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 2022 Commencement ceremonies.
Georgia Southern President Kyle Marrero welcomed the graduates and their guests to the ceremonies, held at the Enmarket Arena in Savannah on Dec. 10 and the Allen E. Paulson Stadium in Statesboro on Dec. 13.
“Congratulations on your special day, where we recognize the importance of this occasion in your life,” said Marrero at the opening ceremony. “I don’t need to tell you about your unique college journey, which has been challenging for all of us, but I’m very proud of how, together, we have persevered, allowing us to have a successful semester and today our commencement ceremony.
“You, our graduates, deserve great recognition. This is a momentous occasion for Georgia Southern University, as well for all of you. Today, you are part of history at Georgia Southern.”
The president then welcomed Deborah Nelson (’90), a national trial lawyer and partner in the Seattle law firm of Nelson Boyd, PLLC, who addressed the crowd.
She acknowledged expectations set for her by her family, which included a straight line from high school to college and then marriage and family.
“I followed a curvy path instead of the linear path that was expected of me,” shared Nelson. “There are chapters in your life, which means the circumstances in your life will change, just as your needs, your interests, your wants, your desires and the people around you will change.
“So today, I’m going to share with you six tips that I learned that I hope will help you as you figure out what comes next. Because although you’re graduating today, you’re not finished learning.”
Nelson suggested that graduates should surround themselves with good people from various backgrounds.
“Make friends with people who are different from you, who look different than you, who grew up somewhere else, who have different experiences, backgrounds and orientations,” she said. “People who have different things to teach you.”
Be kind to people as you travel through all of the chapters of your life, and go the extra mile in your career, she shared. An enhanced career can equate to an enhanced life.
“Set an audacious goal,” Nelson encouraged. As a non-athlete new to Seattle, Nelson joined a team that trains runners.
“I ran three full marathons, 40 half marathons, 24 triathlons and raced in more bike centuries than I can count. I never dreamed I could do any of that.
“What can you do?” she posed.
“Finally, travel, get out of your daily routine, solve problems in a foreign language, and take care of your health and body.
“In conclusion, graduates, when you consider what comes next for you, do you travel a straight, linear path or do you pick the curvy path?” Nelson asked. “I will tell you—pick the curvy path. It’s more interesting and unexpected adventures await you.
“Be open. Say yes. Challenge yourself. Get out of your head. Seek the human connection and surround yourself with real people.”
In Statesboro, Liz Crisafi (’95), the global vice president of marketing for IHG Hotels and Resorts, spoke to the stadium crowd.
“Congratulations to the graduating Class of 2022!” she cheered. “I am a proud Eagle.”
Success, she noted, isn’t predetermined.
“You will determine it,” said Crisafi. “It’s not some magical place that you arrive at when you get to the top of the career ladder. It’s certainly not going to be defined by your job title, your social following, your celebrity or your bank account. And the one thing that I know now is that success will continue to change over time because you will change over time. Your life is going to change over time. So you need to be flexible with your view of it. And there isn’t just one way to be successful.”
Crisafi didn’t know what she wanted to do when she enrolled at Georgia Southern until she took a class with former communications arts professor Kent Murray, who changed her life.
“He pushed me not only to know what I was learning, but why I was learning it,” she recalled. “And I mean really listen and pay attention to what was happening. To trust my intuition and appreciate my creativity. I’d never worked harder, been more fulfilled or pushed out of my comfort zone than when I was here with Professor Murray’s class. Because of him and the rest of the faculty and staff here, I didn’t just earn a degree. I learned life skills.”
She cited failure as the key to success.
“I’ve taken a long and winding road, but when you look at what you have to face, failures are going to be critical to your success,” Crisafi stated. “Early on, we’re taught that failure is not something we discuss. Don’t fail a class. Don’t fail a quiz. Don’t fail at your job. Don’t fail at your dreams. But what we should teach our kids is that failures will be the greatest teachers in your life. It is through failure that you will learn how to succeed.
“You are the architect of your own destiny. Don’t lose enthusiasm and optimism despite your failures. Know you’re building your future and you’re growing into the person that you’re meant to be. And while that’s scary, it’s also very exciting. I got knocked down and I got up again because of the valuable skills that I learned here at Georgia Southern. On Eagle’s wings, you will soar and you will succeed on your terms and yours alone.”