July 26, 2023
Jewel Mason

One of the hallmarks of a University of West Georgia Commencement ceremony is tangible evidence of becoming – the result of being shaped by learning. For the past three years, UWG President Dr. Brendan Kelly has highlighted inspiring stories of extraordinary graduates whose determination and resilience paved the way for a promising future and left an indelible mark on their alma mater. 

This past Saturday, more than 700 graduates embarked on their new journeys beyond academia. Here are six of their stories.


Butler, who graduated from University College with a degree in organizational leadership, is the son of Dr. Judy Butler, a retired College of Education professor, and husband to a Tanner Health System School of Nursing alumna. 

Oftentimes, the journey of becoming does not follow the path we initially foresee. Butler originally started college in 1993 with the intent of becoming a radio personality, but soon after, his wife became ill and passed away, leaving him the single father of a toddler at the age of 24. However, he never gave up on his dream to finish his bachelor’s degree. Fast-forward to 2021, when Butler – working as a cybersecurity engineer for Verizon – enrolled at UWG because he needed a program that provided flexibility and took into consideration the courses he completed earlier in his life. While enrolled, Butler says he had the chance to revive an interest of his youth as a member of the UWG Concert Choir

“This is a testament to an important concept at the University of West Georgia: that just because you are a post-traditional student does not mean you don’t get to be involved in college experiences outside the classroom,” Kelly observed. “One of the beautiful things about our university is that whether you are 19 years old or 35 or 70, all of the opportunities are available to you. It’s just a matter of whether you leverage them while you’re here. Chay, you have a remarkable story, and we are grateful you carried on the family legacy of being a Wolf.”

Now the father of four children and five grandchildren, Butler plans to pursue his master’s degree at Georgia Tech. 

Lewis graduated on Saturday with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications with a concentration of public relations from the School of Communication, Film and Media. Experiential learning is a key component of education at UWG, and Lewis understood its vital importance. Many of her career experiences include valuable internships with bluestone, UWG’s very own student-run public relations firm, and Rhythm Communications, where she worked on PR campaigns for clients like Magic Johnson, Monica Pearson, Champ Bailey and others. 

“We offer numerous opportunities at UWG that are tailored to give students first-choice experiences that will launch their careers upon graduation – if not before – just like Kendra has,” Kelly explained. “These experiences she had outside the classroom allowed her to amass a wealth of knowledge, skills and experience that will serve her well after Commencement.”

Lewis’ journey of learning isn’t complete yet – she will continue her education at UWG to earn a Master of Business Administration

Mason, who earned her B.F.A. in art with a graphic design concentration from the College of Arts, Culture and Scientific Inquiry, came into college not knowing what she wanted to do. However, she said UWG “completely changed her life.” She got involved, gaining leadership roles in the Black Student Alliance. She painted murals and created sculptures that we proudly exhibit on our campus. She made connections with her professors in the Graphic Design program who made her excited about learning.

She also advocated for the institution as a member of the Social Media Ambassador Team, a group of students who gain professional experience by managing and creating content for social media, sharing authentic glimpses into their lives at UWG in ways that resonate with current and prospective students.

“Now, she’s taking her toolbox and will apply her experiences abroad, studying language and working as a graphic designer and artist in South America before returning to the United States next year to begin graduate school,” Kelly informed. “She says that she can’t wait for us to see all that she does after graduation, but Jewel, trust me when I say: we’re the ones who can’t wait to see what you achieve.”


The University of West Georgia College of Education produces more educational leaders and administrators than any other institution in the state of Georgia, and on Saturday, Burchette joined the ranks when he earned his Doctor of Education in School Improvement. The same is true for professional educators. When it comes to teachers, UWG is the No. 1 producer in the state of Georgia and produces more than the next four highest-producing institutions combined. 

“Derrick, who currently serves as coordinator of staff development for Gwinnett County Public Schools, is a leader who has benefited from our world-class education,” Kelly said. “He has now earned his third credential from UWG. Today, the lifelong learner and father of three completes his academic journey by earning his Doctorate in School Improvement.”

The Burchette family is not leaving UWG behind – Derrick’s eldest child will begin at UWG this fall as a Dual Enrollment student. 

On Saturday, Caffrey earned a doctorate in nursing education from the Tanner Health System School of Nursing.

With a background as a registered nurse for a decade, an associate dean at Chamberlain University in Atlanta, and now a staff nurse at WellStar’s Advanced Heart Failure Clinic, Caffrey is also a first-generation college student. Her dissertation adviser, School of Nursing Dean Dr. Jenny Schuessler, said her research on the implicit biases regarding students who speak English as an additional language has expanded what we know about this critical topic. 

“The daughter of a nurse who spent more than 35 years in the profession, Sarah says she felt like nursing was her ‘innate path from as early as [she] can remember,’” Kelly commented. “Oftentimes, our journey of becoming begins with an end goal in mind that we follow to achieve that outcome.”  

This is Caffrey’s second degree from UWG.

Jarrett graduated Saturday with a master’s in professional accounting from the Richards College of Business. While enrolled, Sayvon landed an internship with Deloitte Touche, one of the Big Four accounting firms. 

“At UWG, we pride ourselves on positioning students who are already on their professional pathways to advance in their careers,” Kelly shared. “Recognizing that the strength of the Wolf is in the Pack, Sayvon didn’t leave his fellow students behind. As president of the National Association of Black Accountants, he facilitated networking opportunities for his classmates, many of whom would go on to secure jobs with Fortune 500 companies.”

And that internship Jarrett acquired? Deloitte was so impressed and came to see him as such an integral part of the team that he was offered – and accepted! – a full-time position in their Atlanta office.