Clayton State University’s largest Commencement day took place on Saturday, May 10, as more than 500 individuals walked across the stage in the Athletics Center to receive recognition for their masters, baccalaureate or associate degrees from their families, friends, faculty and the Clayton State administration, as represented by the University’s deans, vice presidents and, most prominently, President Dr. Thomas Hynes who, as always reminded the assembled multitudes that, “every one of our commencement ceremonies is special.”
Spring 2014 turned out to special in more than one instance. In addition to representing the largest group of Clayton State graduates to be honored on a single day, the newest members of the Clayton State Alumni Association also had the opportunity to hear not one, but two outstanding Commencement addresses.
A total of 235 graduates from the Colleges of Business and Health received their diplomas in the 9 a.m. ceremony, and heard a truly remarkable speech from the immediate past chair of the Clayton State University Foundation, Heritage Bank CEO Leonard Moreland.
The 275 graduates from the College of Arts & Sciences and Information & Mathematical Sciences attending the noon ceremony may have missed Moreland’s exhortation to take the opportunity to walk through the open door that their diplomas represent, but they were present for an equally thought-provoking presentation centering around what they wanted to be when they were 10 years old from Dana Lemon of the State Transportation Board of Georgia.
Anyone who has heard a Commencement address knows that the speakers typically exhort the graduates to look ahead to the future. And, while that was the case in both Moreland’s and Lemon’s keynotes, it’s unlikely that any of the graduates, or members of the audience, for that matter, will ever forget the thoughts of the two speakers, despite the fact that both admitted at the start of their speeches that they weren’t sure how to connect to the graduates.
It’s safe to say that those fears were groundless. Moreland, after sharing a few details of his own passage through higher education, a tale that included admitting he had failed to make either the NBA or the major leagues, spoke about diplomas, dreams, and how to fulfill them, in what could only be described as a moving speech.
“There’s a common characteristic for all of us; where to look for the answers,” he said, referring first to diplomas. “Let me give you a hint… you are the answer. In the end, you did this, and no one will be able to take this away from you.
“This diploma will open a lot of doors, you have to find the doors, and risk making a mistake. Step through the door, the rewards are on the other side.”
As a long–time member of the Clayton State University Foundation, and one of the University’s most loyal supporters, Moreland knows very well that Clayton State is the place where dreams are made real. He turned to “Dreams Made Real” in his conclusion.
“I hope you will take the opportunity to step through that door,” he said. “On the other side of that door will be a community with dreams of its own. You will have the awesome opportunity to make those dreams become real, as you have made your own dreams come real.”
As noted, college graduates are typically pointed towards the future by Commencement speakers. And Lemon did indeed do that, after asking the graduates to first look back at the start of a provocative and evocative address.
“What did you want to be at age 10?” she asked. “It may be very close to what you should be doing. If you’re lucky enough to get a job that’s your dream job, it may be very close to what you wanted when you were 10.”
While the graduates were pondering those thoughts, Lemon continued by noting that, at age 10, she wanted to be a pediatrician. While her career, first in banking and second in her family business, W.D. Lemon & Sons Funeral Home, may not have exactly matched that desire, she pointed out that her success in business has allowed her to set up a foundation that benefits children, clearly another way of benefiting youth.
“You must be willing to walk away,” she explained of her decision to leave Bank of America and join the family business. “You must be fearless. Know where you are going. When it was time to start my journey, I wasn’t afraid to leave. I remembered what I wanted to be when I was 10.
“Remember what you wanted to be when you were 10.”