Truth. Purpose. Grace. Legacy.
After a year like no other, those are just some of the words of wisdom Commencement speakers shared with the Class of 2021.
“To the graduates of 2021, I have only four instructions for you. Speak your truth. Live in your purpose. Walk in grace. And inspire with your legacy,” said ESPN reporter and university alumna Maria Taylor, who gave the undergraduate Commencement address. “If you are able to aim for those four guideposts and live your life through them and with them in mind, you will be who you are meant to be.”
Taylor, who earned a bachelor’s degree in broadcast news from UGA in 2009 and an MBA from UGA in 2013, shared that her truth started when she finally figured out what she wanted to study. Her purpose lies in sharing others’ stories. She strives to give herself grace to make mistakes and learn from them. And she is her grandmother’s legacy—the grandmother who “planted the seeds” of her family’s love for UGA.
“What will be your legacy? What seeds will you plant? What soil will you seek out for the next generation to grow on,” Taylor asked the graduates. “I can’t guarantee that you’ll be able to see the bloom of your seed in the next generation, but I can absolutely promise you that your legacy will live on forever.”
Student speaker Chan Creswell also spoke to his fellow graduates about his sense of purpose and how it shifted during his time at UGA.
“I realized that I came to this university for a much deeper purpose. I needed to understand the value of humanity,” he said. “People are the most important thing on Earth. We gather knowledge and experience and provide the world with a perspective only our own.
“Build your legacy in people,” he said. “Sometimes you will rise and fall. You will be filled and unfulfilled. You will live in good times and in bad. But the most secure position is surrounded by people who cherish you and care for you.”
Additionally, fellow graduate Caleb Kelly serenaded the Class of 2021 with a rendition of “Georgia on My Mind.”
During the graduate Commencement ceremony, David Lee, UGA’s vice president for research, spoke about intentionally remaining a lifelong learner.
“Through your research, your scholarship and creative activities, you have been advancing our understanding of the physical world we inhabit; how we can better function as communities, societies and global citizens; and, indeed, what it means to be human,” said Lee, who will retire at the end of May. “My challenge to you today is to keep it up. Always inquire into the nature of things. Never stop seeking. Never stop asking. Never stop exploring the world around you.”
He pointed to examples such as singer and actress Eartha Kitt and Canadian entrepreneur Derrick Fung as people who continue to learn and reinvent themselves. In the end, being a lifelong learner opens doors and helps people become better citizens, partners and parents, he said.
“Keep your curiosity alive and well,” Lee said.
A total of 7,530 students—6,165 undergraduates and 1,365 graduate students—met requirements to walk in the university’s spring Commencement. Of the graduate students, 203 were doctoral candidates, and 1,162 received their master’s or specialist degrees. UGA President Jere W. Morehead conferred their degrees during ceremonies held May 13, 14 and 15. Nicole Rose Belongia, Madison Shay Evans, Christian Rudolf Lorys, Benjamin Lloyd Cloer, Amy Joy Janvier, Anna Elizabeth Butler and Brandon Keith Dunlap were awarded degrees posthumously.
“Remember the deep ties that bind us together, and remember that, wherever you go, throughout your life, you are part of the UGA family,” Morehead said. “All of you came here from different backgrounds. You studied in different majors. You participated in different activities. And you are graduating with different credentials. But all of you have been educated in the same land-grant tradition of this great university. Whatever your field, your UGA education has prepared you to use your knowledge to improve lives, strengthen communities and, indeed, change the world.”
Sixty-five 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 should be proud of what you have accomplished so far. But know that your work is only just beginning. As UGA alumni, we do not rest on our laurels, nor do we forget the purpose of our education,” Morehead said. “While the degree you have earned and the opportunities you have experienced here will certainly help you achieve your personal goals, you are now equipped to become part of something larger than yourselves.”