“The good news is you’ve finished this chapter,” Kessell Stelling Jr., also a member of the University System of Georgia Board of Regents, told graduates at SPSU’s gymnasium. “And the rest of the lifelong learning experience that will hone your leadership skills is just about to begin. I know a little bit about today’s workforce and today’s workforce certainly has its challenges … I can’t imagine coming out of college today with the backdrop of uncertainty that exists in this economy. And yet I truly believe there is plenty of opportunity out there for those who are willing to work hard, to give back and take advantage of every opportunity.”
In his commencement speech, Stelling quoted figures ranging from former President John Quincy Adams to Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau to baseball great Babe Ruth.
Stelling spends part of his week in Columbus, where the financial services company with $31 billion in assets is based, and lives in east Cobb on weekends. He addressed two commencement ceremonies Saturday, each with about half of the school’s fall graduating class of 383 students.
“It’s a great school and it’s close to my home,” Stelling said before the afternoon ceremony. “I’m honored to speak to a school that I know so well.”
Some SPSU graduates admitted some jitters about going into the job market with the area in a slow economic recovery.
“It’s definitely hard, my boyfriend has been looking for a job for a year-and-a-half,” said construction management major Rachel Baird, a 2006 Lassiter High School graduate who worked two jobs to put herself through school.
But Baird, 24, feels positive about the education she received at SPSU, where she transferred after a year at Georgia Southern University.
“It’s a lot more personal,” she said. “The classes are so much smaller. You can get a lot more attention.”
Walter Odhiambo, a native of Kenya who now lives in Mableton, said he plans to use his degree in information technology to find a career in project management for software applications.
“It’s a step for me in my future career,” said Odhiambo, 32. “It’s all about the sacrifice you put into it and how you balance your time.”
During the afternoon commencement, which was attended by about 1,500 people, SPSU President Dr. Lisa Rossbacher asked students a number of questions, telling them to stand up if the answer applied to them. About half stood when asked if they’d been helped by the HOPE Scholarship, with nearly all the rest standing when asked if they had gotten some kind of financial aid. Many also stood when asked if they had full or part-time jobs while at SPSU, while some stood when asked if they had gone to college while raising a family.
Still others stood when asked if they had served in the military.
Rossbacher said the students came from 40 countries, 20 states and Puerto Rico, with close to half majoring in engineering, engineering technology or related fields. Undergraduates made up 77 percent of those walking across the stage, with the rest graduate students.
The commencements were the first for SPSU using graduation gowns made from recycled material. Each one was produced using 29 recycled plastic bottles. After the ceremonies, students had the option of leaving their gowns in boxes outside the gym so they could be recycled again.
Rossbacher said the gowns were part of SPSU’s “sustainability initiative,” which includes a larger recycling program and courses that deal with environmentally sustainable measures.
“We’re very focused on sustainable measures and how we function as an institution,” she said