Amazing Students

Brendan Abernathy

Brendan Abernathy
Brendan Abernathy

Regardless of what Brendan Abernathy ends up pursuing, he wants to help people realize their dreams. Right now, UGA is giving him the opportunity to live out his dreams — traveling the world, helping the community, pursuing his musical interests and, well, just hanging out on North Campus.


Dunwoody, GA

High School:

Wesleyan School

Degree objective:

Economics, Spanish

Other degrees:

Certificate in Personal and Organizational Leadership

Expected graduation:

May 2019

University highlights, achievements, awards and scholarships:

When I was 4 years old, my dad hoisted me on his shoulders and carried me through the opening of Section 105 in Sanford Stadium. The deafening roar of 92,746 Dawg fans not only welcomed the team as they took the field, but it welcomed their newest fan.

I will never forget the feeling of seeing the sea of red in Sanford for the first time on that September day, and for much of my life I questioned if any experience would ever compare. Then, the moments began, and for two years, UGA has been opening doors to unforgettable memories.

My goal coming into college was to learn — to engage people through serving the community, to expand my knowledge through classes and experiential learning, and to grow ambition through chasing my dreams.

The highlights of my time at UGA have occurred in Athens and in eight countries around the world, and include studying abroad, interning in one of the most important hospitals in South America, and starting and growing a band, Light Brigade, and an organization, Muse UGA.

In my desire to engage people, I knew that I wanted to explore cultures and worldviews different than my own. UGA has made this dream accessible and easy. The summer after my freshman year, I traveled on three programs: Australia/New Zealand, Fiji and Oxford.

In New Zealand, I was exposed to nature that I never could have imagined — swimming with over 300 wild, sleeping dolphins over the Pacific Trench (where my Go-Pro now lies (RIP)), learning about and then watching baby seal pups play, diving into 1 degree Celsius water in the shadow of Aoraki, cruising along with the world’s smallest penguin amidst a temperate rainforest with snow-capped peaks 2,000 feet above in Doubtful Sound, and attempting to summit Ben Lomond in a complete whiteout. In New Zealand I saw a people at one with their land selflessly serving each other.

In Australia, I learned how beautiful our planet truly is—aweing at the Milky Way in the Southern Hemisphere with 34 of my newest friends, trying to touch kangaroos, sitting in the silence of the Outback, gazing out over Hell’s Gates, and listening to a four-time Grammy winner in the Sydney Opera House. Most notably, we were able to scuba dive in the Great Barrier Reef at Lady Elliot Island, an experience that introduced me to my favorite ecosystem in the world, and then ripped my heart out in a lecture on its well-being.

In Fiji, I learned that “bula” is the only word you need, attended church in the Fijian language, snorkeled within inches of the mantis shrimp (a.k.a. the world’s coolest animal), and assisted my team in setting up, an authentic homestay experience that empowered the women in the village.

Oxford, England, inspired me to learn in true dedication in a city where every wall is older than our country and our tutors are Oxford dons. While studying there, I had the opportunity to travel to Scotland and receive the keys to the city of Abernethy, to Ireland and teeter over the edge of the Cliffs of Moher before enjoying trad music in Galway for the night, and to London, where we had the luckiest day watching Roger Federer at Wimbledon and fell in love with “Wicked,” the musical.
My next international highlight was a six-week homestay in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where I interned at el Hospital Garrahan. In Argentina, I fell in love with the genuine passion for life that Porteños carry with their culture centered on family and fun, featuring the tango, steak, and máte. Being immersed in Spanish challenged me daily, but by the end of my time, I was able to converse in any way I wished with all people. At the hospital, we observed and analyzed the medical system in Argentina, and I was amazed by the patient-focused doctor-patient relationship.

While in Argentina, I traveled to Uruguay, Iguazú, Bariloche, Mendoza and Machu Picchu (Peru), where my friends and I conquered “the world’s most dangerous hike.”

All of these experiences taught me about my own desire to know people on a deeper level and to experience culture in all of its richness. But the trips would have been nothing without the people. I am so thankful for the friends I have due to these trips that otherwise I might have never met. There are too many to name that go or went to UGA, but I would love to give a shoutout to some of my friends from the other countries who have impacted my life, whether they know it or not: Kevin “the Goat” Crowley, Viliame Tutu, Lottie, Dr. David Birks, Richard from Cusco, Nestor Carrizo, Luis Urdapilleta (coolest laundryman on Earth), and Viviana Carea, my homestay mother and forever aunt!

While all of these international experiences have helped make me who I am, my time in Athens has also largely defined me.

