From Northwest Arkansas to West Africa, the winners of Abilene Christian University’s two most prestigious awards were honored Sunday for their achievements in the worlds of public relations and medical missions.
Elise (Smith ’83) Mitchell was honored as the 2015 Outstanding Alumna of the Year, the 57th in a line that, among recent winners, has included best-selling author Max Lucado (’77) and Pulitzer Prize-winner David Leeson (’78). Mitchell is founder and CEO of the Mitchell Communications Group, based in Fayetteville, Ark., and the new Dentsu Aegis Public Relations Network, a subsidiary of the mammoth Tokyo-based Dentsu Inc.
“ACU gave me the best opportunities,” an ebullient Mitchell told the audience. “It helped me find my faith. It changed me powerfully, and then I went on to live my life. It was really you all along that have enabled all of these things to happen to me. It was the power of God.”
Winners of the 2015 Young Alumni of the Year Award were Dr. Kent (’03) and Amber (Carroll ’06) Brantly, whose story of survival in the face of Ebola has inspired millions.
“I’ve never received an honor as prestigious as this one,” Amber Brantly said, “except when Kent asked me to take his hand in marriage. I’m sappy like that.”
The trio were honored in the annual Alumni Day Luncheon on the ACU campus. An audience of more than 350 in the McCaleb Conference Center gave multiple standing ovations during the event, which was emceed by university president Dr. Phil Schubert (’91). The awards were presented by Craig Fisher (’92), director of alumni relations and annual projects and director of university relations.
In introducing the Brantlys’ tribute speakers, Schubert praised the honorees’ “amazing graciousness with which they approach every aspect of their life. Their real goal is to do good in the world and inspire others to do the same.”
Allison Brown, co-founder and medical director of Mission Lazarus, a Honduran relief agency, noted Kent and Amber’s compassion, empathy and respect for others.
“It’s an extremely rare combination to find in a single individual, and I know that it’s God who put them in Amber, just as it’s God who put them in Kent, and it drew them to each other.”
In accepting the award, Kent Brantly said he didn’t expect it to be so emotional.
“Thank you so much for your support of us, your belief in us,” he said, “and in what God can do with two willing people.”
Mitchell was feted for her “noble spirit,” “inspiring vision,” generosity and “unconditional love” by longtime colleague and friend, Blake Woolsey, executive vice president in Mitchell’s firm, the Mitchell Communications Group.
“Elise is unique and extraordinary in incredible ways,” Woolsey said. “She is an example for all of us.”
In a video tribute, Dr. Cheryl Mann Bacon (’76), professor and chair of journalism and mass communication told Mitchell, “We are so proud of you. We are a better program because of you.”
“I don’t know who you are talking about,” Mitchell said upon taking the stage in ACU’s Hunter Welcome Center, “but she sounds fabulous.”
Mitchell, who graduated with a degree in public relations, praised ACU for both the academic and spiritual preparation she received.
“This school taught me how to give,” she said. “I learned that being a giver is a priceless experience.”