Georgia Gwinnett College graduates nearly 480
Georgia Gwinnett College (GGC) celebrated nearly 480 graduates at its fall semester commencement ceremony, held today at the Infinite Energy Arena.
The ceremony featured the conferral of the college’s first honorary degree to Thomas P. “Tommy” Hughes, prominent Gwinnett community leader and businessman. He has served as a charter member of the Foundation Board and chair for more than five years, and was one of several Gwinnett community figures who worked to ensure that a four-year college was established in this county.
“This community has been forever changed by Tommy’s leadership and vision for its future,” said GGC President Stas Preczewski. “Without his vision, combined with other visionary Gwinnett leaders, GGC would simply not exist.” He also reminded the graduates that Hughes had been elected to a municipal board of commissioners at age 23. “He is a shining example of how you are never too young to make a lasting, transformative mark on your community.”
In his remarks, Preczewski recognized Marteisha Kemp, the first recipient of a GGC bachelor’s degree in human development and aging services, one of two programs recently added in answer to local employment needs and opportunities. He also congratulated history major Margaret Thomas on completing her bachelor’s degree 51 years after she first attended college.
Jessica Sok, an information technology major, was honored as GGC’s University System of Georgia Outstanding Scholar. She was recognized earlier this year as part of the state legislature’s Academic Recognition Day.
Preczewski reflected on how far GGC has come in the 10 years since it celebrated its first graduating class in 2008. The college has grown from a few hundred students to more than 12,000, and from just under 50 alumni to nearly 6,400. Business major Kimberly Lacey was acknowledged as GGC’s 6,000th graduate. She will be recognized at a future GGC Alumni Association event.
Charlotte Nash, chair of the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners, presented the ceremony’s keynote address.
She reminisced about how her parents, neither of whom attended college, worked multiple jobs to enable their children to pursue a college education. Through their hard work and perseverance, three generations of their descendants are successful college graduates.
“Dare to dream audaciously about the possibilities, especially those that may seem out of reach,” said Nash. “For poor country folks like my parents, college for their daughters was an outlandish goal. It was a real stretch, but we grow much more by stretching to reach what seems impossible than by accepting what is safe.”
Speaking on behalf of the graduates was Justin Lunt, an exercise science major, who encouraged his classmates to be independent and persistent, but to also realize that no one goes it alone.
A deputy sheriff with 15 years of experience with the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office, he suffered a traumatic brain injury while on duty in 2014. Lunt was working a road closure on I-85 when a driver collided with Lunt’s vehicle at 75 mph. The teen had been distracted by his phone.
“Folks, do not text and drive,” Lunt advised the audience.
Lunt thanked his family for never giving up on him during his recovery. He then discussed his SWAT team training, focusing on how no one ever enters a room or structure alone. He likened this support to that provided to his classmates by GGC faculty.
“My GGC professors had my six. They always encouraged me, pushed me, and challenged me to do better, yet were understanding and compassionate,” Lunt said. “They never let up on me because they wanted me to grow not only academically, but also as a person … after all, a diamond does not become a diamond without applying intense heat and pressure.”
Lunt told his fellow graduates to remember that sometimes they will be the ones helping and sometimes they will be the ones needing help.
“Do not be so prideful that you do not allow others to help you, but at the same time, never expect anyone to give you a handout,” said Lunt.