Campus News

Graduates celebrate challenges, embrace their next steps

For the University of Georgia’s newest alumni, Commencement ceremonies mark a moment to celebrate the challenges they’ve overcome and embrace the challenges they’ll face in the future.

“Now is your time. It is your time to celebrate as you continue to the next chapter of your lives,” said Leah Brown, an orthopedic surgeon, UGA alumna and All-American for the GymDogs who served as the keynote speaker for the undergraduate Commencement ceremony, held May 12.

After graduating from UGA, Brown joined the U.S. Navy and shared two lessons she learned during her time serving and two deployments with graduates. First, she encouraged them to rebound quickly and adjust their plans accordingly. Second, she encouraged them to make an effort to understand others.

“More than likely, your plans will change,” she said. “These changes may be hard. Things will not always go smoothly. That’s OK—this will shape you.”

Brown also shared how the university’s alumni network helped her overcome her own challenges starting a family. She met a fellow GymDog alumna at an event, and the two quickly became friends. That fellow alumna eventually served as a surrogate for Brown and her husband.

“Create. Collaborate. Build. And as you rise, lift others with you. Listen, and make things better for more than just yourself, but for everyone you meet. That is a legacy. And that is the Georgia way,” Brown said.

Sudhan Chitgopkar, who received bachelor’s degrees in computer science and international affairs, served as the student speaker at the undergraduate Commencement ceremony and reflected on a particular challenge he faced as a student.

One of the first projects he was given in his computer science major was to play Minesweeper, a logic puzzle that features a grid of clickable squares, with hidden “mines” scattered throughout the board. Chitgopkar said that clicking the squares is a bit like the college experience—dive head-first into it, take a chance and explore it all.

“For us, an obstacle doesn’t end the game. It makes us stronger, smarter, faster,” he said. “We have seized every opportunity that has come our way, and we have conquered every single tile. You now know how to play the game, and that makes all the difference.”

Also during the undergraduate Commencement ceremony, Mikayla Penn, who received degrees in international affairs and entertainment and media studies, sang “Georgia On My Mind,” bringing her fellow graduates and guests to their feet with smartphone flashlights raised in the air.

During the graduate Commencement ceremony, held May 11, Charles S. Bullock, University Professor of Public and International Affairs, told graduates how their time at UGA will help them in their future endeavors.

“It’s important as you go forth into the new lives you’re going to have that you always bring your A game,” he said. “When you came here, you brought with you a set of values—values you’ve learned from your home, your family, your friends, your community and maybe in your religious training. And to those core values that you brought here, you’ve now added a first-class education, so you’re going to be able to overcome and achieve. I have every confidence that you’re going to succeed.”

Bullock also congratulated graduates on the completion of their hard work and encouraged them to embrace what comes next.

“You’re going to reach heights that we, the faculty, have not climbed, you’re going to learn lessons that we have not taught, and you’re going to see vistas that we have not imagined,” he said. “Godspeed as you go forth and take the knowledge that you have acquired and the skills you have honed to build a better and fairer tomorrow.”

A total of 7,659 students—6,008 undergraduates and 1,651 graduate students—met requirements to walk in the university’s spring Commencement and have their degrees conferred by UGA President Jere W. Morehead. Of the graduate students, 265 were doctoral candidates, and 1,386 received their master’s or specialist degrees. Additionally, Liza Burke, a fourth-year student majoring in marketing, received her degree in absentia after losing her battle with brain cancer in April.

“Graduates, I hope you will remember the relationships you formed with your classmates, advisors, professors and others you met during your time here. These relationships will become even more important to you in the future as you look back upon the profound influence they have had on your life,” Morehead said. “Remember the deep ties that bind us together, and remember that, wherever you go, throughout your life, you are part of the UGA family.”

A total of 109 students were recognized as First Honor Graduates during the undergraduate exercises for maintaining a 4.0 cumulative GPA in all work completed at UGA, as well as all college-level transfer work done prior to or following enrollment at the university.

“You go forth today as an ambassador of one of the nation’s most prominent land-grant institutions and the birthplace of public higher education in America. You are a steward of a 238-year tradition of teaching, research and service,” Morehead said. “You are leaving here with the capacity to shape the future of your community, this state, our nation and, indeed, the whole world. We expect uncommon things from you because you are a graduate of the University of Georgia.”