Through joining UGA Miracle Family Relations Committee my freshman year, I was paired with the Grelecki family, and can often be confused as a sibling to Parker, Chase and Emily! Learning how to love from Ryan and Crysie has shown me what being a champion of people truly looks like on a daily basis. Their unwavering dedication to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and to their own children inspires me to serve them with all that I have.
When I was approached about helping my friend Nolan start an organization to provide music lessons to children in the Athens area, I was all in. Starting Muse UGA has been a humbling experience, as we have had great failures amidst our emergent success. Now serving as executive director of the organization, we are beginning to grow membership and service opportunities. The best part of serving with Muse is seeing kids’ faces light up when they play their first G-chord or put together a complicated beat on the cajón.

In college I have also been a part of a band called Light Brigade. In the beginning, we just wanted to play music and serve the community. Now, we have released an EP to Spotify and Apple Music, played at the Georgia Theatre twice, and helped raise money for many organizations across campus, including $7,000 for Cure at UGA in order to provide seven surgeries for children in Africa.

There are few feelings that compare to providing entertainment for anyone, but performing for friends is especially awesome. With Light Brigade, we are blessed to do so each semester, and to see our friends jumping up and down and singing along is truly a gift. My goal on stage is to have fun in hopes that the crowd will feel free to act like fools and escape the stresses of their lives to leave the show with a little more joy than they came in with.

In conclusion, my time at UGA has been defined by the people. I would not be the same without fellow members of Miracle, Muse, the Dean William Tate Honor Society, Order of Omega, the Honors College, the Leonard Leadership Scholars program, and Sigma Phi Epsilon. I will never forget the moments with my friends messing around, the 24 hours of standing with my family pals at Dance Marathon, or the time spent in conversation with people that I care about. To see other people realize their dreams is my dream, and I have been blessed to watch so many incredible people go for them alongside each other here at UGA.

Current Employment:

Managing the Athens band Light Brigade

Family Ties to UGA:

My ties to UGA are extensive — almost all of my cousins, aunts and uncles attended undergrad here. Additionally and perhaps most importantly, Mom and Dad were here during the Herschel Years (’78-’82), and my sister, Elise (who is now in medical school), graduated in 2016. Interesting fact: Dad, Elise and I all lived in Creswell Hall!

I chose to attend UGA because…

My decision to come to Georgia was much more tumultuous than it should have been. Amidst the looming pressure of a seemingly life-altering decision, I was caught up in my own pride and desire to “set myself apart.”

As a result, my lifelong fandom seemed to hang by a thread. I had been coming to Athens since I was born and to UGA since I was 4 years old, so I was certain that UGA had nothing new to offer me.

In the midst of these thoughts, a mentor shared with me Isaiah 30:21, in which God states, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, you will hear a voice in your ear saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” While this verse should have created more indecision, it freed me from my longing for status and enabled me to allow my heart to stay home.

I chose to attend UGA because of opportunities that are unique to the university and to Athens:
— The most affordable, valuable and well-rounded degree in the country (I’ll say it).
— Unrivaled study abroad programs.
— Ample service and experiential learning opportunities.
— An Honors College filled with brilliant students.
— A diverse music scene.
— Buckets of delicious food options all in a square mile.
— The annual optimism that lights up Sanford on Saturdays in Athens.
— The aura of North Campus
— The people.
— The community.
— The Dawgs.
— And at the end of the day, there truly is “no tradition more worthy of envy. No institution worthy of such loyalty as the University of Georgia.”

My favorite things to do on campus are…

Campus is so full of opportunity, but some of my favorites include:

— Walking through North Campus early in the morning — I’ve been to Machu Picchu, and the only serenity that compares is North Campus when the sun is peeking above those ancient trees and glistening off the dew.
— Watching a sunset at the stop sign at the intersection of Cedar Street and D.W. Brooks Drive.
— Walking through the Tate Plaza on a game day and feeling the excitement building before cheering on the Dawgs in the greatest environment in college football.
— Throwing the baseball on North Campus.

When I have free time, I like…

— To write songs, play guitar and create short stories.
— To read fiction such as the “Lord of the Rings” or the “Chronicles of Narnia,” nonfiction such as books teaching leadership or faith, and the Bible.
— To drive into Watkinsville, where after quick five-minute drive we can find ourselves amidst rolling fields and trees straight out of Shawshank. When I need a moment to reflect, I love turning off my phone and driving out into these fields, where I can roll the windows down and either blast music or ride in silence.
— To hang out with my good friends! Common activities include late-night adventures, trips to Cookout or Canes, playing Catchprase, Fishbowl or Bodies, winging spontaneous music, or just sitting around, talking and laughing.

