On Graduation: Individual and Collective Milestones

Today, I had the honor of shaking hundreds of hands as the Middle Georgia State University Class of Fall 2016 marched across the stage in our Recreation and Wellness Center in Macon to receive their degrees. It is never lost on me that each of our graduates has a story.

The hundreds earning credentials today represent thousands of hopes across our city, region, state, country, and world. Whether they were born and raised in Middle Georgia or thousands of miles away, our newest alumni fulfill the dreams and swell the hearts of their parents and grandparents, spouses and children, friends, extended family, and other loved ones.

Graduation is a major milestone. The individual walking across the stage at commencement is not the same one who first enrolled at Middle Georgia State. As individuals, with each passing semester, year, and accomplishment, we evolve.

So, too, does the institution evolve. Today marked a major milestone in the life of this university as well. We awarded our very first graduate degrees.

Less than a year ago, when we launched our first two Master’s Programs, we offered an accelerated track in the Master of Science in Information Technology. This week, ten students completed that track, five of whom I had the pleasure of meeting today in person.

In an era when much of our business, our social interactions, and our learning takes place online, it is fitting that our level change should initially manifest in the accomplishments of professionals who will shape the tools that facilitate and often drive progress.

Yet, as our commencement speakers, the Honorable State Senator John Kennedy and Macon Judicial Circuit Judge Verda Colvin and I reminded our graduates, a credential comes with both rights and responsibilities. We implored the Class of Fall 2016 to use their education for the Greater Good.

A degree is the name we give to an educational qualification, and is also a term of measurement, by which we can assess, gauge and judge accurately. A discipline is the field of study we learn in order to gain a degree, and it is also a term of moral correctness, self-restraint and social order.

I believe these varied meanings are intentional and connected. An education degree is a necessary way to provide self-discipline and measure what is true and right in the world. In an age when “fake news” and “post-truth” are part of our everyday lives, the discipline we learn and celebrate in our degrees could not me more essential to our collective wellbeing, or the Common Good.

If we, both as individuals and as part of the fabric of American society, choose to meet challenges with the truth of our learning and experience, today’s milestones will truly change the world for the better.