AU bestows graduate with Beard Award for Compassionate Care

Published: May. 12, 2023 at 10:04 AM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - At Augusta University’s graduate commencement and hooding ceremony, one student earned a special recognition.

In the ceremony at 6 p.m. Thursday, AU President Brooks A. Keel presented the prestigious John F. Beard Award for Compassionate Care to Amanda A. Valentini.

Keel also conferred Valentini with her Master of Health Science in Occupational Therapy diploma from the College of Allied Health Sciences during the ceremony.

“This year’s Beard Award recipient’s dedication to service and compassion is truly inspiring,” said Keel. “While pursuing a master’s degree in occupational therapy, Amanda volunteered over 747 hours in the Augusta community. Because of her kindness and compassion to ‘go above and beyond’ in service to the community, hundreds of students and families received necessities and gifts that most have never experienced in their lifetime.”

During her time at the university, Valentini created and implemented a literacy-based occupational therapy class for 169 students at Jenkins-White Elementary School, a Title I school in South Augusta, where 100% of the children live at or below the national poverty level. The program served every student in kindergarten through second grade, including special education classes. As part of the class curriculum, Valentini initiated a weekly research journal club to understand how learning and development are impacted in a low socio-economic status community.

While serving the elementary school, Valentini learned that some students lacked basic necessities like a pillow or even a blanket for sleeping. Her empathy and dedication to helping those in need led her to launch a fundraiser among her friends and family, including those on Augusta University’s campus and individuals at the College of Allied Health Sciences and College of Education and Human Development. She raised enough money to sponsor five students. Wanting to do more, Valentini entered a Christmas contest to generate funds for the whole school. Her efforts were successful, and the online community quickly raised more than $80,000 to provide gifts for the students.

Valentini also spent time with Steps of Grace as a volunteer ballet instructor to special needs students ages 4-21.

The $40,000 Beard Award is given annually by William Porter “Billy” Payne and his wife, Martha, to a graduating College of Allied Health Sciences, Medical College of Georgia, College of Nursing, or Graduate School student at Augusta University who exemplifies caring and compassion in health care. Payne, the immediate past chairman of the Augusta National Golf Club, established the award in 1998 in memory of his father-in-law, who died of cancer in 1997. The award honors Augusta University President Emeritus Francis J. Tedesco, MD, and Beard’s physician, Mark F. Williams, MD, a 1988 Medical College of Georgia graduate who treated Beard during his hospitalization at Augusta University Medical Center.