More than 1,250 University of West Georgia graduates walked the stage at University Stadium during the institution’s first in-person Commencement ceremony in 2020, with UWG President Dr. Brendan B. Kelly informing the new alumni that the world needs them now more than ever.
“The world needs ingenuity, and we need innovation,” Kelly said. “We need people who can think creatively about the world and begin to help us invent the future, whatever it holds. You are the leaders we have been waiting for, and we need you to jump into the world, embrace challenges, make companies stronger, make communities healthier and more connected, make every action impact positive change in the world.”
Of the 986 degrees conferred to fall graduates, approximately 338 were at the graduate level, with the remaining 648 degrees being earned at the undergraduate level. Saturday’s graduating class was the largest fall class in the university’s history.
Due to the conversion of in-person Spring and Summer 2020 Commencement ceremonies to a virtual format, students who completed their degrees during those semesters were invited to celebrate with fall graduates, with a total of 1,268 graduates attending Commencement. All ceremonies were live-streamed.
Commencement ceremonies were held at 9:30 a.m. for students graduating from the College of Arts, Culture and Scientific Inquiry; Tanner Health System School of Nursing; and the University College; at 1 p.m. for students from the College of Education and the spring and summer graduates who earned degrees from the former College of Science and Mathematics; and at 4:30 p.m. for graduates from the Richards College of Business and alumni who graduated from the former College of Arts and Humanities and College of Social Sciences.
Kelly’s remarks centered on graduates embracing the Japanese philosophy of “kaizen,” or improving through change, saying they have already embodied the philosophy by persevering and reaching their goals.
“I encourage you to keep leaning in to the challenges life throws at you for years to come,” Kelly said. “A university education is equipment for living, and each of you is ready to go and meet the world. Do not stop learning. Do not stop challenging yourself to be better. Do not stop becoming.”
The ceremonies looked different from their pre-2020 predecessors: All students and guests were required to wear face coverings and sit in predetermined, physically distanced seating. Additionally, there was no student processional, as they were seated on the field upon their arrival. All graduates were individually recognized, but there was not a traditional handshake with the president.
“2020 has certainly been a year we will never forget,” Kelly told graduates. “Through it all, though, you have persevered, and through that adversity, you have proven you can overcome. That is what matters: not how you got here but that you got here, despite the obstacles and the unexpected circumstances. You rose to the challenge and overcame it.”
Khareem Leslie, president of the UWG Student Government Association, spoke on how Commencement is a culmination of work by the graduates – something they’ve dreamt of since they were children.
“Your visions of becoming nurses, entrepreneurs, artists, educators, scientists, and many other professionals are minutes away from occurring,” he said. “No matter what profession the pathway of life takes you toward, I have full faith that you will succeed in all your future endeavors.”