For Budding Artists, a Gift of Faith

Jamie Boquest displays art pieces that helped her earn a scholarship.
Jamie Boquest displays art pieces that helped her earn a scholarship.

Iconic American writer Kurt Vonnegut once said of artists, “We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.” Creativity has always required the willingness to take risks.

So when young artists — in music or the visual arts — are awarded scholarships to pursue their passion in college, it’s like being given a set of wings that allows them to take flight on a new and exhilarating journey.

“Any time you get a scholarship, it means, ‘I believe in you, you can do this,’” said Jamie Boquist, a freshman recipient of a $1,500 scholarship to pursue an art degree at Augusta University. “To get this scholarship and be so well-received by the community at [Augusta University] is just a huge honor.”

Boquist’s benefactress is Mary S. Byrd, a Columbia County resident passionate about arts and music, who has made it her life’s work to promote art and music in her community and to provide scholarships to talented local students who wish to major in art or music at Augusta University. Almedias Serrano, a flute player at Harlem High School, was also awarded a scholarship this year, to study music. And Heather McEnery’s Study Abroad Art Scholarship enabled her to travel to London and Paris with two Art Department faculty members. Over the past 30 years, Byrd has provided close to 60 scholarships to local students.

Boquist describes the process of applying for and receiving the scholarship as both exciting and nerve-wracking, especially when she had to bring in pieces of her art for review and evaluation by Augusta University professors. “You’re supposed to bring in a multitude of things to show how versatile you are,” she said. “I was incredibly nervous. I set up my pieces all around, and then I waited.”

Mary S. Byrd, Susanna Bondar and Scott Thorpe (Art Department chair)
Mary S. Byrd, Susanna Bondar and Scott Thorpe (Art Department chair)

She recalls that Professor of Art Alan MacTaggart spent a long time looking at her Scottish Heritage pieces. “They just go around, and they’re just looking. It’s really quiet, and you’re terrified.”

But it was all worth it when she soon learned the scholarship was hers. Now, she says she feels very much at home in the Art Department and greatly values that college-level critique of her work.

Susanna Bondar received last year’s art scholarship. She too talks about the impact of having someone express faith in your talent with a scholarship.

“Before I got it, I was scared about college,” she said. “… I didn’t think I would make it. I didn’t think I was good enough to pursue what I like and I’d have to pick something else. I got the scholarship from my portfolio  — and I am good enough.”

Both students have had the opportunity to meet Byrd several times, and there is palpable affection between the donor and recipients. In fact, Byrd says, “I look at these young students as though they were my grandchildren, and I want the best for them, such as I do for my real grandchildren. … I want these young people to be successful.”

Mary S. Byrd, Almedias Serrano and Melissa Sommers (2014 Study Abroad Scholarship recipient)
Mary S. Byrd, Almedias Serrano and Melissa Sommers (2014 Study Abroad Scholarship recipient)

And the motivation is certainly strong. “It just makes me want to try harder and make sure that their belief is not in vain, that I can do my best and even better — and succeed,” said Bondar.

[su_note note_color=”#efefee” text_color=”#000000″ class=”story-side-box”]If you’d like to help students pursue their dreams, please contact Wes Zamzow, director of development, at 706-721-2699 or email [/su_note]

More Dream Makers

Albert and Joyce Shaw
Retired ExxonMobil executive Albert Shaw and his wife, Joyce, have long provided scholarships to students interested in certain undergraduate majors. ExxonMobil is a generous  “triple match” company; in fact, it’s worth checking with employers if they will match employee donations, so that an individual contribution can help even more students achieve their dreams.

The Shaws’ generosity supports two scholarships:
• Merrill Thompson Scholarship: Awarded to an undergraduate who plans on majoring in physical science, math, computer science, education, art, music or business and who maintains a 2.5 GPA;
• Albert and Joyce Shaw Scholarship: Awarded to a rising sophomore, junior or senior math or science major with a minimum 2.5 GPA. It is based both on academic merit and financial need, and applicants submit an essay that demonstrates their character and leadership potential.

Dr. Martha Smith McCranie
Though it angered some when she was accepted into medical school, Dr. Martha Smith McCranie (MD ’45) didn’t hold a grudge. “They thought we were displacing men who could work their entire careers, you know? But I was not going to let that interfere with my learning,” said McCranie, one of just three women in the Medical College of Georgia Class of 1945. It was this kind of resilience that characterized the late McCranie, who died in January 2014 at age 92. “Whatever her situation, she made the best of it and tried to find humor in it,” said McCranie’s daughter, Nancy M. Higgins. “My mother was adventurous, fun-loving, positive and unselfish.” It’s that generous spirit and a love for children that led the former pediatric psychiatrist to leave a $278,000 estate gift for the Children’s Hospital of Georgia.

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