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Benefit held to recognize Judge Smith
Graduated from University of Georgia
Judge Sidney O. Smith Jr. talks with friend Brenda Bahel Thursday during a dinner in honor of the judge at the Chattahoochee Country Club in Gainesville. Brenau University named its graduate school in honor of Smith. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Bachelor's degrees offer college graduates only so much in this world. Brenau University must pave a way for students who intend to set the pace for tomorrow, said Judge Sidney O. Smith Jr.

"Statistics show a bachelor's degree is about what a high school diploma was 30 years ago. People will be forced to go to graduate school if they take their (futures) seriously," Smith said. "This graduate school is not just a nice thing to have. It's something we have to have if we're going to educate our children."

Nearly 150 people celebrated Smith and his message Thursday at the Chattahoochee Country Club. A dinner benefit held in Smith's honor encouraged the work he has chartered in education here, especially his service as a 35-year Brenau trustee and loyal supporter.

Last October, Brenau's board of trustees named its graduate school after the Gainesville native and retired federal judge.

Smith's family has long been associated with Brenau, with four generations of his family connected to the college, its history and leadership.

A proclamation of welcome and thanks from Gov. Nathan Deal preceded the dinner with mention of how Smith's service has helped fuel Brenau's growth.

More than 900 of the university's 2,500 students are pursuing master's degrees and other graduate programs, according to a university report.

"His lifetime of public service has been essential in expanding educational opportunities around Georgia and instituting vital reform in our judicial system," Deal wrote. "Ultimately, Brenau University and, indeed, our state's educational system would not be where it is today without his distinguished service."

Smith served in the Army during World War II, attended Harvard University and graduated from the University of Georgia Law School.

He worked in private practice, served as a Georgia superior court judge and was appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, where he served for nine years including six as chief judge.

Smith also was chairman of the Gainesville Board of Education and served on the state Board of Regents.

"It's accepted a town with a college is a better town than one without a college," Smith said.

"Brenau has fulfilled that role, making Gainesville a better place just by being here."

But that is not good enough, Smith said, before discussing the importance of broadening Brenau's graduate programs.

Trustee Carole Ann Carter Daniel, who spoke about
Smith's youth, education and commitment to service, added to that dialogue.

Providing meaningful education for university students is a mission that's all the more secure with Smith's name at the helm of the university's future, she said.

"A good name will always be your most valuable possession," Daniel said, repeating a piece of wisdom her mother shared with her. "So who better than Judge Sidney O. Smith Jr. to name the graduate school after ... a man whose integrity and character have never been questioned."