Dark, threatening clouds and a few drops of rain were not enough to defuse the fireworks celebrating the accomplishments of and expectations for the UGA Class of 2014 on Commencement day.
Instead, the storm clouds and heavy rain moving through the region May 9 steered clear of Sanford Stadium as graduates celebrated their accomplishments and looked forward to bright futures during the evening undergraduate ceremony.
An estimated 4,268 undergraduates and 1,105 graduate students-a total of 5,373-were eligible to walk in the spring Commencement ceremonies.
As Sarah Hughes, a Norcross native who graduated with an international affairs degree, said, the graduating students were ready to boldly take on the world.
During her speech, Hughes turned on its head a question frequently asked to college graduates: “Are you ready for the ‘real world’?”
Hughes said the question implies that students inevitably will have to change and compromise when they begin their professional careers.
“We may not know where our lives are going to take us, but we can feel optimistic about the future because UGA has prepared us,” she said.
Hughes’ classmates, dressed in black caps and gowns and seated between the hedges on the football field, stood and cheered as Hughes declared, “It’s not the Class of 2014 that isn’t ready for the real world. It is the real world that isn’t ready for us.”
Hughes’ speech was followed by a thoughtful address from U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, the keynote speaker for the undergraduate ceremony.
Isakson, who graduated from UGA in 1966, recalled details from his own Commencement but confessed he could not remember who delivered the keynote address or what was said. Isakson asked the graduates to at least remember a few bits of advice that he had to offer even if they too forget the name of their speaker.
The senator then offered what he called the “six silent secrets to living a happy, successful and fulfilling life.”
Those secrets were: to continue a life of learning; to respect the people around you; to remain faithful to ethical standards like the Golden Rule; to have love for people and institutions; to firmly hold to faith; and to dream.
For the last secret, Isakson said it was important to have ambitious dreams and to work hard to make those a reality.
“If you’re willing to dream, then in America you can do anything you want to,” Isakson said.
Arthur Horne, dean emeritus of the UGA College of Education, delivered the keynote address at the morning graduate Commencement ceremony in Stegeman Coliseum.
An internationally recognized researcher in counseling, Horne harkened back to the history of higher education progress in the U.S. as a way to provide lessons for the future.
Horne said past investments in higher education such as the post-World War II GI Bill helped build the middle class; he also credited the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s for providing greater equality in higher education.
He told the graduates they were “the recipients of the benefits that have accrued over the last 60 years providing greater accessibility to higher education.
“You’ve worked hard to be here, but you’re also here because of those before you who made sure education could be accessible and available to you,” he said.
Horne said each generation must remember to pay back the gift of education to the next.
“Go forth and apply your ingenuity, creativity and enthusiasm to make the world a better place,” Horne said. “Your elders are depending on you. I certainly am.”
While the ceremony recognized UGA’s degree recipients, who are looking to make their marks on the world, the university also honored an individual who already has made significant contributions to the university and the broader higher education environment.
At the graduate ceremony, UGA President Jere W. Morehead conferred an honorary doctor of laws degree upon Judge Horace T. Ward.
Ward was the first African-American to seek admission to UGA when he applied to the School of Law in 1950. When he was denied admission, he sought a legal resolution paving the way to integration in the civil rights movement.
Ward would go on to a earn a law degree from Northwestern University and lead a distinguished career in public service. Ward was part of the legal team that helped secure admission for UGA’s first African-American students, Charlayne Hunter-Gault and Hamilton Holmes. He later became a member of the Georgia General Assembly and also served as a Fulton County Superior Court judge.
When Ward rose to accept his degree, the audience at Stegeman Coliseum gave him a standing ovation.
With Ward as an example, the president encouraged graduates at both ceremonies to strive for public service accomplishments, both large and small.
“Be the ones who make their communities better,” Morehead said. “Be the ones who keep this nation’s important volunteer organizations strong and vibrant. Be the ones who see themselves as responsible to others, to society and to the planet.”