Commencement speakers encourage trust, compassion

Commencement speakers encourage trust, compassion

Posted on Friday, May 24, 2019

Police Chief Lou Dekmar stands at the podium on Commencement morning speaking to 2019 graduates

During the 188th commencement exercises Saturday on the Residential Quad, 229 members of the Class of 2019 were urged to instill trust and compassion into every aspect of their lives.

In his commencement address, LaGrange Police Chief Lou Dekmar asked the students, “What will be the impact of history on you and your career?”

Several years ago, he said a Gallop poll that said public confidence in the police was at a 20-year low. But he was particularly disturbed when he took a deeper look at the findings that were catalogued by race.

“The poll numbers showed that African-American confidence in the police was just over 25 percent – half of the general poll.”

Regretfully, he said that lack of trust in police institutions was consistent with his experience as police chief in LaGrange.

That truth was brought home a few years ago when one of his captains overheard a comment made by two elderly African-American women as they toured the police station. They were looking at a historical photograph of police officers, and one whispered to the other, “They killed our people.”

Troubled by those words, Dekmar began looking into the history of the LaGrange Police Department. That was when he learned of the lynching of Austin Callaway in 1940. His research found no record of a police investigation, no evidence that the police had mounted any kind of search for him

He said the context and consequences of all this history is seldom taught in our schools, but African-Americans who were alive decades ago pass on that oral history.

“My own failure to understand the consequences of history and race had for years impaired our police department’s ability to build trust in those communities most impacted by crime,” he said. “I should have armed myself and our officers with the information – the history – and the tools needed to deal with the frustration, hostility and anger that would confront them in some quarters of our city. But in the words of Martin Luther King, ‘The time is always right to do right.’”

So he and NAACP President Ernest Ward arranged a public apology for Callaway’s murder. Some questioned why such a move was necessary.

“My response was that the LaGrange Police Department that was responsible for Austin Callaway’s death is still here, and its police officers carry the burden of that history every day. That history is relevant today, as evidenced by the comments made by those two elderly African-American women at the police department those years ago.”

Dekmar said there are many more steps to build trust within the African-American community, but work cannot be done unless there is an understanding of the impact of history on the problems that confront us today.

“There is no job or career field devoted to addressing past harms,” he said. “It must be done by people who care, from all walks of life, one community at a time. It requires people who sometimes share little in common … but are still willing to work together. As different as each may be, they are united by a common purpose – to improve the future of their community.”

Caitlyn Deal stands at the podiumCaitlyn Deal, winner of the Waights G. Henry Jr. Leadership Award, said of all the lessons she learned while at LaGrange, the most important one was to have compassion.

“Through conversations with my peers about their coursework, I realized that not just nonprofit leadership students learn about effective, compassionate leadership,” Deal said. “It is in the hearts and souls of the students, faculty and staff of LaGrange College. It is who we are.”

Elsewhere in the commencement service, Mary Grace Boyd and Chad Vickery represented the senior class when they gave President Dan McAlexander a check with the proceeds of this year’s “Pay It Forward” senior giving challenge.

“With 78 percent of the class participating, we are honored to give $2,176 to the college,” said Vickery.

Laura S. Dean ’00, President of the Alumni Executive Committee, presented the Distinguished Service Alumni Award to James “Jim” M. Wood III ’78.

Jim Woods, right, and Laura Deen pose for a photo after Woods receives his alumni awardIn his remarks, he urged the graduates to learn the difference between the important and the urgent, and to focus on the “how” of life instead of the “what.”

“The ‘what’ consists of the problems and tasks you are faced with every day,” he said. “The ‘how’ is the way you solve those problems, creating an environment that helps you begin to solve the problems of tomorrow.”

He encouraged students to show respect to and uphold the dignity of the people they work with.

“You can be efficient when dealing with your problems, but you must be effective when dealing with people.”


Video of the week


Campus notes

The Rev. Dr. Adam Roberts stands with Rev. Michael McCord as Roberts receives an award

The Rev. Dr. Adam Roberts, left, chaplain and director of Spiritual Life at LaGrange College, was presented the Francis Asbury Award during the college’s baccalaureate service May 17. The honor, given by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry of the UMC, recognizes individuals who have made a significant contribution to fostering the church’s ministries in higher education at the local, district or annual conference level.  The Rev. Michael McCord, right, executive director of the Georgia United Methodist Commission on Higher Education and Collegiate Ministry, said Roberts’ selection was a natural one. “Adam embodies the historic mission of the United Methodist Church and the Bishop Francis Asbury Award by helping students learn how to love God with both their hearts and their minds,” he said.

The first day trip of 3D Journeysx10 will be Oct. 28 when travelers will visit Montgomery, Alabama, to tour the Legacy Museum’s “From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration” and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, a national memorial to commemorate the victims of lynching in the United States. Registration is now underway. For more information, call the Office of Alumni and Community Relations at 706-880-8244 or email

President Dan McAlexander and the Rev. Dr. Adam Roberts will host a reception celebrating the college’s partnership with the South Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church from 5:30 to 7 p.m. June 4 at Chattahoochee River Club, 1100 Bay Avenue, Columbus. Light refreshments and beverages will be served.

McAlexander and Roberts also will host a reception for the North Georgia Conference from 6-7:30 p.m. June 10 at 1000 Faces Coffee, 510 N. Thomas St., Athens, Georgia, 30601. The Revs. Kaylen Short ’11, Lindsey Solomon ’05 and Andy Cunningham ’08 will be honored as ordained elders in full connection in the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church. Light refreshments and beverages will be served. Respond to Laura Faulkner at 706-880-8225 or by June 3.

Now on the LaGrange College YouTube channel: Watch Leigh Anne Hamlin’s senior show, “When the Music Played,” by clicking here and the complete 2019 LC Graduation Ceremony by clicking here.

The college will be closed Monday for Memorial Day. It will reopen Tuesday.

This is the last weekly @lagrange of the academic year. We will go to monthly issues over the summer, and will resume the regular schedule in mid-August.


Paying it forward

Panther Meter for May 24, 2019 showing 634 alumni donors

LC alumni, 229 new alumni joined your ranks last weekend, and 78 percent of the Class of 2019 made a donation to the LaGrange College Fund. They understand the importance of giving back so others might have the opportunities they were given on the Hill. Please consider giving through donor-funded scholarships and campus resources. Help reach this year’s goal of 1,100 alumni by making a gift before June 30. Any amount helps.



The Panthers’ 2019 season ended with a 14-6 loss to Birmingham-Southern in the deciding Game 5 of the Birmingham Regional. LC finished the season 32-12. The Panthers won a record third-straight USA South Tournament title and set a program record with a fourth straight 30+ win season. 


Faculty and staff June birthdays

2 – Felecia Moore

5 – William Yin

9 – James Blackwood

16 – Andrea Dennis

Justin Thurman

19 – Susan Laforet

Magdalene Hull

20 – Thomas Thomsen

21 – Fred Wagenaar

22 – Trinity Hightower

Ansley Phillips

24 – Christi Hu

28 – Laine Scott


In the headlines

More than 200 students graduate from LaGrange College – LaGrange Daily News, May 21, 2019

Panthers drop hard-fought series – LaGrange Daily News, May 21, 2019



Category: Faculty, College, Events, Academics, Students

Keywords: commencement Henry Dekmar Wood alumni award

Press Contact

Debby Baker

Last updated: 05/24/2019