Georgia Gwinnett College awarded more than 470 bachelors degrees at todays commencement ceremony, held on the colleges campus. An estimated 5,000 attended.
This ceremony included several firsts for Georgia Gwinnett. The college graduated 23 members of its charter nursing class, more of whom will graduate later this year.
Jordan Hunter of Dacula was awarded the colleges first chemistry degree.
Alicia Griffiths of Loganville and Ashleigh Simmons of Lawrenceville became GGCs first female ROTC cadets to be commissioned U.S. Army officers. They joined fellow cadets Andrew Lee and Adam Robes, both of Lawrenceville, in taking a public oath of office during the commencement ceremony. The four cadets more than double GGCs total commissioned officers. GGCs founding president and retired U.S. Army brigadier general, Dr. Daniel J. Kaufman, presented the keynote address at the ROTC programs formal commissioning ceremony held earlier in the morning.
Jordan Rudnicki, a Dacula resident and nursing major, spoke on behalf of all graduating seniors.
The atmosphere of this college has taught us to look beyond tradition and ask what we can do to make things better, said Rudnicki. Class of 2016, be proud of your hard work and accomplishments to reach this college graduation, but dont stop here. The progress we have each made over the last few years is just the beginning of our journeys. Lets not settle for the status quo, or for mediocrity. Lets be people who have courage to ask what can I do to make a difference, and then do it.
The keynote address was presented by Aimee Copeland, who gained national attention four years ago for her brave battle with necrotizing fasciitis also known as flesh-eating bacteria following an accident on a zip line in the Little Tallapoosa River.
The infection almost killed her, and amputation of her extremities was required to save her life. Despite this, Copeland refused to let her circumstances put limits on her. With an inspirational spirit and enthusiasm, she completed a masters degree from the University of West Georgia in humanistic psychology and is now pursuing a second masters degree from Valdosta State University in social work.
Copeland reflected on her injury, infection, amputations and her rehabilitation. She shared lessons learned from that experience.
You can live your life with courage, dignity and joy, she said. Compassion leads to healing. A lot of issues in life are petty.
She discussed how she confronted her limitations as challenges to overcome.
No matter what you want in life, if you want something bad enough, you will find a way, she said, sharing a story about how, despite no longer having hands, she learned how to tie her long hair into a ponytail.
She also shared encouraging words inspired by one of her nurses, who gave her a hand-made doll she showed the audience. The nurse had written a message on the back of the doll, pointing out that the doll is imperfect.
I learned that this body is just a vehicle, Copeland said. I am a spiritual being much bigger than this Nobody is perfect. Its what we do with what we have that counts.
Almost half of Georgia Gwinnett graduates are the first members of their families to earn a bachelors degree. The colleges innovative model, characterized by affordability, access and attention to student success, opens the door to more people, including those who might have never considered college.
The ceremony was streamed live on the Internet. An optimized recording will be available on the GGC YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/georgiagwinnett in the next few days.