Asa Daniels, senior staff writer
As the semester draws to a close, Berry College is preparing for the May 7 graduation, as well as the incoming freshman class of the 2022-23 academic year. The graduation is supposed to take place at Valhalla Stadium, same as last year. Provost Mary Boyd explained that the reason the ceremony will be in Valhalla again was due to positive feedback about the decision last year.
“You know, people really liked it,” Boyd said. “We got great feedback from the students and their families. It’s easy to set up, so we can prepare for it, there’s lots of space so people feel closer and also [don’t have to] be on this lawn a distance away but they can be further upfront. It’s very accessible for any disabled guests or students who may be participating.”
This year, students will enter through the main gates of Valhalla, which Boyd explained is a symbolic gesture of students’ hard work over the last four years.
“I think it would just make it more special, you know, that this would recognize what a great achievement it is for the students to be graduating, and so I think this was just a special opportunity for everybody to walk through the gates,” Boyd said.
After the event, students will process under the goal posts, to where the refreshment tents will be located. This will also allow students and guests three large gates to walk through when exiting the field. There will be different reception areas outside and inside Valhalla, for each of the different schools, according to the Office of the President.
The Charter School of Education and Human Sciences, with the most graduates, will have their reception right outside of Valhalla. The Campbell School of Business, Evans School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences and the School of Mathematical and Natural Sciences will have receptions inside the stadium, to the right of the concessions stand. Each area is going to have the name of the school on a flag.
The ceremony will also feature the use of the jumbotron to display photographs students have submitted for the 2022 graduation page. The photographs will be compiled into a slideshow that will play as guests arrive to the commencement, Boyd explained. The 2022 graduation page will also include information that graduating students provided in a survey.
“We have asked all the graduating students to fill out a very short survey, a few pictures of their time at Berry, whoever they met, who are their mentors who meant the most to them here at Berry, so we encourage all of the graduating seniors to fill that out,” Boyd said.
While Valhalla will open at 8 a.m. for general guests, and 7:30 a.m. for ADA access, Boyd explained that people should arrive as early as they can, given the influx of traffic onto campus for the ceremony.
“One thing we always ask is for the guests to arrive early, because it always takes longer than you think it will when all those cars are coming on campus, so please come early,” Boyd said.
In the case of heavy rain or lightning, the ceremony will be held in the Cage Athletic Center. At rehearsal, on May 6, students will receive three tickets for their guests to use in the event of inclement weather, Boyd said. The event will also be live streamed and includes captioning, which will show the name of the graduate across the screen as they walk on the stage.
Boyd therefore encourages students to participate in the rehearsal.
“I encourage graduates to come to rehearsal because that’s where they understand all the logistics and how they’re gonna line up and move and I’m practicing their names so I get the correct pronunciation,” Boyd said.
While Berry is preparing to send off graduates, it is also gearing up for the incoming 2026 freshman class.
According to Andy Bressette, vice president for enrollment, there are currently 526 committed freshmen, out of a record 5,600 applications. Bressette added that projections are currently at 625 to 660 students by May 1, the application deadline. There is a decline in applications between May 1 and August, which may bring the total closer to 600 to 620. Bressette explained that this was the goal in order to maximize on three objectives: residential, academic and LifeWorks capacities.
“Our sweet spot is overall enrollment being 2,100 to 2,200 range, and so we feel if we can stay in that range, that’s our optimum residential, faculty and LifeWorks position,” Bressette said. “They all relate to student experience. We want the students who come here to have a good experience.”
A major change this year is the inclusion of a waitlist, which currently has 250 students on it, Bressette said. On the 15th of every month, prospective students are notified whether or not Berry is admitting additional students or not. Bressette said he does not expect to admit many more students currently on the waitlist.
“We’ve taken a few students off the waitlist, but not very many people, so I anticipate we probably will be giving a bunch of those people ‘I’m sorry, it’s not you, it’s us’ kind of answers,” Bressette said.
Bressette added that some students may be asked if they could join in January, for the spring semester, as enrollment at Berry drops due to December graduates. These students will be communicated to after May 1.
While most majors did not encounter enrollment changes, animal science admissions were cut down this year due to strain on the department to provide for the increasing demand.
“That’s an area where we probably were a little more selective about who went in because we have many more applicants than the program can accommodate,” Bressette said.
Many students have different theories as to why Berry’s admission rate has increased annually. The timing of the COVID-19 pandemic and a large increase of accepted students this past fall led to some ideas that Berry’s on-campus approach during the pandemic incentivized students to come. Bressette explained that, while this played a role, Berry’s rebranding over the last five years has also been instrumental.
“What I would say is, if we got this huge blip in applications last year and it dropped off, we’d say ‘OK, that was a Covid spike’ but we have more applications this year, almost 10% more applications this year, than we had last year, so, I think that really says something more about the demand for Berry and the perception of a Berry education, and the kind of quality that you get with this great community of mentors and LifeWorks experiences, that kind of make us different and distinctive,” Bressette said.
Another thing that Bressette has noticed this cycle of admissions is that the quality of competitor schools for Berry has increased. For example, if a student decided not to go to Berry, they went to Mercer, Centre or Rhodes.
“We’re really seeing growth in the quality of schools we’re competing with,” Bressette said. “[It] says to me that the brand perception of what Berry is, the quality of education that is delivered here and experienced by students, I always felt we haven’t been given the credit for what’s really happening here. It means that Berry’s not the best kept secret in the South anymore and that’s really what we’ve been trying to fix.”