“Put something back,” U.S. Sen. Jack Reed tells GGC graduates

U.S. Sen. Jack Reed (D-Rhode Island) delivered the keynote address at Georgia Gwinnett College’s 2010 spring commencement ceremony, held this evening at 7 p.m.

U.S. Sen. Jack Reed (D-Rhode Island) delivered the keynote address at Georgia Gwinnett College’s 2010 spring commencement ceremony, held this evening at 7 p.m.

Speaking from a stage encircled by the College’s signature building, Reed addressed a crowd of about 900 relatives, friends and special guests. He acknowledged GGC’s approach to higher education.

“On this campus of tomorrow, you have been educated to be the leaders of tomorrow,” Reed said. “Georgia Gwinnett College is not just the sum of its technology or its facilities or even the academic skills of its faculty and students. It is something more because of the vision of this college and its president. A vision that recognizes that technology and talent alone cannot succeed when character fails.”

Taking a life lesson from his experience as a father to three-year-old daughter, Reed framed his message to the graduates around the simple concept of, “If you take something out, put it back.”

“If you have received from this extraordinary school, not just a degree, but an education; not just a collection of memories but lifelong friends; not just a job but a vocation that excites you and challenges your mind and your spirit, then you’ve got to put something back,” Reed said, advising the students to support GGC in its mission to educate men and women of conscience and character to meet the challenges of a global economy and a global society.

“If you have received the unconditional love of parents, grandparents, foster parents, brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles, and you would not be here without it, you have to put something back,” Reed continued. “You have to repay their generosity and wisdom by using your talents to build strong families and strong communities like they did.”

Reed also asked the graduates to give back to society and their country, specifically naming five seniors with records of military and Department of Defense service: Paul Barton, Margaret Coy, Stanley Littrell, Daniel Rau and Raymond Wiggins.

“If you have taken the blessings of this great country, with all the controversies and, in some cases, contradictions of our lively experience in Democracy, and I know you have, you have to put it back,” he said, honoring the five students as “as exemplars of this College’s commitment to talent and character and to service beyond oneself.”

Reed advised the graduates to serve, “…not necessarily as soldiers, but certainly as citizens: defending our rights but also shouldering our responsibilities, being part of our community, using our talent and ambition to get ahead but not ignoring those who might be left behind.”

GGC’s spring graduating class of 2010 is its largest thus far, numbering 69 students and bringing the young college’s total alumni to more than 180. Degrees conferred included bachelors in business administration, psychology, biology, information technology. As the students enter a challenging workforce, Reed shared some insight on the value of their education.

“You are entering a world that is continually being transformed through the complex interaction of technology and commerce and political and social forces,” Reed said. “At the core of this transformative process is education. Higher education is the incubator of ideas that form the basis of technological advancement and social and cultural adaptation. And, higher education is also the best source of the knowledge and perspective that we need, as individuals and as a Nation, to cope with change and its consequences … In America, access to education, especially higher education, is the engine of opportunity.”

Reed was invited to speak to the graduates earlier this year by his long-time friend and GGC’s President Daniel J. Kaufman, a retired Army brigadier general. Reed and Dr. Kaufman have known each other since meeting as students at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Their careers later intersected at West Point, where they both held academic positions.

Kaufman conferred the students’ degrees, leading them through the traditional move of their tassels from the right to the left sides of their mortarboards. He advised the students to avoid resting on their laurels.

“We call this commencement, because it represents the beginning. You cannot be satisfied with what you have accomplished,” he said. “Commit yourselves to being lifelong learners and doers … Go be great.”

The 2010 spring commencement marked the College’s fifth graduation ceremony since opening its doors in 2006 to 118 students. The College received accreditation in 2009 by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).

With a 2010 spring semester enrollment of 3,400, GGC is growing dramatically. About 5,000 students are expected for fall semester, when the College’s new residence halls, student center and library and learning center will open. The spring graduation of 2011 will involve GGC’s first full, four-year class.

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