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Senior Spotlight: Newest Laker Alumni reflect on journeys to graduation

(December 12, 2023) - Seniors Margaret Woodhurst-Kersey, James Gathings, and Milani Richardson all received their respective degrees from Clayton State University in December 2023.

Lakers walk to their commencement ceremony at the university's Athletics Center

With diplomas now in hand, the three new graduates all reflected on their lives at Clayton State University and what awaits each of them next.

All of them were asked the same series of questions, which are provided below.

1.     Tell us about your academic journey here at Clayton State! Why did you choose CSU and what was your academic background prior to your first day with us in college?

2.     What do you believe makes your Laker Experience so unique?

3.     Did you face any challenges in trying to complete your degree?

4.     What do you hope to do/are you doing after graduation?

5.     What will you remember most from your time at Clayton State?

6.     What advice would you give other Clayton State students who are working toward accomplishing their dream of obtaining their degree?

7.     Any final thoughts?


Margie Woodhurst-Kersey

1. Clayton State is the fourth college I have attended. I was a debater in high school and was recruited by Jackson Community College in Michigan. At the end of my first year, I was recruited by the University of NC Wilmington to debate for them. My work relocated me several times. I dropped out of college and eventually ended up in Georgia. I attended an online university, but it didn’t go well. Finally, I joined Clayton State University. I finished my bachelor’s degree and am now finishing my master’s with CSU. 

I selected CSU because they offered the programs I was interested in online. Because of my work, I am not able to attend in-person classes, so online was the only option. I stayed for my master’s because I truly enjoy the professors and have learned a great deal from each of them.  

2. Professors have been amazingly accommodating and have “tweaked” classes for me … not to make them easier, but to raise the bar and help me reach the next level. I absolutely appreciate that and hope they do that for everyone. The world would be so much better if every one of us reached our full potential, no matter what that potential is. If you are great at math, you should get advanced math training. Same thing for language, history, physics, or any other topic. Whatever your gift in life is, you should have the chance to be all you can be. 

3. I know I should say COVID, but frankly, it helped me. When COVID hit, all classes had to move to online. That meant I had access to classes that had never been offered online before and that was awesome! (Thank you, Dr. Kodani for Dinosaurs!) The increase in online classes made life easier.  
In fact, the biggest challenge I have faced, was this year. I had major surgery and 30 days later, lost my father.  

4. I am still considering whether I will go on to get my doctorate in adult curriculum and education. I have an interest in creating curriculum for adults. There could be some books in my future with my name on the spine. I am sorry that Clayton State doesn’t offer doctorate degrees. Instead, I am looking at Valdosta. But first, I will take a few months off to catch up on all the things that have been left on the back burner! 

5. All my best memories are of the professors! There are some amazing people working at CSU and I am extremely grateful to have met them. I will be staying in touch with many of them as I move forward on projects!  

6. Learn everything you can – don’t just take the courses you “have to.” Look around and take courses outside your area of focus. Learn new things! This is a fantastic time to dip your toes in the water and have new experiences. I made it a practice to always have one “fun” class each semester. I have studied dinosaurs, podcasting, creative writing, art, music history, and sociology. You may find you have an aptitude for something you never thought of before. My grandma would say that it makes you a well-rounded person! 

7. Getting that diploma isn’t the end. If you stop learning when you take off the mortarboard, you will be left behind in the workplace – even if you own your business! Keep your eyes open. Ask questions and listen to the answers. Ask “how can we…” instead of saying “no” and be a lifelong learner. The world is changing every day and to be truly successful, you have to keep changing every day. 

Learn more about Margaret:


James Gathings

1. A friend of mine that I met around the time I moved to Georgia went to CSU and spoke highly of the university, her experiences, and how compassionate and patient her professors were. She was also a non-traditional student, and I knew that I would have to start college as a non-traditional student, no matter the campus. After registering and going to my classes on campus, I felt like the opportunities I could create here with my professors and peers were limitless due to my non-traditional and integrative experiences. 

