Dr. C. Thomas Hopkins, chair of the University System of Georgia Board of Regents, delivered the commencement address to graduates of Gordon State College Friday morning.
An estimated 3,000 people gathered on Lambdin Green at the center of campus to watch as 315 graduates, faculty members and administrators marched to their seats led by Piper Michael Grest and Dr. Andrew Osborne, Grand Marshal. The piper is a long-held tradition for Gordon graduations and nods to its Scottish roots while the Grand Marshal carries the Mace that contains Gordon's official seal.
Hopkins told the graduates that their education was an investment.
"You, together with your parents and your family, are not the only ones who have made an investment in your college education," Hopkins said. "The citizens of Georgia have also invested in you, because the college graduates of this state represent the future of Georgia."
"Even as you invest your time and energy in building your careers, you will be building our economy and helping our state and its communities to thrive. But it is important to understand that 'earning' by itself is not 'living.'
"Your degree is more than just an item of currency to be traded on the job market," he said. "The largest investment of your life - the grand challenge, if you will - should be to develop yourself as a person.
Among Friday's graduates were four area high school students enrolled in Gordon's Move on When Ready program. MOWR gives high school students an opportunity to jump start their college education while still in high school. Each student was awarded an Associate degree with three awarded Summa Cum Laude - with highest honors. The students were Lamar County residents Riley Behre Fuller and Brannon David Waller, both Summa Cum Laude, Peyton Alexandra Lewis, Henry County, Summa Cum Laude and Jordan Danielle Smith, Butts County.
Among Friday's graduates was Chastity Smith who graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education/Special Education degree.
"We are very proud of her," said her parents Janice and Ricky. "This is a big accomplishment especially after she was delayed in completing her education because of medical issues."
After the main ceremony, graduates of the nursing program held an emotional pinning ceremony during which they also lit their Nightingale lamps.
"Never give up, never stop learning," Anne Purvis, Dean of the School of Nursing and Health Sciences, told the 31 graduates.
Graduates honored during the ceremony were Mitzi Oden, Clinical Excellence; Penny Hawkins for overall Excellence in Nursing and Lauren Berger for Outstanding Perseverance.
Gordon graduated a total of 650 students this academic year in ceremonies held at the conclusion of Fall and Spring semesters.