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Why this year’s freshmen chose Brenau University
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Brenau University students and parents unload boxes and other items Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018, as students move in to their living quarters before the fall semester begins at the women's college in Gainesville. - photo by Scott Rogers

Janiya Bryant captured a sentiment shared by many of her fellow freshmen moving into the residence halls at Brenau University in Gainesville on Wednesday, Aug. 22.

“They made it feel like home,” said Bryant, a graduate of Warner Robins High School, who plans to study mass communication.

And Bryant’s mother, Elisha, expressed feelings shared by many of the parents who watched their daughters leave home for the first time to join the Women’s College.

“It’s been emotional, exciting, bittersweet,” she said. “I’m excited for her and what the world has to offer her. I just want her to take it by the reins, take everything in and get everything from this great experience she’s going to have.”

Jacqueline Davis, whose daughter Jayanna plans to study interior design, was caught up in the moment when asked about her feelings on move-in day.

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Brenau University freshman Jayanna Davis gets help from cousin Jahi Davis Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018, in moving in to Crudup Hall during move-in day at the women's college in Gainesville. - photo by Scott Rogers

Davis said she gave birth as a teenager to Jayanna, and to see her grow up and realize her dreams “means the world to me.”

“To have her be so successful … I just feel blessed,” Davis added.

But, still, some anxiety looms, Davis admits.

“She’s never been without her parents,” she said of her daughter.

Bailey Ibarra, who graduated from Cherokee High School in Canton, is attending Brenau on a swimming scholarship.

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Brenau University's Bailey Ibarra carries her items across the lawn at Crudup Hall on Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018, during move-in day for the upcoming fall semester at the women's college in Gainesville. - photo by Scott Rogers

She had visited Gainesville and the university for a swim meet while in high school and immediately felt a connection to this place.

“It felt like home, like my old town,” she said. “I love how everyone here is eager to get to know each other.”

She was joined Wednesday by her mother and grandmother.

“My grandma is excited for me,” she said. “My mom is scared. She’s going to be a mess on her way home.”

Zoe Willard, from Forsyth County, said she had planned to attend the University of Georgia, but Brenau made such an effort to bring her to the university that she couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

“They actually reached out to me first,” she said, adding that the process of applying and getting accepted was personable and smooth.

“They also had my major,” said Willard, who plans to study mass communication.

The fact Brenau wanted Willard and made the extra effort to recruit her gave Jenny Thomas, Willard’s mother, confidence that this was the right school for her daughter.

“I love it,” Thomas said. “It’s local, so she’s close to home. I knew nothing (about the school) despite growing up in the area, but it was a very pleasant surprise.”

Alexia Ruiz Rodriguez, from Stephens County, is joining the school’s renowned nursing program. She’s also on a scholarship to run cross-country and track.

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Brenau University freshman Alexia Ruiz Rodriguez visits the Northeast Georgia History Center on Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018, to check-in as students move their belongings into the university's residence halls in Gainesville. - photo by Scott Rogers

“I really liked the tours and the campus and the events that they have,” she said about her choice to attend Brenau.

That’s what Lane Holtzclaw, a housekeeper in some of the campus residence halls, likes to hear.

“This is one of my favorite days of the year,” she said. “I try to reassure (students and parents) this is a small college and we’re like family here.”