2018 Distinguished Alumnus Award

Congratulations to our 2018 Distinguished Alumnus Award recipient, Sheryl Straw Ragland ('80).


Choosing one Harding Academy graduate from among the thousands of amazing graduates is quite a challenge. But when one name comes up over and over, our ears perk up. When that graduate is described by multiple people as hard working, passionate, loyal, creative, energetic, and positive, we have to pay attention. When that graduate is also described as a person who lives by faith and who treats people with kindness, patience, love, care, and concern, we know we have a winner.

This year’s recipient of Harding’s Distinguished Alumnus Award has been not only a Harding student but also a Harding parent and Harding employee. She is a 1980 graduate, remembered for many things but especially for starring as Dolly Levi in Harding’s first production of Hello, Dolly!

She has worn many hats at Harding—kindergarten aide, LEAP director, and Director of Communications. She was always willing to do whatever it took to promote Harding both internally and externally. She was even known to dress as Prowler for photography sessions for brochures and catalogs. If you got to work alongside her, you knew her as a person who was constantly in motion. Always looking for ways to improve, she was the first to explore digital advertising.

One of her co-workers said this: “She is one of the hardest workers I've ever met. If you need something done, she is the person to ask. She takes pride in her work, and she won't quit until it's finished. She's always open to learning a new skill, and is not intimidated by big projects. But even more important than that is the love she has for everyone around her. You will be hard-pressed to think of a time you have heard her speak negatively about another person. Even when going through cancer treatments, she managed to be a source of encouragement to everyone else.”

Our Distinguished Alumnus is married to Bart, and they are the parents of two daughters who are Harding graduates: Ashley Ragland Kelton (Class of 2010) and Allison Ragland (Class of 2015) and one son-in-law, Taylor Kelton (Class of 2010). She is the daughter of Bob and Joy Straw, the sister of Brad Straw (Class of 1984), and the granddaughter of one of the patriarchs of Harding Academy, Mr. R. V. Lovinggood.

I can’t think of anyone who better embodies the ideals of Harding Academy than this recipient of Harding Academy’s 2018 Distinguished Alumnus Award, Sheryl Straw Ragland.