This week, approximately 2,100 undergraduate and graduate students from Georgia Southern University’s Statesboro, Armstrong and Liberty campuses received associate, baccalaureate, master’s, specialist and doctoral degrees in two Fall 2023 Commencement ceremonies.
Georgia Southern President Kyle Marrero welcomed the graduates and their guests to the ceremonies, held at the Allen E. Paulson Stadium in Statesboro on Dec. 14. and the Enmarket Arena in Savannah on Dec. 16.
“Graduates, congratulations on your special day, where we recognize the importance of this occasion in your life,” Marrero said. “You, our graduates, deserve great recognition.”
He then asked graduates to take a moment of appreciation to recognize those who have helped them along the way, and wave to family and friends in the audience who were there to celebrate their accomplishments, to which the groups responded enthusiastically. He also commended faculty, a hallmark of the University.
“This graduation is a momentous occasion for Georgia Southern University, as well as for all of you. Today, you are part of history at Georgia Southern,” he offered.
During the Statesboro ceremony, alumnus and former Georgia Southern chemistry professor and Executive Director of Leadership, Emeritus, Todd Deal, Ph.D., (’86) followed Marrero with an address.
“Grads, today you step into an elite company,” he said. “Less than 10% of the world’s population holds a college degree. And in just a few short minutes you’ll move your tassel and join that elite group. May I implore you today: Don’t dwell on the elite name in part of that transition. Instead, step up, step out and own your role. Because as a college graduate, you are a leader and people are looking to you, expecting great things. So how will you step up, step out and meet those expectations?”
Reflecting on his own experience as a young man from South Georgia who was the first in his family to graduate college, he remembered wondering how he might become a leader upon graduation. How could he be so bold?
“Serve,” he said. “How does one serve well? First, let your focus be on others and meeting their legitimate needs. As you focus on others, help them grow. Help them develop and realize their strengths. Work to build their confidence and to reach their potential, focusing on their legitimate needs. You help them become the best versions of themselves. And in so doing, you serve well.”
Deal also encouraged them to build, foster, engage and emphasize community, and to take others with them on their journeys.
“The community where you live and work should be a better place because you are there,” he shared. “And in bringing that aspiration to life, you serve well.”
Finally, listen, he said. Actively seek out conversations with people who think differently, and who look and live differently. Ask them about themselves, their aspirations and their communities, and listen deeply to what they say and the feelings they convey.
“As you do, you serve well.”
In Savannah, Quadruple Eagle and nationally recognized social worker Jackie Brown-Pinkney, Ed.D., (‘93,’04,’06,’15), delivered a rousing speech to the graduates.
“Graduates, as you receive your degrees today, please reflect on the incredible transformation that has occurred within each of you during your time at Georgia Southern University,” she said. “You have grown intellectually, personally and emotionally.”
She recalled sitting in their seat, with a case of imposter syndrome that she was able to eventually overcome. She challenged them to think broadly.
“Where there is disappointment, choose to believe,” Brown-Pickney encouraged. “Never underestimate the power of perseverance. You will face obstacles in life and success doesn’t always come instantly. Remember, that the most meaningful achievements often result from overcoming obstacles and persevering through adversity. When you encounter challenges, don’t be disheartened. Pivot and view them as an opportunity to learn, adapt and grow.”
Equally as important, “Where there is hatred, let love prevail. Cultivate empathy and compassion in a world filled with diverse perspectives and experiences. It’s critical to approach each interaction with kindness and understanding. Empathy not only bridges the divide, but also fuels personal growth. Remember, every person that you meet has a unique story. They have their own struggles and they have their own dreams. Extend and lend a listening ear, and embrace the power of empathy to create a more inclusive and compassionate world.”
Finally, where there is complacency, choose to embrace change and adaptability.
The world is constantly evolving, she noted. Be open to new ideas and innovative solutions. What will change will be an opportunity to learn, grow and contribute to the betterment of society. Your capacity to adapt will be the cornerstone of your success in the future.
“As you leave this place today, remember that you are not just graduates but ambassadors of change,” Brown-Pinkney concluded. “Catalysts for progress and seekers of knowledge. The future is uncertain. But you have the tools to shape it positively and your impact can be profound. Pursue your passion and make the world a better place just because you are in it. Congratulations, graduates. The world eagerly awaits the imprint that you leave on it. Peace and blessings to you on your remarkable journey.”