Campus News

Commencement marks beginning of new journey

Higher education is a journey. Commencement marks the end of that journey and the beginning of a new one.

Harold Alonza Black, emeritus professor of finance at the University of Tennessee and notable University of Georgia alumnus, shared his own journey to UGA, at UGA and beyond UGA as the keynote speaker at the fall 2023 undergraduate Commencement ceremony.

“This university has prepared you,” he said. “Use the tools you have acquired here, because they are invaluable.”

Black and two other students—Mary Blackwell Diallo and Kerry Rushin Miller—were the first African American students to enroll as freshmen and complete their undergraduate degrees at UGA. The university named its newest residence hall, Black-Diallo-Miller Hall, in their honor in 2022.

Black was also the university’s first African American graduate of the Terry College of Business. The Terry College has established the Dr. Harold A. Black Professorship in his honor.

During his time at UGA, Black certainly had successes, but he faced challenges as well. He shared that he made lasting friendships with white students because they were willing to stand beside him. He also encountered damage to his dorm room and weathered other intimidation tactics.

“Alma mater means foster mother. Alumni means foster children. So, look around. Look at your brothers. Look at your sisters. And understand me when I say that I don’t care what you look like,” he said. “I care about your desire to be better. I care about your desire to make others better. I care about your humanity.”

Despite the challenges Black faced as a student, he is proud of the university.

“The university has come a long way, and I am proud of this university, not just because of what it’s done in regard to race relations, but because this has become one of the very best universities in this country,” he said.

Additionally, Black shared some advice with the graduates that came from his parents, encouraging them to focus on their objectives and shut out the other noise.

“Work hard,” he said. “Find your limits, and then go find someone to help you get past them.”

Kyle Huemme’s journey started in California before coming east to Athens to earn a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the Terry College of Business, and he shared that journey with his fellow graduates as the student speaker at the undergraduate Commencement ceremony.

“It soon became apparent that UGA was more than just a university,” he said. “It was my new home and the place for me to find out who I truly was.”

Huemme pointed out that the knowledge he gained at UGA extends beyond the classroom.

“Through rigorous coursework and hands-on experiences, I found my true calling in business,” he said. “I learned that success was not just about profit margins and market share, but also about innovation, ethical leadership and being a positive force in your community.”

Heumme looks forward to the new journey he and his classmates are starting.

“While the uncertainty of the future can definitely be daunting, I think there’s something almost beautiful about having no idea what the next day holds. An uncertain future is not merely a challenge; it is an unparalleled opportunity. In the face of true unpredictability, we are presented with a blank canvas where we have the privilege to paint our own futures,” he said.

Dale Greene, dean of the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, gave the keynote address at the graduate Commencement ceremony and told participants how important it is to reflect on the journey they just finished while continuing to look ahead to what’s to come.

“We need to look forward and learn from this chapter of our lives, which is about to close as we all start new chapters,” said Greene, who is set to retire on Jan. 1.

Greene spoke to the graduates about setting priorities, making plans, and finding inner peace.

“You need to know firmly who you are and the key principles and priorities you’re going to live your life by,” he said. “You need to know where your boundary lines are before you face the next crisis or challenge.”

Greene also encouraged the graduates to make plans but be flexible enough to adjust them.

“Actively look for the forks in the road. You don’t want to miss them—they might be life-changing,” he said.

Lastly, he reminded graduates that activity is not accomplishment and that peace is not the absence of problems but rather the presence of a grateful heart.

“You leave here today as a Georgia Bulldog,” Greene said. “Go make the world around you a little better every day.”

A total of 2,966 students—1,626 undergraduates and 1,340 graduate students—met requirements to walk in the university’s fall Commencement ceremonies. Of the graduate students, 319 were doctoral candidates, and 1,021 received their master’s or specialist degrees. UGA President Jere W. Morehead conferred their degrees during the ceremonies, held Dec. 15.

“Whatever your field, your UGA education has prepared you to use your knowledge to improve lives, strengthen communities and, indeed, change the world,” Morehead said. “You should be proud of what you have accomplished so far. But know that your work is just beginning. As UGA alumni, we do not rest on our laurels, nor do we forget the purpose of our education.”

Seventeen students were recognized as First Honor Graduates during the undergraduate ceremony 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. Additionally, posthumous degrees were conferred on Joseph Conner Barkie (Bachelor of Science in psychology), Anthony Bundros (Bachelor of Science in Agriculture in agribusiness) and Perry Mills Ruby III (Bachelor of Business Administration).

“Graduates, you have proven yourselves capable of the highest levels of academic achievement, and we are proud of you. Whatever your future holds for you, your time here preparing for life and citizenship is an accomplishment that you will carry with you always,” Morehead said. “Class of 2023, I hope that all of you will go forward from today and live good and full lives—creating opportunities for others to succeed, just as you have.”