More than 1,300 University of West Georgia graduates – and one Australian shepherd – took the stage during the institution’s Spring 2021 Commencement Saturday.
During his remarks, UWG President Dr. Brendan B. Kelly shared that the COVID-19 pandemic kept graduates from experiencing some things, but it did not keep them from the holistic university experience UWG provides – including showcasing their artistic talents; demonstrating excellence in athletics; and achieving post-graduation outcomes like launching their careers or being accepted into world-class graduate programs at UWG, across the United States, and beyond.
“Realizing your goals takes time and a commitment to continuous improvement,” Kelly said. “It doesn’t happen overnight. You have persevered, and through adversity, you have proven you can overcome. That is what matters: not how you got here but that you got here, despite the obstacles. You rose to the challenges and overcame them.”
Of the 1,332 degrees conferred to graduates, 400 were at the graduate level, with the remaining 932 degrees being earned at the undergraduate level. All students’ names were called as they crossed the stage, and both ceremonies were live-streamed.
Commencement ceremonies were held at 9 a.m. for students graduating from the College of Arts, Culture and Scientific Inquiry; the Richards College of Business; and the Tanner Health System School of Nursing and at 12:30 p.m. for students from the College of Education and University College.
The ceremonies looked different from their pre-2021 predecessors – even the Fall 2020 Commencement. Following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the University System of Georgia, face coverings for the outdoor event were not required for fully vaccinated individuals. All graduates were individually recognized, but rather than the traditional handshake with the president, they shared a celebratory fist-bump.
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.”
Khareem Leslie, who served as president of the UWG Student Government Association for the past two years, spoke on how Commencement is a culmination of work by the graduates – something they’ve dreamt of since they were children.
“Today is the day we’ve all been waiting for since we first started here,” said Leslie, who graduated Saturday with degrees in economics and political science. “Though it was not an easy journey, we were all able to turn our dreams into reality. I hope that in the future, when you face any obstacles, you remember you had the power to do that now, and you’ll have the power to do it again.”
videography by Julia Mothersole