The craziest thing I’ve done is…

… dodge a vehicle in the middle of the Outback to save my life!

On the Discover Abroad trip to Australia, the team heads out into the Outback to Carnarvon Gorge to experience the true Australia. The time is filled with kangaroos, wallabies, echidnas, eucalyptus trees and beautiful hikes.

To travel there and back, our bus sojourned through the night (which is brutal). Our return bus ride started smoothly, seamlessly navigating over the dirt roads out of camp and onto what I believe is affectionately known as O’brien’s Road, but who knows, honestly. Then, about 45 minutes into our journey to Noosa, a rock shot from the road and cut two of the three belts on the coach. Our bus pulled to the side of the road around 9 p.m.
As Dr. Maerz and our bus driver, Mark, repaired the belts, the lights remained on and our cohort played games inside the bus and explored the area outside the bus. Just as the belts were repaired, the bus battery died. Yes, that is correct; our bus driver left the lights on all this time.

After discovering no one had signal and the sat-phone was not functioning, we sent three girls back with our bus driver to camp — a 12-mile journey.

Because our professor was ill, I volunteered to watch for vehicles that could possibly come to our rescue from the other direction while many of my friends slept comfortably in sleeping bags on the asphalt amidst the vast fields of Queensland.

For five hours I waited for a vehicle while our company marched back to Carnarvon, and for five hours I did not hear a sound, save the howling of dingoes and the answering moo of cows. Then, 2:30 a.m. while I did push-ups to stay awake, I heard it … the sound of wheels!

Ecstatic I ran to the door of the coach and woke Dr. Maerz, excitedly announcing, “Car! Car! Headlights are coming!”

Dr. Maerz quickly arose with his flashlight in hand and we moved to the rear of the bus to signal the driver to halt. I put the cones back up as they had fallen down in the five hours of waiting, and both of us lit our torches to inform the driver of our presence.

As the SUV approached, it did not slow down but rather accelerated. Both Dr. Maerz and I were quite confused, and personally I began to assume these were the same kangaroo poachers from Kangaroo Jack. We continued assuming the vehicle would slow, but it would not, and as it approached, I began to run — quite literally — for my life. In a last second attempt to dodge, I jumped to the side of the road as the SUV skidded to a screeching stop five feet from the back of the coach!

I was alive, and so were my friends sleeping 15 feet from the front of the coach. The car contained our friends who had hiked back to camp with our bus driver and informed the Steevo, the owner of the coach company, of our issue.

The driver of the vehicle emerged and shouted, “I was blinded by your light, mate!”

Personally, I don’t understand how you do not see a light for 12 miles and then decide you are going to run over the first one you do see, but I am simply thankful to have survived this crazy tale.

And that is how I dodged an SUV in the middle of the Outback to save my life.

My favorite place to study is…

If I am allowed to pick international, I choose the Bodleian Library in Oxford, England. Something about the Rotunda holds a special mystique that inspires full learning.

But on campus, I love studying on North Campus, where I have a couple go-to benches and spots on the grass. Inside, I learn best next to windows, so you will often find me on the seventh floor of the main library grinding on some work, looking over Sanford Stadium.

My favorite professor is…

Man, this one is tough.

I formed a special relationship with my biomedical ethics professor in Oxford, Dr. David Birks. He is the most challenging professor I have taken a class from. Our tutorial consisted of three students, and we often entered into deep debates. Dr. Birks was able to mediate these and respond to both sides. His ability to represent opinions in which he may not even believe shows his pure brilliance. He and I also formed a friendship outside of class. Spending time with him always teaches me something about life, about culture, or about philosophy.

Another of my favorite professors is Dr. Michael Tarrant. Dr. Tarrant is a fun guy to spend time with, able to discuss academic, deep and daily matters. He led our trip to develop a business in Soso, Fiji, that established a newfound respect for female power in the society.

Perhaps the most talented teacher I have ever taken a class under is Dr. John Maerz, who taught my animal behavior lab in Australia and New Zealand. Dr. Maerz’s passion for his subject contagiously spreads to all his students. While challenging, he is truly a remarkable communicator.
Other professors that I feel I must mention are my FYOS professor, Dr. Alan Przybyla, who made time for a lengthy lunch with me during my first semester despite his extensive Alzheimer’s research; and of course the teachers within the Institute for Leadership Advancement: Dr. Laura Little, Dr. Jodi Barnes and Courtney Aldrich. Each of these women has a gift for inspiring students to dream and to realize who they were created to be, and I am so thankful for them.

