Piedmont opens new school year with Convocation service

Piedmont Convocation

From left, Chaplain Ashley Cleere, President James Mellichamp, the Rev. Alvin Bunis, and Vice President for Academic Affairs Perry Rettig. Below, senior Katarina Hodge of Dublin.


Piedmont's annual Convocation service opened the fall semester Aug. 28, with the Rev. Alvin W. Bunis, assistant minister at Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, N.Y., as the guest speaker.

A graduate of Harvard University with a degree in economics, Bunis transitioned to the ministry after a 29-year career on Wall Street. He admitted to the Piedmont students that had he been a more attentive student, he  might not have waited so long to pursue a career in the ministry. "If I had been more self-aware when in college, my approach to college would have been different," Bunis said. "I was not excited to learn, and I look back with regret now, because I did grow and change in my ways. I wish I had done things differently. I am happier now than I ever have been—I love being a pastor."

Bunis said he was not recommending a specific career path, "but college is the ideal place to try and find out what your passion is." Quoting author and theologian Howard Thurman, Bunis said, "Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."

hodge-kf4m6712Piedmont senior Katarina Hodge had a similar message for the freshmen in the Class of 2017. Hodge said she did not pick a major until her junior year, after trying a variety of classes. It was not until she took a mass media survey class that she found "interesting and entertaining" that she chose mass communications as a major. "I waited for the right major to find me," she said.

Piedmont begins the fall semester with 2,368 students, including one of its largest freshman classes ever. Some 253 new undergraduates are enrolled, including 26 at the Athens campus. "The Demorest campus is just about at capacity," said President James Mellichamp, who noted that 575 boarding students are on campus this year, up from 568 in 2012. Even with the addition of three new dormitories in the past four years, only a few beds remain empty this year, he said.

Total undergraduate enrollment for both campuses is about the same as last year, 1,281 compared to 1,299, a difference of 11 students. On the Demorest campus there are 867 undergraduate students and 414 on the Athens campus. Total graduate enrollment is at 1,087 this year, compared to 1,174 last fall. The largest change came in the college's off-campus programs, which provide masters and specialist degree programs in school systems across the state. Off-campus enrollment this fall is 703, compared to 762 last fall.

Cindy Peterson, assistant vice president for student services and dean of admissions, noted that this year class is "academically strong with an average high school GPA of 3.38 and an average ACT score of 21.  They represent one of the most talented and engaged group of students and include veterans, first generation college students, and an exchange student from Padderborn University in Germany. Believe me when I say this class brings a unique set of qualities to our academic community."

Peterson said the county in Georgia sending the most students is Gwinnett, followed by Habersham, Hall and Jackson. In addition to Georgia, 12 states are represented, including 10 students from Florida, five from North Carolina, as well as others from Alabama, Arizona, Maryland, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Tennessee. "We have an international student from Nova Scotia as well as a Rotary exchange student from the UK," she said.