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Congratulations to our 3 First Honor Graduates

  |   Kristen B. Morales   |   Permalink   |   Kudos,   Spotlight

The College of Education is home to three of the four First Honor Graduates at the University of Georgia fall Commencement ceremonies taking place Dec. 19 at Stegeman Coliseum.

To be a First Honor Graduate, a student must maintain a perfect 4.0 cumulative grade point average throughout their undergraduate studies, as well as in all college-level transfer work before or after enrolling at UGA. The College's First Honor Graduates are Millie Smith, Emily Southard and Jessica Tracy.

Mary (Millie) Smith: "School has always been my thing"

Millie Smith

Millie Smith is a self-proclaimed perfectionist. It's what helped drive her to achieve high marks throughout school, including college, and also helped shape her aspirations after graduation.

"My mom is a teacher, and growing up I knew I always wanted to be a teacher. So it probably made me want to do well," she says. "School has always been my thing."

Smith's mother has been a teacher for 28 years, and while she has taught different grades in elementary school, as long as Smith can remember her mother has been a prekindergarten teacher. Growing up, Smith would help set up her classroom or just spend time in her school. "So growing up, seeing that, influenced me. She's an awesome teacher — I've learned so much from her."

Smith is graduating with a degree in early childhood education, and like her mother will be teaching in an elementary school. Smith has already accepted a job as a kindergarten parapro at her hometown school, Bleckley County Primary School in Cochran, Georgia.

Smith says she's thrilled to be teaching in her hometown, where she's kept close ties throughout her time at UGA.

"Jobs are kind of hard to come by because there's not a lot of turnover," she says. Even though there wasn't an open position when she finished her student teaching, she decided to send her résumé anyway. "The principal asked me if I'd be interested in a parapro position, and I knew it would be a good way to get my foot in the door and be a really great experience."

She started working the week after her student teaching ended.

During her time in Athens, Smith says she spent most weekends driving back to her middle Georgia hometown to hear music with her family — her father plays in several bands — and attend her church. Now that she's back, she plans to get more involved in the children's ministry there and continue summer mission trips, all of which broaden her experiences of working with children.

But, she adds, she will miss her time in Athens. Aside from the great restaurants (Cochran, she admits, does not have an array of choices), she'll always be thankful for her experience working in a collaborative classroom at Timothy Road Elementary School. And she will miss her friends from her cohort, all of whom have grown close while at the College of Education.

Smith's time at UGA was a life-changing experience. As a transfer student, she was initially worried about the change from a small junior college to a large state university. But she ended up loving the school, the friends she's made and the teaching experience she's gained.

"I think one of the best things about UGA's program is it allows you to work in the classroom so much. I had a class at J.J. Harris Elementary School — we met there — and that was great because any time we wanted to observe, the teachers are used to us being there and they welcome the interaction. We could be in the classroom and then come back and talk about what we saw first-hand," she says. "Also, UGA professors made it more personal, because you could tell they really cared and wanted us to do well, and they were passionate about education.

"Having teachers that support and encourage you along the way makes all the difference."

Emily Southard: "I want to be sure I'm doing something fun"

Emily Southard

Of the three College of Education graduates receiving the First Honor Graduate recognition, only Emily Southard knew it existed — and only because she heard the announcement during her sister's graduation last year.

"I heard them say it and my parents leaned over and said, 'Hey, that could be you,'" Southard says. Even so, she says getting top marks was never a top priority. Yet with interesting classes in subjects she loved, it was easy to give it her best effort.

"I've definitely gotten my best grades at UGA," she adds, noting that, as a dual major in sports management and public relations, she's been able to combine her love of baseball and writing into a career. "That's what made the last two years so much fun."

Southard leaves UGA for a position in marketing and communications at the Walt Disney Co. in Orlando, Florida. While she would have been happy working at the company's offices in Southern California, she's happy to be within driving distance of her family in Lawrenceville, Georgia, and her beloved Atlanta Braves.

She has been an avid baseball fan her entire life — even playing softball through high school — and has even worked for the team during the past few summers.

Southard says it was the ability to combine her passions at UGA that brought her to the school. But her parents are still recovering from the shock. Longtime fans of Georgia Institute of Technology, she laughs as she recalls their reaction when she told them she was attending UGA. Her grandfather is even in the Georgia Tech sports hall of fame.

The sports management program in the Department of Kinesiology gave Southard a solid footing in business principles, though, and she says she's entering the professional world with a depth of knowledge that she'd put up against any business school. What she especially enjoyed about her kinesiology classes, she says, is that they presented business concepts within the context of sport.

"It makes it fun when your examples are from sports," she says.

The fact that her new employer owns the sports network ESPN doesn't hurt, either. But no matter where her career takes her, Southard says she feels confident it won't be boring.

"I've worked my butt off in school," she says. "So I want to be sure I'm doing something fun."

Jessica Tracy: "I came in knowing exactly what I wanted to do"

Jessica Tracy

When the Cartersville, Georgia, resident came to UGA, she says she already had a plan for her studies: Mathematics education.

"I think I was lucky to know that early on," she says. "I came in knowing exactly what I wanted to do."

Tracy graduates with a dual degree in mathematics and mathematics education, and will start her career teaching 10th grade geometry at Rockmart High School in Rockmart, Georgia. Her dual degree studies allowed her to take higher levels of mathematics classes, which she says was a great opportunity.

Graduating with a perfect 4.0 GPA wasn't something she planned, she says, but it was made easier by taking classes in subjects she found fun and interesting.

"All of my math classes, I really loved them. And it goes the same for my math education classes," she says. "Having that general interest, it makes it easier to learn it and want to learn it. I've really enjoyed all of my classes."

Leaving UGA is both exciting and difficult, though. A ballet dancer since she was a girl, Tracy stayed connected to that passion during college by taking a few classes. As she enters the professional world, Tracy admits to being a little sad now that chapter of her life is coming to a close.

"I'm really torn," she says. "I'm excited to be done with college and the homework and the stress, but I'm definitely going to miss UGA. It's been the best experience, hands down. It's kind of a bittersweet thing to be done."

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