Echoing advice given to him as a young man, Dr. Frank Simmons III issued a challenge to graduating students during Georgia Southern University’s 21st annual Fall Commencement Ceremony on Friday.
Simmons, a Statesboro High School graduate and staff scientist at Gulfstream Aerospace in Savannah, spoke during one of three ceremonies hosted at Hanner Fieldhouse.
More than 1,500 students received their degrees, including the first Georgia Southern students to graduate from the newly created engineering program and with a doctor of clinical psychology degree.
“When I was in the situation you are today, I was about to walk into a world without any idea of what I was going to do,” said Simmons, speaking
to students of the Allen E. Paulson College of Engineering and Information Technology
and College of Business Administration. “I didn’t have a goal, I didn’t have a plan, but I was given a challenge by a high school teacher five years earlier. That challenge was to find a purpose — to find a mission.”
Simmons chronicled his career and presented the stories of others who would eventually find their life’s purpose — engineers working to design and build a needed aircraft, boat operators in Louisiana who volunteered to save the stranded in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and a young boy who figured out a way to save his town with electricity from a handmade windmill.
He then urged students to find their own paths.
“Each of you is sitting here with your entire career ahead of you. You will have many options and you can go either left, or right,” he said. “But where there is uncertainty, there is also opportunity. So go out there and find your mission, and more importantly, be ready for when your mission finds you.”
To close, Simmons told students that the challenge requires one last step.
“One final note: thirty years from now, in 2042, you are to come back and report on your assignment,” Simmons said. “Dr. (Mohammad) Devoud (dean of the College of Engineering and Information Technology) and I will be here waiting for your reports, believe it or not.
“See you in 2042,” he said.
After ceremonies, smiling students poured from Hanner Fieldhouse to greet friends and parents as they kicked off their life after school.
“I’m excited,” said Danielle Rochell, an education major. “It doesn’t feel like this is real life.”
Rochell, 22, said she’ll miss the university, but not Statesboro — because she plans to stay in town and become certified as a substitute teacher.
“I’m definitely happy to graduate,” said construction management graduate Wenn Biletzskov. “I am ready to get out there and start making money rather than spending it all of the time.”
Biletzskov, 24, said he’ll head back home to St. Simons Island and begin his career sooner than most.
“I’ve actually got to move out of my house right now and be at work Monday morning,” he said.
Management major James Gibson, 23, said he is looking forward to taking a bit of a break.
“Starting today, I will begin enjoying myself and rooting for the Eagles in their game tonight. Then I will hang out, have a good ole Christmas break, and, in the spring, see what is out there for me to do,” he said.
Highlights of Friday’s commencement ceremonies came near the end of programs.
Freedom, the university’s bald eagle mascot, made an appearance, and students carried out rounds of “Georgia — Southern” call-and-response chants.
Leonard Bevill, the president and chief executive officer of Macon Occupational Medicine, and Dr. Kara Martin, an internist and hospitalist for Kaiser Permanente at Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta, spoke during the other ceremonies.
Jeff Harrison may be reached at (912) 489-9454.