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Nickel to Class of 2014: ‘You Are Now Part of History’

05-09-2014

Good morning.

I was going to start by saying, “3 years ago I stood here….then I realized, oops, 3 years ago we were in the gym because I called a rain day.  Richard Vereen and Becky Watts, correct if I am wrong, but I think that was the only graduation ceremony held indoors in the history of Gordon State College!

I do want to say that is good to be back. And I want to thank President Burns for inviting me.  It is so good to see so many people – the faculty and staff who welcomed me for the eighteen months that I was honored to lead this great institution.   You allowed an untenured, un- PhDed, bureaucrat from Atlanta to share your pride in this institution, and what you have built over the past years.  We had a great time. And since then, you have accomplished a great deal.

Bachelors’ degree programs have grown – not only in the number of degrees offered but in the number of students taking advantage of them.  During the time I was here there were 194 students enrolled in them.  This year there are 511!

And 414 students have graduated with a bachelor’s degree since GSC started offering them.  Today, another 122 will be added to those numbers.  This college keeps growing  and getting better.

Gordon now has graduates going straight into graduate schools.  A great example is Chris Childress, a student I met early on, who will graduate with a degree in history and has been accepted into Mercer Law School.   Chris came back to college after having worked for a living for a couple of years.  He chose Gordon for its new History program, and according to him, he is glad that he did. Congratulations Chris and best wishes.  There are others going on to PhD programs – what a legacy you are leaving.  But graduates, whatever your degree you have accomplished something no one can take away from you.  Do something with it.

The College has several outstanding programs and continues to graduate some of the best nurses and teachers in the state. In fact, Gordon State’s Education graduates have a passing rate on the State Teacher Licensing Exam of 96+%.  Way to go.

Another former student, Camillo Caballero, just found out that he has been selected as a National Thomas R. Pickering Fellow by the U.S. Department of State and the National Woodrow Wilson Foundation.  He is set for a career in the Department of State as a Foreign Service Officer.  Camillo we are so proud of you and pleased that you continue to carry the Gordon State College banner with you wherever you go.

The faculty are also doing some amazing things, publishing their research in astronomy – on any given night in Barnesville you may see Dr. Schmude out with his telescope scanning the heavens.   Assistant Professor Theresa Buchanan is working in the community to help eradicate the obesity epidemic. 

Professor Bethany Johnson is doing research in the classroom with her students, which will result in student success.  Gordon faculty take great pride in their teaching, but now some great things are happening in their scholarly work as well.

I also see that there are some new buildings on the horizon – a student center and an addition to the Hightower library.  George, you must be happy about that.

My time here at Gordon was one of the best times of my life.  I am so proud of all the great things that are happening here and pleased that I can say that I am part of its history. 

Graduates, you are now part of its history.  Later today you will be able to reflect on your time here and what it means to you and your future.

I want to take the next few minutes to speak directly to the graduates.  I know you are anxious to get your hands on that sheepskin. ( I hope you know it isn’t really sheepskin.)

But I want to tell you three things:

#1  Think, but allow yourself mistakes.

Thinking is having an opinion.  It is to reason about or reflect on; to ponder.

You’ve been thinking a lot. It takes a lot of thinking to get through college.  But mostly you have been thinking about others’ thoughts and ideas.  Now it is your time to think about what you have learned and apply it to your life.

You are ready to set the world on fire.  But, hold on a minute…“What do you make of all of this?” “How do you now look at the world around you?  You have the tools, now you need to build the toolbox.

Soak it all in.  Look around you.  Take advice, don’t just listen to it.  Talk to people who are doing things that you want to do.  Observe children.  Watch how they learn. They will teach you something.  Have a conversation with your grandparents and think about what they are telling you about their lives and the changes that have occurred in their lifetimes.

Listen to a lecture or news story that you think you disagree with, and then really think about it without getting angry.  Discover the unfamiliar. 

But, even with all that thinking, you will make some mistakes.  After a few years of being on my own I discovered that usually once a year I spend money on something stupid.  I mean really stupid.  Now I consider myself well-educated, and a thinker. But I can be stupid.  Yes, I got talked into buying a years’ subscription to a buyers club. I never used it.  $500 dollars down the drain. And yup, I paid another $500 to be listed in the “Who’s Who of Timbuktu”.  Too much thinking, not enough listening.

So on to the second message: listen to your gut.

You know, the best thing about your gut is that it will tell you if it quacks like a duck and walks like a duck, it probably is a duck.  There isn’t much thinking here.  It is a gut feeling.  You probably are thinking to yourself right now.  Oh yes, I remember when I didn’t study for that test, or I lied to my mother about who I was hanging out with, your gut was telling you to something different, right?
  
My best example of not going with my gut was a job offer. I was offered a great job as the budget officer at a great university, making a lot of money. I took the job, but for all the wrong reasons.  On the first day, I walked into the office, which was in the basement of an old building, and all of I sudden I felt like I was smacked right in the face.  I was going to work in a dungeon?  I am a big picture kinda girl; someone who likes to see the whole of things, not just the pieces.  I realized that I hadn’t been listening to my gut. I knew I was not a fit for this job.

Getting out of that was truly eating humble pie.  I thought about how to tell this new boss, who had given me everything I asked for that I needed to un-accept the position.  I had a hard talk with both my old and new employers and the old one took me back, and the new one still speaks to me.  The only lasting scar is that I am known on that college campus as the Bobby Cremins of the budget world.  Those of you with long memories know that Bobby Cremins, Georgia Tech’s basketball coach accepted the top coaching job at South Carolina and then changed his mind 3 days later, and stayed at Tech.

So, what is number 3?  Don’t take yourself so seriously.

Some people tell me I have a warped sense of humor.  And they are probably right.  But a long time ago, I decided that since big girls don’t cry, I was going to find ways to laugh at myself and to find the humor in situations that didn’t exactly turn out the way I wanted them to.
Finding humor is not the same as not living in the real world.  It is living in the real world and realizing that your mistakes will not make the world stop, and the fact that you even thought that is laughable.

During my career in state government, there have been several instances where a couple of missteps here or there could be career ending or at least wind up in an embarrassing newspaper article.   You can’t let all that pressure get to you.  Inevitably things will go wrong.  And my advice is to keep reminding yourself that life is funny.  It has twists and turns but you will always wind up in the right place if you think and listen to your gut.
 
I have a wonderful life. I like to think that I keep things in perspective.  I don’t get too full of myself even though I am the commencement speaker for one of the best colleges in Georgia. Remembering that to laugh at your mistakes – the ones you made with your eyes wide open is a really good way to realize how silly life can be.

I want to thank you all for listening to me today. I congratulate the graduates and wish you the best.  I thank the friends and family members who are here to celebrate your success.  Remember to thank them for their help. I also want to thank the faculty and staff of GSC who make this place special.

In closing, as the great philosopher Yogi Berra said, “You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there.”

Thank you.