R.E.M. founding member Mike Mills to receive honorary degree

MACON/ATLANTA – Mercer will confer bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees to more than 2,300 students in five commencements during May in Macon and Atlanta.

Commencement speakers will include CEO and editor of Georgia Health News Andy Miller for the School of Medicine; Supreme Court of Georgia Associate Justice Verda M. Colvin for Mercer Law School; Supreme Court of Georgia Presiding Justice Michael P. Boggs in Atlanta; as well as Macon-Bibb County Mayor Lester Miller and graduating senior Sarah Spalding in Macon.

The University will confer honorary degrees to Andy Miller and Colvin, as well as Mike Mills, founding member of internationally acclaimed rock band R.E.M., who will receive his degree during the Macon ceremony.

The Atlanta and Macon ceremonies are ticketed events. Livestream coverage of all ceremonies will be available at www.mercer.edu/commencement/.

School of Medicine

The School of Medicine will hold its ceremony on Saturday, May 7, at 2 p.m. in Hawkins Arena inside the University Center.

Andy Miller
Andy Miller

Andy Miller will deliver his address to 172 candidates for degrees from School of Medicine campuses in Macon, Savannah and Columbus. He will receive an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree.

A health care journalist for the past 30 years, Andy Miller is CEO and editor of Georgia Health News (GHN), a nonprofit journalism organization he launched in 2010. He also serves as Southern Bureau Chief of Kaiser Health News, which GHN joined in 2022, and he has a weekly statewide program that airs on Georgia public radio stations.

Andy Miller earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Duke University and was a social studies teacher and basketball coach in North Carolina before switching careers to journalism. He entered the master’s degree program in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1984 and after a year was hired by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC), where he held various editing and reporting positions before switching to the health care beat in 1992.

He covered health care for the AJC until mid-2009, when he took an early retirement. He won numerous state and national journalism awards for his newspaper reporting on hospitals, health insurers, state government and Georgia’s mental hospitals.

School of Law

The School of Law will hold its ceremony on Saturday, May 14, at 10 a.m. in Hawkins Arena.

Verda Colvin
Verda Colvin

Colvin will deliver her address to 122 candidates for degrees. She will receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.

Colvin was appointed to the Georgia Supreme Court by Gov. Brian Kemp on July 29, 2021, after having been appointed to the Georgia Court of Appeals by Gov. Kemp on April 9, 2020. She previously served as a Superior Court Judge in the Macon Judicial Circuit, which serves Macon-Bibb, Crawford and Peach counties, having been appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal on April 16, 2014.

She is a member of the Macon Bar Association, Georgia Association of Black Women Attorneys, Georgia Association of Women Lawyers, Rotary Club of Downtown Macon, Fuller Center of Macon, Macon-Bibb Citizen Advocacy, Mount de Sales Board of Trustees, Jack & Jill of America’s Macon Chapter and several Inns of Court. She also serves as co-chair of ONE MACON and continually serves on various committees in her role as a jurist. In honor of Women’s History Month, Macon-Bibb County declared March 2022 as “Justice Verda M. Colvin Month” to recognize her contributions to the local community.

Colvin grew up in southwest Atlanta. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Sweet Briar College in Virginia and her law degree from the University of Georgia School of Law.


The University will hold two ceremonies for Atlanta campus graduates on Sunday, May 15, at Gas South Arena in Duluth.

The College of Nursing, College of Pharmacy and College of Health Professions will participate in a noon ceremony, and the School of Business, College of Education, College of Professional Advancement and School of Theology will follow in a 5 p.m. ceremony.

Michael Boggs
Michael Boggs

Boggs, who earned his law degree from Mercer and serves on the University’s Board of Trustees and Mercer Law School Board of Visitors, will deliver greetings to a total of 1,270 candidates for degrees across the two ceremonies.

Boggs was appointed to the Supreme Court of Georgia on Dec. 7, 2016, by Gov. Nathan Deal and was re-elected statewide in 2018. In March 2022, his colleagues on the Supreme Court elected him chief justice, effective July 18, 2022. Previously, Boggs served as a judge on the Court of Appeals of Georgia from 2012-2016, as a Superior Court judge for the Waycross Judicial Circuit from 2004-2012 and as a member of the Georgia House of Representatives from 2000-2004.

