Aaron Panlilio’s (B.S. ’16) connection to Clayton State University didn’t start as a freshman. It actually began as an excursion for him and his siblings while his sister learned to play the violin.
“CSU started as a playground for my kids,” said Cheryl Panlilio, Aaron’s mother. “My husband and I would take our daughter for violin lessons and the other siblings would feed the ducks. It was a nice place for us.”
Aaron’s sister would switch out the violin for some scrubs after pursuing her nursing degree at Clayton State. His other sister would also graduate as a nurse and another would attend Clayton State for a short time to study computer science.
For the Panlilio’s, being a part of the Laker family has been fruitful, especially for Aaron, who was recently honored with the Chancellor’s Academic Recognition Day award. He represented Clayton State University as an outstanding student.
Students are selected by the provost and a committee from each university for remarkable achievements in academics and service.
Aaron, along with students from each college or university in the University System of Georgia, were recognized at the Board of Regents meeting on March 15.
“It came as a shocker,” Aaron, 23, said of learning he was a finalist for the award. “At the time, I didn’t really grasp what it was.”
It didn’t finally sink in for him until he was acknowledged by the state’s higher education governing body in their March meeting.
“They chose one person to represent Clayton State in a pool of 7-8,000 students,” Aaron said. “It’s right up there with one of my proudest moments at Clayton State.”
Aaron’s academic acumen was honed by his parents from an early age. The fourth of seven children, his mother made the decision to homeschool her family.
“Homeschooling was a calling,” Cheryl recalled. “We are believers in Jesus Christ. I wanted them to study biblical principles and grow up to be responsible, godly individuals—to be model citizens of this world.”
Homeschooling also meant that the children would be self-motivated in their studies, Cheryl added.
Aaron was the first child to dual-enroll at Clayton State. By the time he finished, he had all A’s in his last semester and was on the dean’s list.
He found college to be simple once he learned his way around campus.
“It was relatively smooth,” he remembered. “I’m used to figuring stuff out and working on my own, but with an actual professor with office hours and classmates and different services, it makes it a heck of a lot easier.”
Professors at Clayton State tapped into Aaron’s natural curiosity about technology and helped broaden his horizons about the discipline. He graduated Magna Cum Laude in the fall of 2016 with a Bachelor's of Science in Information Technology and currently works in IT for a mid-sized company.
He says the interaction with professors and the experiences he had played a role in how he got his job.
“One of the reasons why I was hired is because I’m someone who is technologically curious,” he said.
Beyond academics, Aaron defined many of his social activities with purpose. He was a member of Clayton State’s Baptist College Ministries. He also took part in the Go Green organization and participated in the Honors Student Association.
One of his most rewarding service projects, was when he spearheaded the creation of an appreciation dinner for the student-athletes. He worked closely with the Athletics Department to put on an event that would connect student-athletes with others on campus and socialize.
Aaron has held the event for the last four years since 2013, and he hopes to keep it going as an alum.
“I thought, ‘What can I do to serve campus, to serve my school,’” he said. “I like to consider myself a difference maker. I like to leave things better than I find them.”
Aaron continues to be an influence as his younger siblings carry on the Clayton State tradition within the family.
With a strong support system of family, close friends and mentors, and some preparation, he said that anyone can aspire to be successful.
“Just keep progressing,” he said.