DEMOREST - It was September 1897 when the first students convened in Demorest to mark the beginning of Piedmont College, known then and until 1902 as the J.S. Green Collegiate Institute.
Jonathan C. Rogers, who later served as dean at Piedmont and president at both North Georgia College and the University of Georgia, was a student in the throng that walked through Demorest on that day 115 years ago. He described the experience to a group of alumni in 1955.
"On that opening morning, boarding students, town and county students were all on hand," Rogers said. "There were youngsters from the first grade on up through the junior class of college. After the opening exercises at Butler Hall, the colorful march up to the old frame building at the crest of Blue Ridge Hill began. The procession included tots in gay calico dresses and pigtails, and older girls attired simply. Then came in more dignified college men and women and the faculty." Among them was the Rev. Charles C. Spence, "Brother Spence," the first president of the college and described by Rogers as "the moving spirit of it all."
On Wednesday, Aug. 29, the students, faculty, and staff of Piedmont College gathered once again in the Chapel - across the street from where Butler Hall once stood in Demorest - for a Convocation service to mark the start of the college's 115th year.
President James Mellichamp, who is beginning his 30th year at Piedmont since first joining the music faculty in 1982, recognized the scholarship recipients. Mellichamp noted that the college awarded more than $8.5 million for in-house scholarship and work-study programs this year.
Cindy Peterson, Assistant Vice President for Student Services, introduced the freshmen who make up the Piedmont Class of 2016. With 216 members, the freshman class is one of the largest in the school's history and "academically strong, with an average high school GPA of 3.51," she said.
This year's freshman class hails from Georgia and nine other states, including Florida, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, New Hampshire, Missouri and Minnesota, as well as one student from El Salvador, Peterson said. The Georgia counties with the most representation include Gwinnett, Habersham, Hall, Fulton, and Jackson.
Piedmont's Chaplain, the Rev. Ashley Cleere, led the service in a litany that recalled the early days of the college, "From nine graduates in 1899 to some 1,200 graduates in 2012.