Gordon State College Honors 2020 Graduates in a Virtual Commencement Ceremony

Throwing a mortarboard into the air or flipping a tassel from right to left as degrees are conferred are two age-old traditions marking commencement ceremonies. They are enthusiastic symbols which represent the joy of completing an important academic milestone. But commencement is more than just throwing a cap into the air, dressing up or being handed a piece of paper. It’s about celebrating individual achievements with friends, family and teachers who’ve shared the journey

This year’s journey was unlike any convocation celebration at Gordon State College. With the rise of COVID 19 throughout the state, and in light of safety and health concerns, GSC, like many other University System of Georgia colleges and universities, recognized its 2020 graduates Tuesday evening, December 15, 2020, in a Zoom-powered virtual ceremony. 

With the traditional sound of bagpipes introducing the program, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. C. Jeffrey Knighton welcomed and congratulated students who earned a combined total of 275 degrees this summer and fall. “This has been such a difficult year for our graduates, yet they persevered,” he said. “We are so proud of their accomplishments and look forward to all they will accomplish as Highlanders.”  

GSC President Dr. Kirk A. Nooks provided words of wisdom, referring to the wisdom of King Solomon of Israel, who encouraged his people to discern between good and evil. Solomon became famous for his wisdom, and Dr. Nooks encouraged graduates to stand in the gap between good and evil, work together, change the narrative, rely on good judgment and implement, what he said is “YOUR Highlander EDGE.” These are qualities that set Gordon State graduates apart: Engaged Innovators, Dedicated Scholars, Gifted Communicators, Ethical Leaders.  

After a musical selection from Dr. J. Xavier Carteret, director of Choral and Vocal Activities, Dr. Knighton returned to present 69 associate degree and 105 baccalaureate degree candidates who ranged in age from 17 to 65. Thirty-eight percent of graduates were adult learners and 13 percent of them graduated with honors. After Dr. Nooks conferred their degrees, the audience was treated to a slideshow which showcased individual photos and designated academic pathways. It was a jubilant end to a year filled with uncertainty for many graduates.

“It feels unreal completing just my first degree because it’s been one ride full of ups and downs. On top of that, completing it through a pandemic is a blessing. I wanted to give up on several occasions, but I kept going. I’m not done with college yet. I plan on getting my bachelor's and master's soon, and to eventually become a licensed counselor,” said Kierra Cooper-Williams after the ceremony.  

Jeremy Monroe, coordinator of Student Life and Recreation as well as Alumni Affairs and Annual Giving, led the second part of the convocation event. Along with area deans, he welcomed the new class of GSC alumni.

Kathryn Claxton Green, Alumni Board Chair, congratulated the new graduates. “You are Highlanders,” she said. “Your connection doesn’t end with graduation. Be proud of what you’ve achieved. Give back. Stay involved, develop connections, volunteer and keep pushing Highlanders forward for generations to come.” Her words were echoed by other Alumni board members, many of whom represent generations of alums. Their collective message spoke to a common core of values and a lasting legacy.

“Win with humility and look for ways to help others,” said Alumni Board member and former Atlanta Public School teacher Tommy Torbert. “Don’t let loss define who you are. Look for ways to help others. Pay it forward. Do something to help someone and, in turn, you will help yourself.”

Dr. Tonya Moore, director of Career Services, shared an informative slide presentation outlining next steps in the process, encouraging graduates to connect, grow and serve – building a career while making a difference.

The evening ended with a toast from Dr. and Mrs. Nooks. He encouraged graduates to stay in touch and to return to campus next spring to participate in honoring the 2021 graduates. “I am so delighted to see that our graduates reached another milestone. This required a significant investment of time, resources and perseverance. They did not shy away from the challenge. They moved forward into it like Highlanders do.”

GSC offers 11 four-year degrees and 16 associate-level degrees, which include multiple baccalaureate pathways for students. With an enrollment of over 3,000 students, GSC offers an intimate academic setting in state-of-the-art classrooms and laboratories. In this setting, students receive individualized attention that only a small college with dedicated faculty and staff can provide.

Founded in 1852, GSC is a member of the University System of Georgia with a distinctive legacy of excellent scholarship and service.