He founded the Waycross Judicial Circuit Drug Court Program, served as its presiding judge and as a member of the Judicial Council of Georgia’s Standing Committee on Accountability Courts. Boggs served as a member of Georgia’s Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform in 2011 and as co-chair of the Georgia Criminal Justice Reform Council from 2012-2018 upon his appointment by Gov. Deal. Currently, he serves as a member of Gov. Brian Kemp’s Georgia Behavioral Health Reform and Innovation Commission, where he chairs the Mental Health Courts and Corrections subcommittee, and as an appointee of Gov. Kemp to the Georgia Judicial Nominating Commission.

Boggs was raised in Waycross and earned his bachelor’s degree in political science and psychology from Georgia Southern University and law degree from Mercer.


The University will hold a ceremony for Macon campus graduates at Five Star Stadium on Monday, May 16, at 8 a.m.

Lester Miller
Lester Miller

Lester Miller, who earned his bachelor’s and law degrees from Mercer, will deliver greetings to 783 candidates for degrees.

The second mayor of Macon-Bibb County’s consolidated government, Lester Miller took office on Jan. 1, 2021. He is an attorney, small business owner and lifelong resident of Middle Georgia. Prior to being elected mayor, he was elected twice to the Bibb County School Board, where he served three terms as president.

He is a member in good standing of the State Bar of Georgia admitted to practice before the Georgia Superior Court, Georgia Court of Appeals, U.S. Court of Appeals, U.S. District Courts, including Northern District of Georgia, Middle District of Georgia, and Southern District of Georgia, as well as all state, local, superior and municipal courts.

Lester Miller graduated with honors from Southwest High School in Macon and earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from Mercer in 1991. In 1994, he received his Juris Doctor from Mercer Law School and went on to practice law in Macon for more than 27 years, representing the injured and disabled.

Sarah Spalding
Sarah Spalding

Spalding, a senior biomedical engineering major from Warner Robins, will serve as this year’s student speaker for the Macon commencement.

Spalding has dedicated her undergraduate career to research and service. Her passion for helping others and solving real-world problems has led to an impressive resume of accomplishments and experiences, including being named a Goldwater Scholar.

The majority of her research has been conducted with biomedical engineering professor Dr. Sinjae Hyun. Since her first year at Mercer, Spalding has helped produce Touch3D yearbooks for graduating students at Georgia Academy for the Blind. In 2019, she did additional 3D printing work and taught English and robotics to North Korean refugee children during a Mercer On Mission trip to South Korea. She has also led research projects on e-cigarette aerosol toxicity relative to tobacco cigarette smoke and the efficacy of face mask materials, mentoring 16 students in the process.

Through the Engineering Honors Program, Spalding has participated in adaptive tech builds such as Go Baby Go, through which battery-powered toy cars are modified to meet the needs of children with limited mobility. She has presented her research at nine conferences as well as to Mercer’s Board of Trustees.

Mike Mills
Mike Mills

Mills will be presented an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree.

One of the founding members of R.E.M., Mills’ vocal harmonies and intricate bass lines are longstanding trademarks of the band’s recordings and performances. Born in Orange County, California, he moved to Macon, where he and drummer Bill Berry attended the same high school. The pair left Macon to attend the University of Georgia, where they teamed up with guitarist Peter Buck and singer Michael Stipe and began writing songs for the band that would become R.E.M.

Mills has always been known for his musicianship, songwriting, vocals and production sensibilities in his work with R.E.M., as well as his side projects and solo works. He has also contributed piano, keyboards and assorted other instruments. After 31 years and more than 80 million records sold, R.E.M. disbanded in 2011, but the band members remain good friends and actively pursue further musical adventures and other artistic and humanistic pursuits.

In 2016, Mills completed the composition “Concerto for Violin, Rock Band and String Orchestra” at the request of fellow Maconite and friend Robert McDuffie, founder of Mercer’s McDuffie Center for Strings in the Townsend School of Music. The composition’s world premiere was held in June 2016 in a performance by Mills and McDuffie alongside the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. The concerto was recorded on March 5, 2022, at The Grand Opera House in a performance of “A Night of Georgia Music” featuring Mills, McDuffie, Rolling Stones keyboardist and former Allman Brothers Band member Chuck Leavell, and students from the McDuffie Center. It will air on public television stations across the country later this year.