Southern Arkansas University

Spring 2024 Commencement

Southern Arkansas University will come together to honor over 600 spring 2024 graduates during three undergraduate ceremonies on Friday, May 10, and two graduate ceremonies on Saturday, May 11. The ceremonies will be held in the W.T. Watson Athletic Center.

Friday, May 10 – Undergraduate Ceremonies

8:00 a.m. Department of Nursing Pinning Ceremony, Grand Hall
10:00 a.m. College of Science and Engineering – Video
1:00 p.m. College of Education and Human Performance – Video
3:00 p.m. Rankin College of Business and Dempsey College of Liberal and Performing Arts – Video

 Saturday, May 11 – Graduate Ceremonies

9:00 a.m. Rankin College of Business, College of Education and Human Performance, and Dempsey College of Liberal and Performing Arts – Video
11:00 a.m. College of Science and Engineering – Video

 Each ceremony should last approximately 60-90 minutes. No guest limits or tickets will be required to attend the commencement ceremonies. The commencement ceremonies will be streamed live on the SAU Facebook page for those who wish to attend virtually.

Commencement Address – Friday, May 10 at 10:00 a.m.

Dr. Valerie Arnold is an optometric physician in Little Rock, Arkansas. She serves patients in West Little Rock and surrounding areas as the owner of River Mountain Eye Care, and once a week she provides free eye exams for Little Rock School District’s low income or uninsured students.

Dr. Arnold grew up in Crossett, Arkansas, before attending SAU, and graduated with her BS in biology with a minor in psychology in 2011. During her time at SAU, she worked in the Student Activities office and as an RA in Talley Hall, pledged into the Lambda Mu Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., sang with the SAU Heritage and Chamber Singers, and was crowned Miss SAU in 2010, in addition to many other activities. She later attended the University of Missouri-St. Louis College of Optometry to receive her doctorate degree in optometry.

Dr. Arnold loves being back in Arkansas. She enjoys singing, performing in theatrical productions, traveling, spending time outdoors with her family, and watching movies. She has an eight-year-old son, Kale, and a miniature schnauzer, Prince.

Commencement Address – Friday, May 10 at 1:00 p.m.

Mr. Michael J. White was born in Brooklyn, New York, and graduated from Liberty-Eylau High School in Texarkana, Texas, in 1974. After high school, he attended the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, from 1974-1975, then transferred to Southern Arkansas University in spring 1975. Mr. White graduated from SAU with his Bachelor of Science in Education degree in 1978 with a major in mathematics and a minor in general science. He then began his career in education as a math teacher and coach, first at East Middle School in Blytheville, Arkansas, and then at Atlanta High School in Atlanta, Texas.

After earning his Master of Education degree in educational administration from Texas A&M Commerce in 1992, Mr. White moved into educational administration, serving as assistant principal and then principal of Atlanta High School between 1996 and 2008. He next served as superintendent of Bloomburg ISD in Bloomburg, Texas, from 2008-2013, before finally returning to Arkansas to serve as superintendent of the Parkers Chapel School District in El Dorado, a position he held from 2013 until his retirement in 2021. In his free time, Mr. White enjoys spending time at the lake with his wife Debbie.

Commencement Address – Friday, May 10 at 3:00 p.m.

Mr. Don R. McDonald began his career as a Financial Advisor at Merrill Lynch Wealth Management in 1989 after graduating from SAU with his BBA in finance. As the Managing Director for The Don McDonald Group, Don leads his seven-member team in developing financial plans and custom portfolios for high-net-worth clients across the U.S. This year, Forbes recognized The Don McDonald Group as one of the “Best-in-State Wealth Management Teams” in Arkansas. Growing up on a cattle farm in northeast Arkansas taught Don the value of hard work and the virtue of being responsible. Don married his wife, Jennifer, in 1985 and moved into SAU married student housing the summer before his freshman year. Don worked in the oil field on the weekends and Jennifer managed their household on campus while they both attended SAU. Don and Jennifer are the proud parents of Stephen, Luke, and Susanna McDonald.

For the past six years, Forbes has recognized Don as one of the “Best in State Advisors” in Arkansas. From 2015-17, Don was named to the Barron’s Top 1200 Advisors in the nation, and in 2015 he was ranked the top Advisor in Arkansas by Barron’s. In 2019 and 2020 Don was recognized as one of the “401 Top Retirement Advisors” in the US by Financial Times. Don was also named as one of the Top 400 Wirehouse Advisors in 2014. Don currently serves as one of the national leaders of the Christian Focus Group at Merrill Lynch, and holds professional certifications in Certified Plan Fiduciary Advisor, Certified Investment Management Analyst, Certified Private Wealth Advisor, and Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor. Outside of the office, Don enjoys traveling, hunting, fishing and spending time with family and friends. Don is also active in the financial education ministry at his church and serves on both the Fort Smith Symphony Board and the Business Advisory Board for the Rankin College of Business at SAU. Don also served eight years as a Trustee to the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention and served five years on the Deaf Pathway Global Board, which facilitates Bible translation for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community around the world.

