This week, approximately 2,100 undergraduate and graduate students from Georgia Southern University’s Statesboro, Armstrong and Liberty campuses received associate, baccalaureate, masters, specialist and doctoral degrees in five Fall 2020 Commencement ceremonies.

In the first in-person commencement ceremonies in a year, Georgia Southern President Kyle Marrero welcomed the socially distanced graduates and their families to the University’s Fall Commencement ceremonies, held at the Savannah Convention Center in Savannah on Dec. 13, and the Allen E. Paulson Stadium in Statesboro on Dec. 16 and 17. He extended his personal congratulations to the graduates on their academic achievements. 

“I want to say how nice it is to see you all here today together and in person to celebrate Eagle Nation,” Marrero said. “I don’t need to tell you that this year has been challenging for all of us, but I am proud of how we have persevered together to have a successful semester and today, our Commencement ceremony. You, our graduates, deserve this recognition. This graduation is a momentous occasion indeed for Georgia Southern University, as well as for all of you. Today, you are part of Georgia Southern history.” 

Former City of Hinesville Mayor and retired Green Beret Officer James “Jim” Thomas Jr. joined the stage in Savannah.

“I know you’ve worked hard to get where you are today and I applaud you for it,” Thomas told the graduates. “You are our hope for the future. 

We are going through a period that I’ve never seen in my lifetime. I believe that in the worst times we can find a way forward. You will find that way forward for us. You’re graduating at a time when we need you as a nation. We need your new ideas. We need your youth. We need the education you received here at Georgia Southern.” 

Rain during Wednesday’s 10 a.m. ceremony didn’t damper spirits as Emmy Award-winning journalist and alumnus Skyler Henry (‘11) addressed the graduates. 

“Congratulations. You’ve made it. You can applaud for that,” he said with a smile. “Class of 2020, you have made it in a year that has been anything but certain. You’ve managed to persevere in a year when so many have lost so much. You’ve gained something so invaluable in that degree and the experience that you’ve had over the last four years.” 

On moving into the professional world, he encouraged authenticity and vision.

“Own your narrative. There’s only one you. Never apologize for who you are….Stay healthy. Stay curious. And most importantly, stay focused,” he said.

On Thursday morning, physician Dr. Kain Weaver (‘14), drew on a familiar pandemic abbreviation to share relatable life lessons. 

“When life is getting rough, I want you to remember the word COVID,” he said. “C – Control your thoughts. Positive only. O – One step at a time. V – Value your friends and family and accept their support. I – Ignore negativity. D – Do not give up. 

So, Class of 2020, congrats again on your achievements and I hope you COVID on through the next phases of your life.”

In the closing ceremony, Teresa MacCartney (‘99, ‘01), executive vice chancellor of administration at the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia, spoke to graduates from the Jack N. Averitt College of Graduate Studies. 

“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do for a career and never thought I’d spend my entire career in state government,” MacCartney shared. “It turns out, I love what I do. I’ve had incredible opportunities and it all started on this campus. What I learned at Georgia Southern was critical. It gave me a foundation to build my career on. In my experience, graduate degrees represent a mental dexterity and practical approach this world sorely needs. And you should be proud of achieving this. My question is what are you going to do with it?

“On whatever path you take you will likely be on a path to mentor others, to guide and to counsel those who will naturally look up to you. Those are opportunities where your education will allow you to have the most impact. Take the time to work with people and share your knowledge. Be that person who everyone wants to learn from. 

Always remember that you are a Georgia Southern graduate. It is what sets up apart from others. Georgia Southern has created a foundation for you and I hope you build upon what you’ve learned here as you take on the world. Remember that the difference between who you are and who you want to be is what you do.” 

As all of the ceremonies wrapped up, Marrero invited students to move their tassels from right to left and stand for a rendition of the University’s Alma Mater as new graduates.