As a youth, I’d always wanted to go to Georgia Tech. But as a young adult, I could tell that CSU was going to be a better fit for me and the relationships I wanted to build in college with educators. Essentially, I knew if I brought my talents to Clayton and was willing to learn and be involved on campus, there wouldn’t be any way that I would fail.

2. At CSU, I’ve been able to live out multiple dreams. My first year at CSU, I worked at the Student Activities Center as a personal fitness trainer and group fitness instructor. I was also a film student at Pinewoods Studio, now called Trilith Studios, in Fayetteville. My second and third years, I worked at The Writer’s Studio and founded a 501c-3 nonprofit. But my senior year has been the cherry on top! 

My senior year has been so successful because of the foundation I built over my first three years. During the summer of my senior year, I earned an opportunity to be an intern with the Partnership for Inclusive Innovation. My project through their program allowed me to work with one of my idols – the 61st Mayor of Atlanta, Andre Dickens! That program also allowed me to work with and engage with other high-level leaders who are also now mentors – Commissioner Greg Clay, Dr. Cody Cocchi, Debra Lam, and many others who are a part of the core PIN team and who sit on their board.

3. Too many! The pandemic was during my first couple of years, and I became a father. My biggest challenge thus far has been dividing time between my family and education. But what I learned through my challenges and struggles are that balance and communication can help you sustain and build relationships when things become difficult and you need shoulders to lean on.

4. I’m returning to Clayton in Spring 2024 to pursue my master’s in strategic leadership development, and I plan on establishing myself as a writer and public speaker through participating on different panels.

5. Walking around the lakes on campus after an intense study session in the library. I love going to the library and just being on campus. I’ve never lived on campus, but I’m here so much one would think that I do.

6. Connect with me on LinkedIn @James Gathings and reach out! My LinkedIn page is the quintessential guide for college students, especially at Clayton State, because I use the platform to document my personal and professional development. 

7. There are no limits to what you can achieve at Clayton State! And honestly, I’m not one for “final thoughts” because I’m not hard to find and I always have thoughts.

Learn more about James:


Milani Richardson

1. Before attending CSU, I attended and graduated from Georgia Southern University in December 2022 with my bachelor’s of business administration with an emphasis in human resources. I began my MBA program at Clayton State in January 2023. I initially chose CSU due to its highly ranked MBA program, close proximity to my family, high-quality coursework, and professors, as well as its diverse population of students. 

2. My Laker Experience was unique because I was able to tackle my second degree within a year. It wasn’t easy, but I am very grateful and proud of myself for accomplishing this goal of mine. I met many wonderful and diverse classmates who made my experience memorable. I truly wouldn’t have been able to make it through without them.

3. As I previously stated, I completed my MBA within one year. Needless to say, it was not an easy thing to do. My summer semester was the hardest one to complete. I was taking three online classes, one of them being an accounting course, while trying to enjoy the nice weather with my family. The workload was very time-consuming and I didn’t always understand what I was learning right away. However, by the grace of God, I made it to the end with all A’s. 

4. I am actively job searching now with hopes of becoming a Human Resources Professional. Throughout my career, I hope to be able to gain more skills that will make me a viable employee to many companies. I also hope to become financially independent and travel around the world. 

5. My Leadership and Values class taught by Dr. Melva Robinson is an experience I will remember the most. She taught us how to discover our hidden strengths and apply them to our individual leadership styles. Dr. Robinson is a professor who truly cares about all her students and always takes extra time to help us. I will also always remember the laughs I shared with my fellow classmates as we powered through our classes.

6. I would tell them to never be afraid to ask for help. School is very challenging, but there are several resources available to help us get through, whether it be other students, office hours, or tutoring services. I would also say to take advantage of scholarship opportunities and network as much as you can. You never know who around you can open new doors for you.

7. Overall, my time working on my MBA has been a wonderful experience. I am truly grateful for God opening this door for me, for my parents’ support, and for all the amazing people I have met along the way.

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