GGC graduates almost 200, sets new record

Almost 200 Georgia Gwinnett College seniors celebrated the completion of their college education today at a commencement ceremony on the campus’ main lawn. This graduating class is GGC’s largest so far, hinting at even larger graduating classes to come.

Almost 200 Georgia Gwinnett College seniors celebrated the completion of their college education today at a commencement ceremony on the campus’ main lawn. This graduating class is GGC’s largest so far, hinting at even larger graduating classes to come.

“As we pass the four-year mark for our first, smaller freshman classes of 2007-09, we will begin graduating much larger groups of students,” said GGC President Daniel J. Kaufman.  The trend is already clear. It took five and a half years to produce 500 graduates as of the December 2011 commencement. This number has now increased by 40 percent – in only one semester.

One of today’s graduates is Kaveh Vakili, who was born in Iran to a family that was part of a religious group repressed by the Iranian government. Individuals practicing the Baha’i faith were not allowed to pursue higher education or obtain many types of jobs. Vakili’s parents wanted their three sons to have a brighter future, specifically including higher education, so they came to the U.S. as refugees about 12 years ago.

The move was challenging, as Vakili spoke no English when his family arrived in Atlanta. He tried other  colleges but was not successful. He transferred to Georgia Gwinnett, where he persevered and completed his bachelor’s degree in business administration. He also found many opportunities to participate in student life activities and develop his leadership skills. Known around campus for his infectious enthusiasm, he led the formation of the GGC Dragon Boat Team Club and served as president of the Marketing Club.

“President Kaufman says that education is not confined to the four walls of a classroom, and I believe that, too,” he said, citing his extracurricular activities as a key to the success he experienced at GGC.

Vakili’s leadership is one of the reasons he was one of 10 Georgia students selected to present parts of “Let My People Go,” a litany of commemoration included in the nationally televised, official 2012 Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Service.

“I believe in challenging myself and pursuing opportunities to broaden myself as a person,” Vakili said. “I love this school. It’s given me a chance when other schools would not.”

The ceremony’s keynote address was presented by Debra Smithart-Oglesby, chairman of the board of directors for Denny’s, Inc., America’s largest full-service family dining restaurant chain with more than 1,650 locations and system-wide sales of $2.4 billion.

In her comments, Smithart-Oglesby struck a powerful chord with the graduates, describing her challenges as a young uneducated mother who had dropped out of high school and struggled for many years before her efforts to improve her life began to pay off. After earning her GED, she tackled every challenge she could, continually building upon her skills and education until she found herself, much to her own surprise, more successful than she had ever dreamed possible.

“You must learn to trust that you can rely on yourself,” she said. She encouraged the graduates to see every job as an opportunity to learn more and expand their skills, because their experiences would open many doors for them. She also advised them not to tarry in their job search, but to see the search as their job. “Do not wait. Get started.”

The application deadline for GGC’s 2012 fall semester is June 1.

Photo gallery of Spring 2012 commencement

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