Campus News

Commencement speakers share lessons with new graduates

For graduates of the University of Georgia, learning doesn’t just happen in classrooms, labs and study spaces. And while they are learning about their chosen academic fields and about themselves, they also learn how those lessons can make a difference.

During the fall 2022 undergraduate Commencement ceremony, Chris Womack, chairman, president and CEO of Georgia Power, encouraged the university’s newest alumni to ignite change.

“Graduates, I am here today to tell you that the world you’re stepping into is closer than you think,” he said. “No matter what you do next, you can make a difference. You must make a difference. Each and every one of you has the know-how and, I hope, the can-do attitude, to make a difference wherever you are. And when you do, you won’t just be changing our communities—you will be changing our nation and our world.”

Womack shared some of the lessons he learned growing up in a small town in Alabama, the most important of which was a strong work ethic. He learned what it takes to change conditions that need to change.

“It takes clear vision to imagine a better future,” he said. “Above all, it takes courage to realize that future, and that courage must be relentless. It takes true courage to change the world.”

Additionally, Womack reiterated the importance of defying clichés, breaking down silos and widening one’s circle.

“You must have difficult conversations and let yourself be uncomfortable. Lean into discomfort, ask questions and listen deeply to the answers. Educate without accusation, and learn without abandon. And when in doubt, serve and give of yourself,” he said.

Student speaker Michael Banks, a Jere W. Morehead Honors College student who earned bachelor’s degrees in journalism and international affairs, shared some lessons he learned studying Classics before even coming to Athens.

Specifically, he encouraged his classmates to find joy in the everyday work and materials that will move them forward. He reminded them that they have support from “friends and peers who have challenged your perspectives, fostered your learning and nurtured your growth.” He also urged his fellow graduates to give themselves some grace as they transition to what’s next.

“So, those are the lessons in Classics from the Classic City herself: Fall in love with your process, fall in love with your friendships and try to fall in love with the person behind it all—you. If you do all of that falling, then I think, just maybe, the rest will fall into place,” Banks said.

During the graduate Commencement ceremony, Alan Darvill, Regents’ Professor Emeritus of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and director emeritus of the Complex Carbohydrate Research Center, encouraged graduates to continue learning with two questions: “Why is what you’re doing important?” and “Is this something you feel invested in to make a difference?”

“Occasionally asking these simple questions as you move on from graduation to your next challenges in life will, I think, serve you well and help you make decisions,” he said.

Darvill shared how those questions, which were asked of him by a mentor when he was a doctoral student, stuck with him and helped him make important decisions about his career and research.

“A graduate degree from the University of Georgia is an outstanding starting point to begin your exciting careers where you can contribute so much to this complex world we all live in,” he said. “There are so many challenges for the future, both big and small, and I feel confident that you, with all of your preparation at UGA, will contribute significantly to addressing these.”

A total of 3,202 students — 1,681 undergraduates and 1,521 graduate students — met requirements to walk in the university’s fall Commencement ceremonies. Of the graduate students, 344 were doctoral candidates, and 1,177 received their master’s or specialist degrees. UGA President Jere W. Morehead conferred their degrees during the ceremonies, held Dec. 16.

“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.”

Twenty-two 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 Ethan Caldwell (Bachelor of Business Administration) and Eun Jung (Doctor of Philosophy in Mathematics Education).

“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.”