his brother on campus and falling in love with the Christian atmosphere. He will be moving to Georgia to pursue a job as a cargo loader and further develop his blacksmithing hobby.
EQUIPPED TO SHARE: Harding has given me the skills and biblical knowledge to discern what’s right and how to best glorify God. It’s given me the motivation to do my best to preach the word of God to those who don’t know him.
QUALIFIED PROFESSORS: My favorite classes were Gospel of John and Romans with Dr. Shawn Daggett. His classes are challenging, but he teaches in a way that makes it easy to understand the material. Dr. Phil Thompson is always fun to talk to and invests in his courses. Dr. Stockstill is a phenomenal teacher. I loved every minute of class with him, even five days a week. They’ve all been amazing teachers and men of God.
A HARDING HIGHLIGHT: When I joined men’s social club Chi Sigma Alpha as a freshman, I was introverted and kept to myself, but since then I have made wonderful friends who would do anything for me. I’m so thankful for that opportunity. They encouraged me to participate in Spring Sing, and it really helped me be more social. I loved every minute of it. The fellowship we got to have helped solidify those relationships. I also loved caroling at all the girls’ dorms every Christmas. Without Chi Sigs, I wouldn’t be the man I am today.