If I could share an afternoon with anyone, I would love to share it with…

I would share a walk with my grandfather, Raymond Lee Abernathy. He passed away when I was only 11 years old, yet he inspires me daily to strive to be a man of God and a true “peach of a guy.”
Poppy, as I called him, unwaveringly loved his family, his friends, and complete strangers. He was born into poverty, yet worked tirelessly to become a wealth advisor with Morgan Stanley — moving from an auto shop, to the military, to the mailroom, to running errands, and finally to his final position in which he worked until his death at the age of 80. His story is straight out of a movie.

Perhaps my favorite part of his story comes after his death, though. A man walked into my dad’s office and asked him if he knew Raymond L. Abernathy. My dad invited him to sit down and talk for a moment. The man revealed, “Your father is the reason I am still alive today. When I was only cold-calling, he took the time to ask me how I was doing, and truly listen to my answer each day. He showed me that I was loved and helped me, a stranger, through a dark period of my life.”

I was too young to ask Poppy for real stories and wisdom when he passed away, but man, would I love to share an afternoon with him.

If I knew I could not fail, I would…

… reform medical provision in the United States.

From speaking with my friends, most future doctors desire to practice medicine in a way that is truly patient-focused. My ambition is to provide this.

Patient focused care, to me, means care for all people and attention to the stories of each individual person that passes through a hospital’s doors.

If I could not fail, I would create a medical initiative that provided doctors with the framework to practice freely in their unique ways, that enabled true, deep, love-centered doctor-patient relationships, and that provided intense medical care to people regardless of their ability to pay.

A doctor in Buenos Aires told me, “You should not practice medicine to change the world. You should practice medicine to save the lives that will one day change the world.”

I hope one day to empower doctors to practice with the compassion and freedom necessary to do just that.

If money was not a consideration, I would love to…

… write for a living and live like a child. My favorite thing in the world is a good story. I believe that every person’s story is so important and truly drives every action in his or her life.

If I had no worries about money, I would cast aside all fear and travel to a bunch of different places around the world for about three months at a time and write — write on their culture, chronicle the people, and create moving fiction in ways that are inspired by what I see.

Particularly, I would like to live in Spain, New Zealand, Argentina, Norway, Alaska, Colorado, and at Lake Tahoe, because they so freely emanate passion, beauty and life!

What is your passion and how are you committed to pursuing it?

My passion is people — their complexity, their uniqueness, their quirkiness, and all of the amazing qualities buried within their ordinary personalities.

Therefore, I commit to pursuing people by pursuing friendship — going out of my way to spend time with younger guys in my fraternity, dedicating select weekends to deepening connection with my family pals in UGA Miracle, and setting aside meals to spend one-on-one and small-group time with the people I love.

I commit to pursuing people by encouraging relentlessly — calling out the obvious in people that they may not see, being my goofy self to free others to be their goofy selves, and on stage, having the time of my life, so that the crowd can escape their worries for the night and have the time of theirs.

Lastly, I commit to pursuing people by seeking to know their stories. This simply takes a genuine interest in someone’s life.

When I was studying in Oxford, I walked past a meek homeless woman for five weeks without giving her as little as a British pound. My last Sunday, I felt compelled to engage with her. After a surprising 45-minute conversation, I learned that Lottie has a gorgeous story. Having been stuck on the streets due to an abusive relationship, she devotes her time to finding places for homeless children on the streets of Oxford to sleep. When I was speaking to her, she had been awake for almost 72 hours and had found two church yards for children’s shelter. If I had not humbled myself to simply ask Lottie for her name, I never would have known how beautiful her story was.

After graduation, I plan to…

This is still up in the air. I have many passions and ambitions! The options include gaining experience in the medical field through hospital administration, health care consulting, or even medical school; pursuing my Ph.D. in public health; writing (music and stories); or serving in Spanish-speaking communities that my heart cares for. Regardless of what I end up pursuing, I want to help people realize their dreams.

The one UGA experience I will always remember will be…

I am in between two so I will share both:

The first time Light Brigade played at the Georgia Theatre was a dream come true. To take a stage that so many great artists before have graced was almost impossible to comprehend. Seeing so many faces lit up with joy — including my best friends and Mom and Dad — gave me chill bumps and a rush of adrenaline that I have never felt before.

Then, some of my best buddies and I traveled to South Bend, Indiana, for the Georgia game earlier this year. We went to a Cubs game at Wrigley Field (called the Dawgs), Mammoth Caves in Kentucky, ate dinner in Nashville and Chicago, and reached the climax of Dawg fandom when the fourth quarter cell phone lights took over Notre Dame Stadium to the gorgeous melody of Krypton. Sharing this with my friends and also with my family makes it maybe the best weekend of college.