It was a brisk morning in Morrow, Georgia on Saturday, but the spirit of the day brought a warm feeling to the students, family and guests that filed into the Athletics Center at Clayton State University.
The fall Class of 2016 turned their tassels and took the first steps toward the next chapters in their personal and professional lives at the annual commencement exercises on Dec. 10.
“Here’s a group of individuals who came in as Clayton State students, and who are about to leave as Clayton State alumni,” said University President Dr. Tim Hynes.
The morning began with students from the College of Business, College of Health and College of Information and Mathematical Sciences.
The graduates and their families heard inspiring words from commencement speaker Pedro Cherry, senior vice president of Georgia Power’s Metro Atlanta Region. Cherry, who has spent the last 20 years in the energy industry, spoke of his decision to change careers 13 years ago and the dedication it took to make that move.
“I tenaciously attacked, identified and seized every opportunity possible,” he said. “By obtaining your degree you’ve demonstrated you have tenacity and perseverance. Believe in yourself and never give up.”
Cherry charged students to be servant leaders in their communities and on their jobs. He identified what he called the three P’s—Partnerships, Perseverance and Purpose—as keys to success.
“Begin today to find purpose and meaning in your professional and personal life, and think about how you can add value to other people’s lives,” he said.
The afternoon ceremony celebrated graduates in the College of Arts and Sciences.
Commencement speaker Judge Michael P. Baird of the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review-Atlanta Immigration Court, spoke about his longtime history as a dedicated Laker alum.
He recalled entering the school in 1986, when it was known as Clayton Junior College, working as a campus police officer, serving as a board member for the alumni association and teaching law for 15 years. He challenged students to return to the campus and continue to play an integral role in its advancement.
“I hope that you will develop a similarly long and ongoing relationship with Clayton State after you leave here today,” Baird said.
Baird shared what he believed was the true goal of education, which is to encourage critical thinking about the world and build character within an individual.
“I think education is less about what substantive knowledge you walk out of the door with, and more about teaching you how you think,” he said. “Your clients, your coworkers, your patients, your families are going to look to you to be the leaders of tomorrow," he said.
The year 2016 marked major milestones for Clayton State University.
In November, the University unveiled Strategic Plan 2022, a five-year plan to increase enrollment, graduation and retention rates, as well as make critical infrastructure investments and expand community engagement.
Clayton State received a $4.8 million, 5-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education to support the retention and graduation rates for the institution’s African-American student population.
It also was selected as one of only three universities selected to partner with Quality Care for Children to receive $1.6 million to launch BOOST, a child care assistance program to lessen the financial burden of child care costs for juniors and seniors.
And James Magazine ranked Clayton State as #1 in Best Value in Georgia Higher Education and among the Top Ten Regional Colleges and Universities in the state.
Emotions ran high for many graduates. Some cried, others were very nervous and many were just thrilled to have completed their educational journey.
“I’m a first generation college student, so it feels good that I can do this not only for myself, but for my family,” said Kia Carter, who earned her Bachelor’s of Science in Biology.
Carter said she paid for her education on her own and developed a close group of friends that supported her and could understand the sacrifice it took for her to finish college.
“Clayton State gave me the opportunity to graduate and after graduation I’m going to pharmacy school, so I’m just very excited,” Carter said. “Clayton State gave me every opportunity I needed. So I’m very appreciative.”
The commitment to earning a degree was just a fruitful for graduate Stephanie Alexander, who received a Bachelor’s of Science in Integrative Studies with a concentration in Healthcare Management.
“I’ve stopped and come back and stopped and come back. I thought in order for me to advance in the world, I need to go ahead and finish doing what I started,” Alexander said. “It feels awesome.”
Alexander advised students who are trying to reach graduation day to stay focused and believe that success is possible.
“You’re able to accomplish anything you want to accomplish. So, just keep at it,” she said.
View the full Fall 2016 Commecenement here: https://youtu.be/7C2BB0qkk9M
View the Photo Gallery.