Commencement Address – Saturday, May 11

Ms. Virginia Harman lives in Colorado, where she is the Chief Executive Officer of Mountain Parks Electric Cooperative in Granby, Colorado. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree in mass communication: print journalism with a minor in history in 2002 and then her Master of Public Administration degree in 2022, both from Southern Arkansas University.

Virginia began working in the electric cooperative industry during her summers in college at the Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation in Camden, Arkansas. In 2005, she began her professional career in the industry at the Tennessee Valley Authority. Under her leadership, Delta-Montrose Electric Association received the Tom Chestnut Award, which is the highest communications award in the electric cooperative industry for the communications associated with the launch of the fiber-to-the-home internet company, Elevate. In addition, she has led three Colorado electric cooperatives away from long-term contracts with fossil-fuel dependent companies to energy contracts for renewables and self-generation.

Virginia is married to Bryce Harman, and they have two children. In her spare time, she enjoys skiing, hiking, camping, and traveling with her family.

Regalia and Dress Considerations

Graduation regalia (caps and gowns, plus hoods for master’s students) will be available to pick up at the SAU Bookstore during regular business hours beginning at noon on Monday July 24th. Candidates can also pick up their regalia at the check-in area in the Auxiliary Gym the day of the ceremony. If you would prefer to receive your regalia by mail, please contact the bookstore at (870) 235-4050 after the pickup period begins. The cost of shipping is $7.50. The cost of regalia is included in your graduation fee, and it will be yours to keep after the ceremony.

Only University-approved accessories, such as academic cords, stoles, and medallions from within academic disciplines, may be worn over regalia. Decorated caps are not permitted. Candidates will be asked to remove any unauthorized items.


Grisham Photography will be taking professional pictures during the ceremony. An envelope included in the regalia bag will provide instructions about purchasing these photographs.

Photography order envelopes can also be picked up and dropped off at the check-in table before the ceremony, or orders can be made by contacting Grisham Photography directly at (318) 539-3489 or


Diplomas for all graduates will be mailed to the address provided on the graduation application approximately 60 days after commencement.

If this address is not correct, please send an update to to prevent any delay in receiving your diploma.

How to Apply for Graduation

Degree-Seeking Students (Associate’s, Bachelor’s, and Master’s Degrees):

Please use our step-by-step guide on how to submit your graduation application form on CampusConnect, or follow the steps as outlined below:

  1. Log in to mySAU and click on “Campus Connect” tab in the top menu.
  2. Acknowledge Student Accounts message.
  3. Navigate to the “Forms” tab (above your student photo) and click “Apply for Graduation.”
  4. Choose term of expected graduation and click “Display Form.”
  5. Complete all required fields, click “Continue Degree Info” to add your degree information, then click “Submit” to submit form.
  6. Save email verification of your application for your records. If you do not receive a verification email, please contact the Office of the Registrar at to ensure your application was received.
  7. Contact your advisor to request that they complete an updated degree audit form if they have not already done so (undergraduate students only).

Graduate Certificate (Non-Degree) Students:

  1. Log in to mySAU and click on “Campus Connect” tab in the top menu.
  2. Acknowledge Student Accounts message.
  3. Navigate to the “Forms” tab (above your student photo) and click “Apply for Graduate Certificate.”
  4. Choose the expected graduation term and click “Display Form.”
  5. Complete all required fields, and click “Submit” to submit the form.
  6. Save email verification of application for your records. If you do not receive a verification email, please contact the Office of the Registrar at to ensure your application was received.

Graduation Application Deadlines and Fees

The deadlines for graduation applications are as follows:

  • Fall (December) graduation: regular deadline July 31st, final deadline (with late fee) August 31st
  • Spring (May) graduation: regular deadline December 31st, final deadline (with late fee) January 31st
  • Summer (July/August) graduation: regular deadline April 30th, final deadline (with late fee) May 31st

All graduation candidates are charged a graduation fee of $120, which covers the cost of regalia (cap and gown), diploma cover, commemorative coin, diploma shipping and handling, engraved brick, and other expenses associated with the commencement ceremony and graduation process. The graduation fee is nonrefundable, but will be carried forward to a future term if a candidate fails to graduate during expected term. Candidates who apply after the regular deadlines listed above are also charged a late fee of $50 in addition to the graduation fee.

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100 E. University, Magnolia, Arkansas 71753-5000 Telephone: (870) 235-4000
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