Campus News

Commencement speakers share defining moments

(Gallery photos by UGA photographers Andrew Davis Tucker, Dorothy Kozlowski, Peter Frey and Chad Osburn)

Commencement is a defining moment in any student’s education. It marks the start of a career, the culmination of a scholastic journey or even the accomplishment of a goal.

For ABC News correspondent Deborah Roberts, who delivered the address at the spring 2019 undergraduate Commencement ceremony, getting her degree in broadcast news from the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication in 1982 was a defining moment—she was among the first in her family to go to college.

“Like so many of you, this was a particularly special moment of pride for me. I represented my parents’ wildest dream,” she said. “I hope you will hold on to this feeling—this deep-down, in-your-gut reservoir of endless power, happiness and hope. However you wound up here—whatever privilege you were or were not born with—however difficult your journey here has been, you are your ancestors’ wildest dream.”

In fact, Roberts has committed $100,000, matched by the UGA Foundation, to establish a need-based scholarship through the Georgia Commitment Scholarship Program to help other students reach their goals.

Roberts also spoke to the 5,697 undergraduates about the importance of connecting with others, offering the graduates a challenge to put down their devices, at least temporarily, in order to fully experience their lives.

“Ditch your devices from time to time, and step out from the safety of filters and anonymity,” she said. “Live your real life. Have real conversations, and see real people, not for who they appear to be on social media or how many likes they have, but for who they are.”

In addition, she encouraged the graduates to “seek out people who don’t look like you or think like you” because “you may learn something new if you open your eyes and open your heart.”

She also told them to not be afraid of “spectacular failure.” The important thing, she said, is learning to get back up.

“The way you live your life matters. You can help change this world,” Roberts said. “Graduates, we need your energy, your optimism, your creativity and—this is a big one—your kindness and compassion. We need good citizens among us.”

Joshua Clifford, who received bachelor’s degrees in geography and comparative literature from the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, gave the student address and shared how he defines being an ambassador after serving as a Redcoat Marching Band drum major, IMPACT site leader and Visitors Center tour guide.

“To be an ambassador of this institution means to use our education to improve the world around us,” he said. “UGA did not teach us to be comfortable. It taught us to be curious, to challenge ourselves and to pay attention to the community around us. To be indifferent to our world would be to inhibit the potential that this university has given us.”

Empathy and service

At the graduate Commencement ceremony, Loch Johnson, Regents Professor of Public and International Affairs and Josiah Meigs Distinguished Teaching Professor, defined two words from one of his favorite books, the Oxford English Dictionary: empathy and service.

“We have done much good in the world,” said Johnson, who will retire at the end of the spring semester after more than 40 years at UGA, “but we can do so much more.”

He shared with the estimated 211 doctoral candidates and 1,054 master’s and specialist degree students that “life is about service to others” and “converting empathy into civic action.”

“You are individuals of high promise, or you would not have come this far,” Johnson said. “In our society, you will be the drivers, the masters, the lifters, the creators and the contributors. As you move forward, let empathy and service be your lodestar.”

A total of 6,962 graduates were welcomed as alumni in the university’s spring Commencement ceremonies. Fifty students were recognized as First Honor Graduates during the undergraduate exercises for maintaining a 4.0 cumulative GPA in all work attempted at UGA as well as all college-level transfer work prior to or following enrollment at the university.

For the third year in a row, the graduating class has set a new giving record through Senior Signature, with an all-time high of 2,540 seniors donating through the program. The Class of 2019 collectively gave $127,000 to the university in an effort led by council members of the Student Alumni Association, and each donor’s name has been engraved on a plaque in Tate Plaza in honor of their commitment to UGA.

“To our graduates, you represent tangible and inspiring evidence of the wisdom and foresight of those who drafted the charter of the University of Georgia and thus began in 1785 the great American tradition of public higher education,” said UGA President Jere W. Morehead. “Whatever your future holds for you, your time here preparing for life and citizenship gives special meaning to the words in the university’s charter that call the young people of this state ‘the rising hope of our land.’”