South Georgia State College celebrated its graduates during commencement ceremonies on the Douglas Campus on May 13, 2021. Family members and friends gathered in the Wellness Center gymnasium to cheer on a portion of the 446 SGSC graduates from summer and fall 2020 and spring 2021. Among the total number of graduates were 93 receiving bachelor degrees from one of SGSC’s eight baccalaureate programs, including the first cohort of teacher education graduates, and 20 dual enrollment students receiving associate degrees a few days shy of their respective high school graduations.
Dr. Morris Leis, superintendent of Coffee County Schools, served as the commencement speaker for the morning ceremony. Dr. Leis not only has ties to SGSC through three generations of family members who have attended the college, but also in his role as superintendent. His support was instrumental in securing the new bachelor of science in elementary education and special education program in 2019 as well as establishing opportunities for SGSC education students in classrooms throughout the system working with mentor teachers.
Throughout his career, Dr. Leis has found setting goals and having good character are very important. He shared with the graduates, “Earning a degree is something no one can take away from you. Completing a degree will open doors that might not have otherwise been available.” Dr. Leis emphasized that in the process, character matters. He said, “Your actions will determine how well you will be able to use the degree.”
Dr. Leis also talked of the significance of the teacher education program to the community. He has found the rigor of the program and the quality education the students receive are a credit to the SGSC faculty and staff. He expressed his appreciation to SGSC for preparing the next generation of teachers for school systems in the area or wherever the students may teach. Dr. Leis concluded by sharing knowledge he has learned along the way, not only for the teacher candidates but for all the graduates, “You can be smarter than anyone in the room, have more knowledge than those around you, but if you cannot develop fruitful relationships with others, life can be a struggle.” He encouraged them to develop relationships, to do the right things and to stay in the community if possible for their careers. “Your degree will open doors, but it will be up to you to see the degree is put to good use to achieve success,” he explained.
Dr. Katrina Keefer, executive vice president for Health & Affairs and CEO for Augusta University Health System, spoke at the evening ceremony. She recognized the resiliency of not only the graduates reaching this point, but also the faculty who have had to make significant changes so the students could finish and earn their degrees.
Dr. Keefer shared her story of how she moved from college graduate to her current role. She encouraged the students to realize the path they take, whether traditional or not, is theirs to make. Dr. Keefer expressed the value of getting the most of the college experience. She said, “Don’t focus on just one single lecture in college but rather, consider the entire college experience in the classrooms, during internships or in conversations with others.” She challenged the graduates to be generous with their time and talents and never let the years pass without giving back to the college. She said, “It’s important to give back so other students can have the same opportunities you’ve been given.” Dr. Keefer encouraged the graduates to follow their own path and find their way to success.
As part of the ceremonies, SGSC President Dr. Ingrid Thompson-Sellers shared key academic and athletic accomplishments from the 2020-2021 academic year. Highlighting the year was the approval of the new bachelor of science in mechanical engineering technology degree, beginning fall semester 2021. This program brings the number of baccalaureate degrees for SGSC to eight. Dr. Scott Thigpen was recognized for being acknowledged nationally for maintaining CCRN® certification offered through AACN Certification Corporation for 30 years, a significant milestone in the nursing profession. Phi Theta Kappa students Kara Clark and Carlos Hernandez were recognized as All-Georgia Academic Team nominees. The Hawks basketball team was recognized as the GCAA District 1, Region 17 and Southeast District Champions as well as for the team’s appearance in the national tournament. Congratulations were also given to the SGSC Theatre program as the production, “Expressions,” received the Citizen Artist award from the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival in the spring. Special recognition and congratulations were given to the inaugural cohort of graduates in the bachelor of science in elementary and special education degree program.
Dr. Sellers extended her congratulations to the graduates. “At South Georgia State College, our vision is to prepare and graduate students who will accomplish their career goals and lead the region to economic success. We are proud of our mission and the strong economic impact we are making in southeast Georgia. We prepare students to compete in a global society and be successful professionally and personally in life,” she said. “Despite the challenges with recovering from a period of loss, pandemic, social unrests, divisiveness, political change and destructive stormy weather, we made it through, and we all have a story to tell. I encourage you to go forth and write your own story using what you have gained at your now alma mater, South Georgia State College.”