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Bright skies, warm sunshine and a cool breeze made Saturday morning perfect for Georgia Southern University’s 81st Spring Commencement, held at the university’s Paulson Stadium.
About 2,100 students from an assortment of colleges within the university marched proudly, accepting diplomas as their friends and family cheered from the stands.
Before the ceremony, traffic was backed up along Veteran’s Memorial Parkway and Lanier and Chandler roads as everyone rushed to get into place before the commencement began. Graduates lined up outside the stadium, ready to make the final walk that would bring an end to an important phase of their lives.
“I’m really tired but rather excited,” said Ayana Ferguson, as 21-year-old Warner Robins resident graduating with a degree in Information Technology.
“It’s been a long road,” she said. “I hope to get an internship and find a job. I also want to spend time with my daughter,” Jazmyn, who is just 10 months old.
Victor Harris, 23, plans to remain in Statesboro after getting his information technology degree. As he waited to march, he said he was “very relieved” that the hard work was over. “It’d been a very long journey.” He is working with H. A. Sack Company.
Jessica Hancock, 22, from Columbia S.C., said she was looking forward to a career after achieving a degree in fashion merchandising. “I like to go shopping so I thought, if I can make money at it, why not?” she said. “I am tired, but very excited.” She plans to head to Atlanta to work with Explorer Fashion Magazine.
Michael Chandler, 23, Acworth, is going to t he Atlanta area to work after graduation with an information technology degree as well. He appeared tired, and said the graduation ceremony was a bit early for him, but he smiled as he spoke about his fond memories of Statesboro that will be going with him.
The small town charm “where you know everybody” will be missed, he said. “It was a new world coming down here, and parts of it I’ll miss.”
Ramsey Hall, 24, Thomasville, was pumped as he stood in line waiting to march. “I’m just happy to be here,” he said. I”m ready. It’s been a fairly long time, and my family is all here. They’re proud of me and excited, too.” Hall has a job waiting for him at Hewlett Packard in Alpharetta after he receives his information technology degree.
As students marched onto the fields and to their seats, parents and friend talked to them on cell phones and tried to find each other in the masses. Some waved, some shouted, and one graduate even stood on his chair in order for his friends to be able to spot him in the crowd.
GSU President Dr. Bruce Grube welcomed everyone, then introduced speaker U.S. District Judge B. Avant Edenfield.
Edenfield greeted graduates, and congratulated “ those of you who have graduated at the top of your class as well as those of you who got here by the skin of your teeth,” prompting a ripple of laughter.
Then asked graduates to think ahead 50 years to the 50th anniversary of the day they graduated, and to think of what they will remember then.
“This is not the end of your pursuit of knowledge and wisdom,” he said. “... As you transition ... take the time to appreciate those who have helped make this day possible.”
Edenfield told the graduates their perception of life will be far different in 50 years than it is today, but they will recall the days at Georgia Southern University as “the best of times.”
He warned graduates against pursuing the wrong paths for the wrong reasons. Recalling a bumper sticker he saw once that proclaimed “The winner at the end is the one with the most toys,” he said that’s not true.
“The accumulation of wealth should not be life’s primary ambition,” he said. Reminding listeners how greed, illegal actions and dishonesty has become prevalent and has sent leaders of the country to prison in some cases, he said “the pursuit of greed has brought about massive wrongdoing.
“The more we pursue pleasures, the more elusive it becomes,” he said. “We are responsible for our values, and the acceptance of responsibility is the price we pay for living in a free society.”
As he drew his remarks to a close, Edenfield said “May you look back with pride at what you have achieve by your 50th anniversary. And remember, in spite of how successful you are, if your moral compass fails you, in your pursuit of happiness you have followed the wrong path.”
After the graduates crossed the dais and accepted their diplomas, the GSU mascot, Freedom, a young male bald eagle, sailed overhead in a show of spirit and patriotism in a traditional flight the university holds as part of the ceremony.
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at 489-9414.