Welcome to the first, and I hope last, fully virtual graduation celebration at the University of West Georgia. My name is Dr. Brendan Kelly, and I have the privilege of serving as your new President. I have heard from many of our graduates regarding Commencement. So many students and family members want to have the opportunity to gather in person and celebrate the grand achievement of completion that is marked by a commencement ceremony. So do we. And we will.

Make no mistake: while we are celebrating each of our graduates today virtually, we will be coming together in the months ahead for an in-person Commencement ceremony when it is safe to confirm a date. In light of restrictions on public gatherings, we are not able to set a date at this time, but you, the class of spring 2020 will be updated as plans are developed. We look forward to celebrating you in the time-honored tradition and moving your tassel from right to left.

My colleagues and I, gathered here in the Coliseum and socially distanced in the proper fashion, would like to welcome everyone who is watching this afternoon: the outstanding graduates and your families, friends, and loved ones; our dynamic faculty and staff who work serve our students well every day; and UWG alumni all over the world whose achievements continue to become part of the story of this institution.

At graduations, we often say we are celebrating the end of one chapter and the beginning of something new. And that is true. More importantly, we are celebrating a transformation in people’s lives. Your transformation. Your “becoming.”

Becoming is about what “we grow to be.” What we become as we journey, learn, make mistakes, learn, have successes, learn, engage and embrace others, learn. All the time, we become. . .

Today, I could tell you 1,415 stories of “becoming.” Allow me to share just a few which exemplify the remarkable accomplishments of the class of spring 2020.

  • Candace Koon is earning a Master of Science degree in Nursing from the Tanner Health System School of Nursing. She planned to implement an ambitious capstone project at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta this semester. However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, she was no longer able to implement a simulation with live attendees. Candace didn't let this stop her. Instead, she used her creativity and passion for nursing education and created a series of virtual simulations that could be viewed from anywhere. Now, as a result of her persistence, resilience, and adaptability, the hospital system will have a permanent way of providing training and education to new nurses through the ongoing Nurse Residency Program. Great work, Candace!
  • M'Lynn Jenkins is earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science. M’Lynn was originally a math major who took a computer science course and discovered she had a true passion for that discipline. She switched majors and worked as a teaching assistant in the department's Computer Science Experience Lab, where she tutored other CS students. Now, she'll be leaving West Georgia to become a software engineer with BP in Houston, Texas.
  • Alyse-Noel Hicks is earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications. She was incredibly involved during her time at UWG as an ambassador for the university as a UWG Bluecoat, member of the Phi Sigma Pi National Honor Society, and the HOWL Social Media Ambassador Team. And above and beyond all that, she will be heading to Washington, D.C., in the fall to begin work on her master's degree in public relations and corporate communications at Georgetown University. Exceptional next step in her becoming!
  • Ashley Mallari, who is earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Management Information Systems from the Richards College of Business. While getting that degree, she got involved in the hands-on learning opportunities that come along with intercollegiate competition. She traveled to Mumbai, India, last December for the International Economic Convention, where she and two other UWG students – including fellow Spring 2020 graduate Joseph Dean – placed third in the world. Measuring our performance against peers from other institutions is an indicator of excellence. This team has helped mark UWG’s excellence on a global stage.
  • Becoming is often about excellence. Marked by global competition or effecting positive change locally. Phillip Sykes is earning the Ed.S. in Instruction Technology, Media, and Design and was recognized as our 2020 outstanding student in Instructional Technology. He is the Social Studies Coordinator for Coweta County Schools, where he also has served as a department head, team leader, and liaison to the Georgia Department of Education.  He is a star in the district, having been named the Coweta County Red Wood award winner and the Teacher of the Year.
  • Becoming, for some, is a constant. Getting better all the time is the goal. Training, learning, consistently challenging themselves to excel and pursue excellence. That becoming is common amongst our student-athletes, who often pursue competing passions, and yet they are able to persevere and be successful in both areas. That came to fruition this year with graduating senior, Nya Moses, a nursing major who is also a member of the UWG Track and Field program. Nya was an All-Conference thrower for West Georgia before taking a step away from the track to focus on her studies as a nursing major. She came back to track in 2020, earning All-Conference honors in the first year of the Indoor Track and Field program and taking that a step further to earn All-Region honors as well. Nya has already been offered post-graduation employment and will begin her career as a nurse in short order.
  • Finally, Samuel Smith is graduating with a Bachelor of Music degree with a concentration in Performance: Piano Pedagogy. Sam's story is unique because this isn't his first degree. He graduated from East Carolina University in 1976 with a degree in Composition, later earning another degree and beginning a career in Information technology. When he retired in 2016, he decided to achieve a lifelong ambition of becoming a pianist. Sam was accepted by audition to UWG's Music program to study piano. Becoming, ladies and gentlemen, is a process of a lifetime not a particular point in time. Learning never ends.

The circumstances of our recent time as a nation and world have been extraordinary. I know that so many of your plans, and those of so many of our graduates, have been disrupted, and the prospects for what comes next are, in many cases, somewhat cloudy at the moment. However, there is one thing I am sure about in this class of graduates: the world needs you.

Things have changed for all of us. But right now, the world needs ingenuity. We need innovation. We need people who can think creatively about the world and begin to help us invent the future, whatever it holds. You are graduating from college or from graduate school. Some of you are becoming doctors. 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.

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. Your becoming is what we are celebrating today.