With Gov. Nathan Deal as commencement speaker and former President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn in attendance, Georgia Southern University’s spring graduates in Saturday’s ceremony shared a preview of the expanded Paulson Stadium with perhaps 25,000 guests.
Deal, currently in a re-election bid where he has challengers within his party, advised graduates to step outside their comfort zones. A comfort zone can be like a bubble of security that doesn’t last, broken by choices that people make for themselves, such as a new job that doesn’t fit, a marriage that doesn’t work out or a business merger that fails, he observed.
“But it is also possible for the bubble of our comfort zone to be burst because of external forces over which we had no involvement or control, such as sudden illness, the death of a spouse or a family member, or the onset of a global recession that destroys our financial security,” Deal said. “The point is this: don’t let the sanctity of your comfort zone become your goal in life.”
Looking for jobs outside the comfort zones of their college major appears a matter of necessity to new GSU graduates such as Janae Tipton. The 22-year-old from Atlanta received her bachelor’s degree in psychology. She is vice president of the Collegiate 100, a women’s empowerment organization newly chartered on the GSU campus.
The university, she said, provides students an abundance of help preparing for the real world, including opportunities to meet employers. After having done three internships while at Georgia Southern, Tipton sees the job market as “pretty rough” but is staying optimistic.
“I’ve tried different things outside of my field, but it’s all just about apply, apply, apply,” she said. “You can’t really be picky right now.”
Tipton has an interview for a flight attendant job scheduled and has applied with Grassroots Campaigns, an organization that does fundraising and consulting for nonprofit groups. She plans to go to graduate school for a master’s degree, but next year, not right away.
Departing Eagles baseball leftfielder Stryker Brown, 22, from Dalton, received his Bachelor of Business Administration, or BBA, in small business management and entrepreneurship with honors. He has talked to potential employers but is looking to God for guidance.
“I really just want to kind of explore what God has in store for me out there and kind of see what his plans are for me first before I start making any decisions,” Brown said.
He said he sees himself doing some kind of faith-related work as his mission, such as leading a youth group, whatever career he may find in business or elsewhere.
Staci Harrison, 23, of Atlanta, received her bachelor’s degree in information technology. Faculty members in the department, she said, have given guidance on where to go for career information and what questions to ask.
“I’m trying to find a job,” Harrison said. “It’s hard. It’s very hard.” So she is “looking for other jobs, not just in the I.T. field.”
These were three more-or-less randomly selected students among the 2,571 who received bachelor’s degrees Saturday. In a separate ceremony Friday, 612 students were awarded graduate degrees, including master’s degrees and doctorates, bringing the total count of degree recipients this weekend to 3,183.
At Paulson Stadium, the new upper deck seating on the student-and-visitor side was used for its first major event, although work is continuing on the stadium’s overall expansion. University officials say the new Football Operations Center, the building under construction at the stadium’s east end, will be ready for the Eagles’ fall debut in the Sun Belt Conference of the Football Bowl Subdivision.
The new deck adds 6,300 seats, raising the stadium’s capacity, in real seats, to 21,000. With the rest of the stands already packed, guests continued to arrive on the upper deck long after the ceremony began, filling it. As in the past, others stood or sat on the grassed embankments, boosting crowd size estimates to near 25,000.
President and Mrs. Carter’s attendance had not been publicized, but GSU President Dr. Brooks Keel acknowledged their presence during the ceremony. They attended, privately, for the graduation of their grandson James Carlton “Jamie” Carter, who received his BBA in logistics.
Near the end of the commencement, Dr. Allen Amason, the dean of the College of Business Administration, presented a BBA posthumously to Cory J. Wilson. Wilson, of Savannah, collapsed in class on Jan. 17, 2013, and later died of cardiac arrhythmia. He was a junior and would have graduated Saturday.
Both Amason and Keel were visibly shaken as they presented the degree to Wilson’s parents, Ken and Lisa Wilson. After Amason announced the awarding of the degree, the stadium crowd erupted in one of the loudest applauses of the day. Then it was Keel’s turn to confer the degree.
“Ken and Lisa Wilson, by the authority vested in me by the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia, I present you with this diploma in recognition of the great accomplishments,” – at this point, Keel’s voice began breaking – “of Cory J. Wilson.”
Keel choked up, then gave the degree to the Wilsons, hugging both of them.
With his graduation speech, Deal made his second of three planned public appearances at Georgia Southern in just over two weeks. He held a signing ceremony on the state budget at the university April 28 and is scheduled to be there Tuesday for a meeting of his High Demand Career Initiative.
“Certainly Georgia Southern University has expanded rapidly, and that is always a scary proposition anytime you take those kinds of advances,” Deal told reporters. “It has certainly lived up to the expectations and continues to grow, continues to be an important part of our overall university system, and it does take courage to step outside of those comfort zones.”
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454. Statesboro Herald Editor Jason Wermers also contributed to this story.