UA Little Rock celebrates class of 2024

May 20-26, 2024

By Angelita Faller


It was a festive weekend of celebration at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock May 10-11, as thousands of people gathered at the university to celebrate the graduates of the Class of 2024 as well as the dedication of a new Alumni Patio at the Bailey Alumni and Friends Center.


More than 1,265 students were eligible to graduate from UA Little Rock during the spring 2024 semester. Among the afternoon graduates was Emily Wells, a mass communication major and theatre arts minor from Warren, who was the recipient of the 2024 Edward L. Whitbeck Memorial Award.


Frank L. and Beverly Whitbeck established the award to honor the top graduating senior at UA Little Rock in memory of their son, Edward Lynn Whitbeck, who was a senior at Little Rock University, the predecessor of UA Little Rock, at the time of his death in 1965. 


“I could hardly believe it when I got the news because there were so many exceptional candidates,” Wells said. “Winning this award made me feel that all of my hard work paid off in the end.”


Wells is a highly involved UA Little Rock student who participated in the UA Little Rock student newspaper, the Forum, the Donaghey Scholars Honors program, Student Government Association, the Cardboard Boat Regatta, and the Trojan Film Club. She was also an active filmmaker who worked on many films at the university, including her own capstone project, a nine-minute Arkansas folklore film that explores the ghost story of Natural Steps.


 In a poignant tribute to a life cut tragically short, the university awarded a posthumous degree to the family of Karen Stanley, a 61-year-old student from Little Rock who passed away less than two months before graduation. Stanley was supposed to graduate with a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in Accounting on May 11.


“We are honored by the university for doing this,” Karen’s mother, Betty Stanley, said. “We consider it a great honor. I think Karen would have been humbled by it, as we are.”


Tom Clifton, interim dean of the College of Business, Health, and Human Services, and the faculty of the Department of Accounting, Economics, and Finance presented the diploma to Stanley’s parents, Jim and Betty Stanley of Little Rock.


 “Despite the demands of working full-time, she attended classes part-time, consistently excelling academically and making the Dean’s List with a nearly perfect 4.0 GPA,” Clifton said. “Her parents, Jim and Betty Stanley, will accept this diploma on her behalf. I want to personally thank them for joining us today. I hope that they and their family will take consolation in the knowledge that this university forever remembers your daughter’s accomplishments in conferring this posthumous degree.”


 After graduating from Little Rock Central High School, Karen Stanley received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from UA Little Rock. After working for various auto companies in a variety of roles, she worked for the finance department at McLarty Auto Group, where she earned an Employee of the Year Award. Her parents described Karen as a dedicated and hard-working employee.


 “She was always a good employee,” Jim Stanley said. “Karen had a work ethic that you just can’t find any more. She was working in finance and wanted to have an accounting degree. She felt like it would help her in her job.”


In honor of their daughter, the Stanleys are creating an endowed scholarship in Karen Stanley’s name that benefits accounting students at UA Little Rock.


“We wanted to start the scholarship to honor Karen and to help other people who want a degree,” Betty Stanley said. “Since this degree was so important to her, we knew there would be other folks who need and appreciate a scholarship.”


Additionally, UA Little Rock awarded an honorary degree to a familiar voice in the sports world of central Arkansas. Randy Rainwater was a student-athlete and baseball player who attended the university from 1970-1974.


After his playing career, Rainwater went on to be the play-by-play sportscaster for the Trojans basketball team before he started his #1 sports talk radio show, “Drive Time Sports,” on KABZ 103.7 FM with co-host Rick Schaeffer. Rainwater was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 2013.


A New Gathering Place for Alumni


Serving as a vibrant gathering space for alumni and the community to reminisce, network, and forge lasting bonds, hundreds of people gathered at the Bailey Alumni and Friends Center May 10 to celebrate the dedication of the new Alumni Patio.


 “We have all come to appreciate that it’s important for our Trojan community to have a strong sense of place that honors the past and embraces the potential of the future,” Chancellor Christina Drale said. “We are building a living and learning environment that embraces the natural beauty of our campus and brings people together to live and play and engage with one another as we celebrate our past and engage our future. This new alumni patio does all of those things.”


 More than 3,000 alumni bricks dating back to 1927 were removed from the library plaza as part of the renovations to enhance the campus living and learning environment. These bricks, each bearing a story of shared campus heritage, have found a new home at the newly constructed Alumni Patio. This initiative is part of the broader Trojan Way project and symbolizes the university’s dedication to preserving and celebrating the rich history of UA Little Rock.


“As we gather to dedicate the Alumni Patio, we celebrate this physical addition to campus and the spirit of community and connection that it represents,” said Kristi Smith, associate vice chancellor for alumni and development. “It serves as a testament to the enduring legacy of UA Little Rock. It marks a milestone to the university’s history. This is the first addition to the Bailey Alumni and Friends Center since it was built in 2002. Amidst the ongoing Centennial Campaign, today’s dedication stands as a symbol of progress and growth.”


Cindy Conger, an alumna who earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting and MBA from UA Little Rock during the 1980s, described the new Alumni Patio as “wonderful.”


 “I have been a big fan of this building since it opened in 2002,” Conger said. “The Alumni Patio is beautiful, and it gives us a bit more space to hold events. My granddaughter starts school here in the fall, so coming here and finding Grammy’s brick will be something we can do together.”


Conger said she will always be grateful to the education she received at UA Little Rock, which came at a critical point in her life.


 “I was getting a divorce and knew I needed a plan for me and my children,” Conger said. “I have always been a planner. I just learned how to monetize that skill through my degrees. Now my passion is giving to organizations that help women and girls get an education, and UA Little Rock is at the top of that list.”


Don Riggin, a member of the Centennial Campaign Committee who attended UA Little Rock when it was known as Little Rock University, said that there is much history to consider in the alumni bricks.


 “These are not just bricks,” Riggin said. “These are human beings that have graduated, who have gone on and had quality lives in various occupations in Arkansas and around the world. That is what this walkway represents.”  


Photo Captions:


1. Graduating students FaSeeia Preston (left) and Taylor Pandohie (right) smile and wave to the crowd of cheering loved ones as they proceed to their seats during the morning commencement ceremony May 11 at the Jack Stephens Center. (Photo by Stephen Thornton)


2. Emily Wells, a mass communication major from Warren, celebrates after receiving her bachelor’s degree from UA Little Rock. Wells was the recipient of the 2024 Edward L. Whitbeck Memorial Award, which honors the top graduating senior at UA Little Rock. (Photo by Stephen Thornton)


3. UA Little Rock Alumna Tamika Washington (left) and Kristi Smith (center), associate vice chancellor for alumni and development, take pictures of alumni bricks on the newly dedicated Alumni Patio at the Bailey Alumni and Friends Center. (Photo by Stephen Thornton)


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