Gibbons named Grady’s Abney Award recipient

Grady College is proud to announce Austin Gibbons, a senior from Stone Mountain, Georgia, is the recipient of the 2020 George M. Abney Honors Award. Gibbons will graduate in May with majors in public relations and political science.

The Abney award is presented by Grady College annually to the senior who has achieved the most impressive record in the Honors Program. It is named in honor of Professor Abney, who retired in 1993 after more than 40 years at University of Georgia, including 25 years as the Honors coordinator at Grady.

In addition to his two majors, Gibbons is also earning certificates in the Public Affairs Professional program and Personal and Organizational Leadership.

“Grady faculty, staff, and students have shown me that passion and community are integral to the world of work,” Gibbons said of his time at Grady College. “Thanks to Grady, I know I will find passion in each job I take down the road and never lose sight of forming community in professional relationships.”

Gibbons (far left) with Dean Charles Davis and some of the Grady Ambassadors at Dawgs with the Dean. Gibbons has clear advice for future Grady students: “Seize every opportunity and build relationships with everyone.”

There are few students who have packed as much into their time at the University of Georgia like Gibbons has. Keen observers will recognize his smile from camera pans of Arch Society students cheering on the football team, sharing his daily school life as a UGA Digital Dawg and working events around the college as a Grady Ambassador.

And, like many high-achieving students, Gibbons’ resume begs the question of when he had time to sleep and eat during college.

“I did not sleep in college,” Gibbons admitted. “Likewise, I know that my collegiate experience has given me a crash course in balancing the competing priorities of life such as work, school, family, faith and personal wellness.”

Gibbons credits his interest in politics and his outgoing, friendly nature to his parents. His parents had different political leanings, but always encouraged a healthy conversation of political views at the dinner table, respect for all sides and the opportunity to share your own story.

Gibbons has a good head start on his goals of landing a job in government relations and public affairs in Washington, D.C., or Atlanta. He has worked in several internship positions including time with retired Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson, the American Red Cross, the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government and currently with Governor Brian Kemp.

Gibbons (third from right) with Joe Watson (fourth from right) and other members of the Grady D.C. program. “Professor Joseph Watson has become a cornerstone of my college experience,” Gibbons said.


He also spent a summer in the Grady D.C. field study program, directed by Joe Watson, the Carolyn Caudell Tieger Professor of Public Affairs Communications.

Watson said that one of the things that sets Gibbons apart is his great work ethic.

“What makes Austin stand out is his addictively positive attitude and his willingness to get involved and serve others,” Watson said. “I often say that public affairs is not for bystanders; you have to participate in it. Austin does that every day as one of our finest and most engaged students.”

That positive attitude is evident even now despite the fact that COVID-19 has thrown chaos into his final semester at UGA. Gibbons looks at it as providing hands-on experience in coping with rapid change. He has been able to spend more time at home having conversations with family members and enjoying the simpler things in life.

“My Grandma always said, ‘the night is darkest just before the dawn,’ and I am looking forward to that dawn,” he said. “First stop: a much-needed haircut followed by senior pictures on North Campus!”


#GradyGrit: Meet Austin Gibbons

Editor’s Note: #GradyGrit is a new series of profiles of Grady College students who show determination, leadership and outreach to the community. Search “#GradyGrit” on the Grady College website for additional profiles.

Hometown: Stone Mountain, Georgia 

Year: Junior 

Degrees: Public Relations and Political Science major and Public Affairs Communication Certificate 

Activities and Involvement: The Arch Society, UGA Division of Marketing and Communications Digital Dawgs program, Student Assistant for the Center for the Study of Global Issues, Leadership UGA cohort, Public Relations Student Society of America, UGA Wesley Foundation mentor, Student Government Association and Dawg Camp, Honors Program

How has Grady influenced your time at UGA?  

AG: I was giddy with excitement when I attended a Grady information session my senior year of high school after UGA unveiled the public affairs certificate program. This certificate is part of why I chose UGA and why I applied to Grady. It has provided confirmation about what I want to do with my life after I get to walk under The Arch. Presentations on political PR have allowed me to meet and interact closely with professional role models like Brian Robinson, Amanda Maddox and the late Powell Moore. Robinson served as deputy chief of staff for communications to Governor Nathan Deal, Maddox is director of communications for Senator Johnny Isakson and Moore served under four United States presidents. Thanks to these alumni, Grady faculty and our SPIA partners, I feel equipped to enter into the crazy world of politics and public service.  

What is your most memorable Grady experience?   

AG: When I was accepted to Grady in September of 2017, I took the opportunity to ring the chapel bell and do a mini photo shoot outside the journalism building with a friend who was also accepted that day. All I felt was pure joy and excitement to continue the academic discipline that I fell in love with during Dr. Cacciatore’s intro class in the fall of 2016.  

What has had the biggest impact on your life during your time at UGA?  

AG: At first, I did not want to come to UGA because I felt that this campus was too large and too impersonal for me. Getting involved has shown me that each student here is more than just a number and more than just a tuition check. My current involvement with The Arch Society and my previous involvement with SGA have shown me many different nooks and crannies here at UGA. I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly, but I am still head over heels in love with this school. Faculty, staff and administration are all eager to invest in students so that they can be equipped for promising futures. 

Austin Gibbons gives tours of the campus to prospective students.

What is your best advice for a student taking their first class at Grady College? 

AG: Go to office hours! The professors and advisors are top notch professionals who love their jobs and their students. Go into your professor’s office to share your passions and your story and to learn about their passions and their story. Professors and advisors can tell the difference between students who are networking for the sake of getting a recommendation and those who are there to build a meaningful, fruitful and long-lasting connection.  

What motivates you? 

AG: I am motivated by my three F’s: faith, family and free food. My faith motivates me to treat every person as an image bearer of God and to be a responsible steward of the Christian witness in my future political career. My family motivates me to find my passion, to take life’s journey one step at a time and to honor the legacy of the good men and women who have come before me. Free food motivates me to stand in long lines and work long hours. 

Last show/favorite show you binge watched (more than 2 shows in a sitting)? 

AG: Most of my work in political science has related to state and national politics, so I love to binge “Madam Secretary” whenever I can in order to dabble in foreign politics. I would be totally fine with Elizabeth McCord running for president in 2020! 

Favorite quote? 

AG: I have no idea who first said it, but I try to live by the mantra of “be where your feet are.” Being present in every moment and intentional in every interaction is crucial to making others feel loved and valued.  

What would people be surprised to know about you? 

AG: About 13 years later, my patient profile in the orthodontist office still says that my career goal is to win American Idol. In elementary school, I thrived at church talent shows and in elementary school honor choirs. I was always told I had a lot of potential, but unfortunately puberty ruined that career path for me. So, the new goal is President of the United States. Just as reasonable, right?  

Favorite Athens restaurant? 

AG: Chick-fil-a is my go-to. In fact, people say that my love is more like an obsession. But when I am not at Chick-fil-a, Mama’s Boy, Clocked and South Kitchen are always great options!  

Create your own question: What makes UGA special? 

AG: As cliché as it sounds, the greatest part of UGA is the people. There is something in the air at this school that makes students, faculty, staff and passersby feel like family. Staff members like Miss Delores in the MLC, Miss Sandra at Snelling, and Miss Terri and Miss Li Anne at the Tate Deck keep this place running and go out of their way to make students feel seen and known. Administrators look for opportunities to meet with students and faculty members see office hours as a highlight of their week. The people of UGA hug you, call you by your name, and never forget you. There really is no institution worthy of such loyalty as the University of Georgia. Go Dawgs!