GGC graduates more than 270, celebrates firsts, bids farewell to president

Georgia Gwinnett College graduated more than 270 students today at its spring commencement. About 2,500 people attended the ceremony, which was held on the college’s lawn.

Flickr photo gallery of Spring 2013 commencement

Today's ceremony brings GGC’s total alumni to about 1,200. Jose Armendariz was recognized as the college’s 1000th graduate amidst cheers from the audience.

This ceremony also included two new milestones for the college. Katheryn Nikolich is the college’s first graduate to receive a double major. She graduated with a BA in history and political science. Blair Sanders is the first to receive a double degree – a BA in English and a BS in information technology. Both students graduated magna cum laude.

Also graduating was Seijin Tranberg, Georgia Gwinnett’s first Fulbright Scholar. He will spend a year in South Korea through the Fulbright program, after which he plans to pursue a graduate degree. He graduated magna cum laude in political science with a concentration in international relations.

Sarah Jackson spoke on behalf of her fellow graduates, reflecting on her experiences at Georgia Gwinnett while pursuing her degree in business administration.

“I have climbed my mountain, but I could not have done it alone,” she said. “So many people have made a difference in my life during this journey and I am often reminded that though we are all individuals, we are connected as local communities and as a world. We all can make an impact.”

Andrew Young, former U.N. ambassador and former mayor of Atlanta, was the ceremony’s keynote speaker. He reflected on his own college graduation, 62 years ago.

“It was the most miserable time of my life,” he said. “I was supposed to be a man and have it all figured out, but I was afraid.” Later, he came to realize that, “The very things that made me afraid shaped my life. All of the stumbling blocks placed before me became stepping stones.”

Young advised the graduates to “find a life” because they “were not put on this Earth without a purpose.”

The renowned civil rights leader also included encouraging and inspirational social commentary in his remarks.

“The one need of this nation is truly great people, and as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, ‘everyone can be great.’” Young recognized former University System of Georgia Regent Eldridge McMillan as an example of the “many unknown and nameless human beings who are the salt of the Earth and the light of the world” in their service to their fellow man – in McMillan’s case to his long-time service to higher education.

Young encouraged the graduates to choose spouses wisely, and to build strong families. He also strongly recommended that they pursue the virtue of civility.

“We are different,” Young said. “In our differences lie our strengths. The other person’s point of view is just as important as your own.”

The ceremony also marked the last one for Dr. Daniel J. Kaufman, Georgia Gwinnett’s founding president. He will become president of the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce, effective July 1, after almost eight years leading the creation of the college from scratch, and from 118 students in 2006 to today’s 9,400.

“Our president has brought us to this point with passion, vision, integrity, fortitude and a strong determination to succeed,” said Dr. Stas Preczewski, vice president for Academic and Student Affairs and incoming interim president. “It is simply impossible to adequately describe the significance of President Kaufman’s role in building this institution, or the strength of his leadership, or the incredible inspiration of his vision for the future of higher education.”  The graduating seniors honored Kaufman with an enthusiastic standing ovation.

In his final remarks, Kaufman advised the graduates that their contributions will not be based on credentials, but on the application of their talents for the benefit of their fellow citizens and communities. He challenged them to be lifelong learners and doers.

“Make your world what it needs to be,” he said. “There is no shortage of challenges. Do not be deterred. You know how to imagine, how to anticipate, how to create. You did it here. Now go do it to your world.” Kaufman reflected on his words at the college’s opening ceremony in 2006, where he cited Irish poet William Butler Yeats comment that “education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”

Kaufman thanked the college community for helping him to light his own fire, and for the privilege of serving as their colleague. He concluded the ceremony with his trademark farewell, “Now go be great. Good luck, Godspeed and go Grizzlies.” 

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