Clouds threatened, but the sun peeked out to shine on about 2,400 Georgia Southern University students receiving degrees during the school’s 82nd Annual Spring Commencement ceremony Saturday at Paulson Stadium.
“This is the largest graduating class we have ever had, and one of the best classes we have ever had. I believe this is a sign of what the future holds for Georgia Southern,” said GSU President Dr. Brooks Keel. “I don’t know who is more excited, me or the graduates. This is my first graduation and I have been looking forward to this since day one.”
Overseeing his first commencement since becoming Georgia Southern’s 12th president in January, Keel also served as keynote speaker for the ceremony, and he offered students list of what they should never do, instead of what they should do after graduating.
He told graduates they should not view graduating as a conclusion, but of a celebration of the rest of their lives. “This place, this day, this time, is not about the past – it’s about your future,” he said.
“Never stop learning,” he said. “You’re never too old to learn …. Never stop dreaming. Dream big. Don’t let yourself become grounded by everyday drudgery.”
Keel told students to “Never lose the courage to pursue your dreams. Believe me, it does take courage. Don’t be held back by those who bind your vision.”
He urged graduates to “never fear failure and change. Learn from your failures and mistakes …and I promise you, change will come. You may not like change but you can’t avoid it.”
Another thing Keel advised students was “Never lose your passion. It’s an absolutely essential ingredient in being successful. It’s also important to have fun. Life is too short to be unhappy.
“Never think for a minute you can’t make a significant difference in this world,” he said. “You have earned this place in society and the world is looking to you to take a leadership role. “ He also advised students to “Don’t just listen with your head – listen with your heart. “
Before graduates made their way onto the football field at Paulson Stadium, they lined up with their graduating classes. Many were nervous, but a few were boisterous in their joy at facing graduation.
“I am excited,” said Elizabeth Hall, 24, from Waycross. But, when asked whether she will miss GSU, she said “Oh my gosh, yes. Definitely.” She said she looks forward to a job soon, hopefully in the field of her major, International Studies.
Olivia Nelson, 21, from Glennville, already has a job at Rotary International in her hometown. “I am super excited about graduating,” she said, “I hope it doesn’t rain!”
Ryan Boss was joking around with his friends while standing in line, waiting to graduate. The 22-year-old information technology major form Alpharetta said he is just hoping for a stable job after graduation. He said realizing he is about to set forth in the world as a university graduate is “unbelievable.”
John Wilson, 22, Atlanta, had a string of words to describe his emotions: “relieved, ecstatic, a tiny bit nervous,” he said. He said he intends to move back to Atlanta and work for CNN.
Keilonda Young, 25, said “I am ready to get this over with.” The childhood and family development major said she hopes to work in Virginia or Florida, where she has family.
Kim Jones, also a childhood and family development major, hails rom Baxley, but hopes to remain in Statesboro to work for the Bulloch County Board of Education or Head Start program, she said. Her feelings about graduation? Summed up in one word: “Happy!”
Georgia Southern University spokesman Christian Flathman said more 20,000 people attended the graduation ceremony. People were still arriving even after Keel’s speech was over, and the stands were packed. Many sat on the ground.
Along with the “traditional” graduates, Georgia Southern recognized 153 fully and 63 partially online graduates, the most ever for the University. One of them, Canadian resident Derek Rice, earned his degree entirely online while living in Ontario and made his first-ever trip to Georgia for his graduation.
Rice was the first graduate in the College of Business Administration’s online Master of Science in Applied Economics program.
“I researched degrees in economics taught at a distance and was really interested in this one. The concentration in regional economic development was what attracted me because I can actually use that in the work I do,” he said. Rice works for an accounting office that does economic development consulting.
An addition to Spring Commencement this year was recognition of the university’s newly-commissioned ROTC cadets. Another highlight came at the end of the ceremony as Freedom, the bald eagle that flies at Georgia Southern home football games, made his second flight at graduation.
President Keel provided graduates with memorable advice saying, “Never, ever forget that you are an Eagle. Your colors are true blue and white and this will always be your house.”