Berea College celebrates 186 graduates at 2024 commencement

Berea College celebrates 186 graduates at 2024 commencement

BEREA, Ky. – Berea College celebrated 186 graduates this past weekend at the 2024 commencement ceremony. These graduates represent 33 states and 20 countries.

The celebration was the first end-of-year graduation for President Cheryl Nixon, who joined Berea College in July 2023.

“Since coming to Berea College, I’ve been told that the best days on campus are when first-year students arrive in August, and when the College community gets to congratulate and cheer for the graduates whose hard work allows them to walk across the Commencement stage. And now having experienced both, I have to say that these days are like no other—​at a college like no other. Our sense of being a strong community, built around our commitments to opportunity and equality, radiates across campus.”  

This year’s commencement speaker, Berea College Trustee Cassie Chambers Armstrong, titled her remarks “Ripples and Change.” A wonderful example of the transformative power of higher education, Armstrong’s parents—Orlando and Wilma Chambers—were proud Berea graduates, completing their degrees in 1986 and 1991 respectively. Armstrong’s parents instilled in her a love of education and a reverence for place. 

Her speech wove the life of her mother, Wilma Chambers ’91, who walked across the commencement platform at Berea when Cassie was 5 years old.  It wasn’t until years later, when Cassie was an adult, that she fully understood the impact of her mother’s Berea College graduation—how her mother’s hard work to get an education created ripples that would be felt for a generation. She reminded the graduates that although we can’t control where ripples end—we can determine where and how they begin. 

“I am honored to have the chance to address the Berea College Class of 2024,” Armstrong said. “Berea College is a special place full of special students, and I am thrilled to have the chance to celebrate their graduation with them.” 

Armstrong grew up in Appalachian Kentucky hollers loved by strong women who helped raise her. She graduated summa cum laude from Yale College in 2010 and continued her education with an M.P.H. from Yale the following year and an M.Sc. in public management and governance from the London School of Economics in 2012. She returned to New England to graduate from Harvard Law School in 2015, where she served as president of the Legal Aid Bureau. Kentucky would call her back home. Armstrong was selected to be a Skadden Fellow, working two years as an attorney for the Louisville Legal Aid Society and the Kentucky Equal Justice Center, representing victims of domestic violence in family matters and litigating appeals on poverty law issues. She clerked for two federal judges and then worked as an associate at the law firm Kaplan Johnson Abate & Bird LLP.  

Armstrong wrote lovingly of her roots and her family in “Hill Women: Finding Family and a Way Forward in the Appalachian Mountains,” published in 2020. Her book conveys how some Appalachian women face issues that are all too common: domestic violence, the opioid crisis and a divided world. Appalachian women, however, are also community leaders, keeping their towns together in the face of a system that continually fails them. With nuance and heart, Armstrong demythologizes Appalachian stereotypes and illuminates a region whose poor communities, especially women, can lead it into the future.

Tragically, her mother, Wilma, known to many parents and children as the director of the Boyd and Gaynell Fowler Child Development Laboratory at Berea College, was killed in an automobile accident in 2019 when Cassie was 9 months pregnant with her first child. She later wrote about this loss in the New York Times.

Armstrong is currently an assistant professor at the Brandeis School of Law at the University of Louisville. She also represents District 19 as a member of the Kentucky Senate.  

About Berea College

Berea College, the first interracial and coeducational college in the South, focuses on learning, labor and service. The College only admits academically promising students with limited financial resources, primarily from Kentucky and Appalachia, although students come from 45 states and 70 countries. Every Berea student receives a Tuition Promise Scholarship, which means no Berea student pays for tuition. Berea is one of nine federally recognized Work Colleges, where students work at least 10 hours a week to earn money for books, housing, and meals. The College’s motto, “God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth,” speaks to its inclusive Christian character.