Last week, approximately 4,300 undergraduate and graduate students from Georgia Southern University’s Statesboro, Armstrong and Liberty campuses received associate, baccalaureate, masters, specialist and doctoral degrees in five Spring 2022 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 May 9, 10 and 11 and at the Savannah Convention Center on May 13.
“Graduates, I don’t need to tell you about your unique college journey, which has been challenging for all of us,” said Marrero at the opening ceremony. “I am very proud of how together we have persevered. And today, you deserve great recognition. This is a momentous day for Georgia Southern University and for all of you. You are part of history.”
Before concluding, Marrero asked the graduates to applaud their vast network of support, including family, friends and Georgia Southern’s faculty, the “hallmark of the University.”
Speakers, all of whom are Georgia Southern alumni, included:
- R. Christopher Rustin, DrPH, M.S., REHS (’04, ’13), deputy commissioner for the Georgia Department of Public Health, public health administrator for the Chatham County Health Department
- Travis Greene (’06), pastor and an award-winning gospel artist
- Mike Davis (’01), brand marketer, television producer and media executive for NASCAR
- Shawnte N. Craig (’03), weapon system sustainment analyst for the United States Space Force at the Pentagon
- Deirdre Dixon (’98), CEO of the American Red Cross of Georgia
“As I look out across this sea of soon-to-be graduates I can’t help but remind myself that all of you have attended college during the most challenging times we’ve ever faced as a nation,” said Rustin. “However, you all made it. Congratulations. You are sitting here as a testament to perseverance and a strong desire to achieve your goals.”
On joining the workforce, Rustin offered timeless advice to the students: Dress for the job you want, not the one you have. Look somebody in the eye when talking to them and shake hands firmly. People who do the hard work without complaining get noticed. Have good time management skills. Become an expert in your field. Have diplomacy. Practice true communication with effective speaking and writing skills. Be flexible, look for work-life balance, and find a mentor to show a path to all of these.
“Just know this,” he implored. “Along the way you will fail at something. We all fail at something. I was once told by a mentor that if you haven’t failed at something, you haven’t been successful at something.”
On Tuesday, Greene addressed the crowd with awe.
“This is a big, big deal,” he said. “You guys sitting on this field today overcame so much. I’m not just looking at graduates, but I’m looking at overcomers. Survivors. You guys literally went to college through a pandemic and you overcame it. I’m personally so proud of you.”
Then he told a story about one of the greatest days of his life. A Georgia Southern professor asked him what he wanted to do after graduation and he told her he’d pursue a master’s in business. Instinctively, she felt that wasn’t his calling. “You need to do what you are passionate about, what’s on your heart, what you would do for free,” she told him.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I am begging you,” Greene shared enthusiastically. “I came all the way back to Georgia Southern University to beg you to follow your passion. Don’t worry about the money. If you follow your passion, money will find you. Opportunity will find you. Search for the thing that you would do for free.”
The following day, Davis honed in on five key principles he’s learned since graduating, from an initial unsuccessful job search to becoming a NASCAR media executive.
“Number one, you are your own best self advocate,” he said. “The best way to advocate for yourself, however, is through your work and not through your words. Number two, I want you to know to treat every day like it’s a 24-hour job interview. Treat every day as if the position and the pay has to be earned. It prevents complacency and it keeps you humble.
“Number three, never take yourself too seriously. A sense of humor is not only nice in those trying times, but it’s necessary. Number four, surround yourself with people who love you enough to be honest with you. The worst thing you can do is have people who tell you what you want to hear, but not what you need to hear. Lastly, graduates understand that nobody owes you anything. You have opportunities before you. The person most responsible for your success or failure is the person that you see in the mirror.”
In Savannah, Craig kicked off the morning ceremony.
“First and foremost, be your authentic self,” she told the graduates. “It is very easy to find ourselves by our popularity, our degrees, family, etc. However, you must be true to you in order to fully interact in this world.”
Secondly, she encouraged them to be transparent about their journeys, as they don’t realize who they may inspire. She also asked them to embrace challenges, and to let life’s roller coasters be teaching tools that strengthen them physically, mentally or emotionally.
“Finally, I would really encourage you to find your ‘why,’” Craig concluded. “Select those careers that really speak to who you are, and will motivate you. What speaks to your heart? When you are honest with yourself about that answer, I promise you that will be your true reward.”
Georgia Southern University, a public Carnegie Doctoral/R2 institution founded in 1906, offers approximately 140 different degree programs serving almost 27,000 students through 10 colleges on three campuses in Statesboro, Savannah, Hinesville and online instruction. A leader in higher education in southeast Georgia, the University provides a diverse student population with expert faculty, world-class scholarship and hands-on learning opportunities. Georgia Southern creates lifelong learners who serve as responsible scholars, leaders and stewards in their communities. Visit GeorgiaSouthern.edu.
Video and Photo Links
For videos of Spring 2022 Commencement ceremonies in Savannah click here.
For photos of the Spring 2022 Commencement ceremonies in Statesboro, click here.
For photos of the Spring 2022 Commencement ceremonies in Savannah, click here.
Credit: Courtesy of Georgia Southern University.