Approximately 5,625 students met the qualifications to receive their undergraduate or graduate degrees and were welcomed as UGA’s newest alumni during spring Commencement ceremonies held May 5.
Avery Hudson, who received her bachelor’s degree from the College of Family and Consumer Sciences, spoke to her classmates about entering “the freshman year of adult life” and challenged them to be kind, be there for others and be themselves.
“We can do the things that scare us,” she said. “Let’s not be a class that acts out of fear. Let’s be a class who knows who we are. Let’s be a class who shows up. You can never be too much.”
Ernie Johnson Jr., a UGA alumnus and host for Turner’s NBA coverage and TNT’s Inside the NBA studio show, continued that theme in his Commencement address to the 4,456 undergraduates.
“You can speak up for the person who has no voice. You can engage the forgotten. You can uplift the downtrodden. … Look beyond your own needs and help somebody else with their needs,” he said. “So strive, and when you strive and succeed, do it with humility. Do it with gratitude. Do it with grace.”
He also talked about the importance of doing what you love.
“I hope you will recognize the difference, as your careers begin and continue, between ‘get to’ and ‘got to.’ Too many people out there have jobs they’ve ‘got to’ go to, but some of us have jobs we ‘get to’ go to. I hope that your job is one of those ‘get tos.’ “
Johnson spoke about his own life and family, including the adoption of his son, Michael, from Romania in 1991. Michael was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy the following year but has continued to make an impact on those he comes across, including working with high school students in Gwinnett County and being honored at their senior night.
“Thus began the unscripted portion of my life—a portion that has enabled me not to run from the unscripted, but to embrace the unscripted,” he said. “It’s the unscripted—that’s what makes life extraordinary.”
Marshall Shepherd, Georgia Athletic Association Distinguished Professor and director of the atmospheric sciences program, spoke to the estimated 242 doctoral candidates and 927 master’s and specialist degree students about their futures during the graduate ceremony.
“I challenge you to conduct an honest assessment of where you see yourselves in one, five, 10, 30 years,” he said. “You may not know, but guess what? You won’t know unless you think about it, and once you think about it, you will have some curveballs on the way.”
Shepherd encouraged graduates to take that idea a step further and think about how they can take the knowledge they gained at UGA and use it to solve grand challenges facing Georgia and the world.
“What’s your challenge? What mantle will you take up for the betterment of society and our world in general? The University of Georgia has afforded you tools, and you must not sit on the sidelines,” he said.
The Class of 2017 committed to removing barriers and opening doors by breaking the UGA Senior Signature class gift record with 2,164 signatures and $110,000 raised to go toward student scholarships. The initial goal was 2,017 signatures or $100,000. The previous record was set by the Class of 2008 with 2,014 signatures on their plaque.