In eighth grade, Daulton Beard, a Florida native, went on a mission trip to Asheville and immediately fell in love with the mountains.

“I remember going home from that trip and telling my parents, ‘Hey, I’m going to find a college in the mountains,’” Beard recalled.

For a few years in the midst of high school in his hometown of Orlando, Florida, he forgot his declaration, but when he started looking into colleges, it didn’t take long for the pull of the mountains to remind Beard of western North Carolina. As it turned out, Montreat College not only offered mountains, but also an opportunity to continue playing basketball.

“Of the basketball programs at the schools that I actually communicated with, Montreat was the one that was in the mountains,” Beard said. “As soon as I stepped out of my car on campus, I had a feeling that this could be the right place for me.”

Besides the allure of the surrounding landscape, Beard quickly was impressed by the friendliness of the people on campus, including a memorable welcome from Sean Doman, a guard on the basketball team from Queens, New York.

“When I first walked into the gym for a visit, Sean walked up to me immediately, talked to me and learned about me, and I was like, ‘Wow, OK, this is what it feels like to be wanted and loved,’” Beard remembered. “It’s just cool to see how the community really does care about each other at Montreat, and that experience on my visit is what locked me into Montreat College.”

Beyond his initial visit, Beard continued to be blessed by how genuine and caring people were in the Montreat community and their genuineness.

“So many people made an impact on me, and that is just the culture of leadership at Montreat College,” Beard said. “I think of Coach Jose Larios. His energy just exudes that positivity and God’s love that Montreat is all about. Also, Hub Powell, my business professor, really led the students he was teaching and even if we weren’t in the classroom, he always showed that he genuinely cared.”

Not only was the community aspect instrumental in bringing him to Montreat College, but it also played a significant role in keeping him on campus when he decided to focus on accounting, a degree program not fully offered at Montreat at the time.

“While in the business program at Montreat, I took an accounting class with Dr. Dukas that made me realize what my calling was,” Beard said. “For a while I thought, ‘Since there is no accounting program at Montreat, there’s no way I can stay here and become a CPA.’ I considered transferring to Florida State, a lifelong dream school of mine. Ironically, Dr. Dukas went to Florida State, and I found out that it’s one of the only schools in Florida that offers a program for someone who does not hold a bachelor’s degree in accounting, and I just got this sense of relief. I realized I could still end up at Florida State, but it may not be right now. Going back to Montreat was the best thing for me, and it taught me about having faith that each step you take throughout your professional journey happens for a reason and God’s plan is better than your own.”

Another person who had an impact on Beard was Rhonda Devan, the Assistant Vice President for Finance at Montreat College who served as his internship advisor.

“She taught me a lot about accounting and built up my confidence by telling me that accounting was a good career path where she believed I could be successful,” he said. “She’s still a good mentor because she’s a CPA, too. When I came up to Montreat for alumni weekend last year, we met up for coffee and we talked for an hour just to catch up.”

While at Montreat College, Beard experienced plenty of success as a member of two men’s basketball teams that qualified for the NAIA national tournament. Although his playing time was limited, Beard was always motivated knowing that he played a part in his team’s success. Because of that spirit, he was awarded with the NAIA Champion of Character award for Montreat at the NAIA national tournament his senior year.

“It was a blessing to be part of the team,” he said. “Whatever my role was, I was ready to excel in whatever needed to be done in that role. Coach Jones led with grace, and I really enjoyed playing for him for those two years and learning from life lessons he would share with us.”

After graduating from Montreat College in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a concentration in sports management, Beard earned a master’s degree in accounting from Florida State University. Today, he’s a member of a new team, working in Tampa as a tax associate at RSM US LLP, a multinational network of accounting firms. He’s also recently passed all four portions of his Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam, and he’ll be awarded his CPA license this fall.

“I passed them on the first try, which only about 20% of all candidates accomplish on their first attempt,” he said. “A lot of hard work went into this, but it was very rewarding. After studying for each of those CPA exams, when I saw that last passing score, it was the best feeling I’ve ever had from any level of education.”

When he officially becomes a CPA, he plans to stay at RSM and keep learning and growing in the technical aspects of taxation.

“The team at RSM is great, and they really support professional development from the bottom up,” he said. “Right now, I’m still in my first year of my professional career, so I’m just learning every day, which has been amazing in getting my career going. The focus on serving and genuinely caring for our clients is something that I really love about RSM.”

Even being miles away back in the Sunshine State, Beard is confident that Montreat and the people within it will always hold a special place in his heart.

“Every time I step back on that campus, I just feel a sense of community,” he said. “Being an alumnus of Montreat means you’re part of a family for the rest of your life. They truly desire all their students to grow, be known, and find their calling, and it’s a place I believe any high school student should consider.”