Graduation Speakers 2019

Deborah Roberts, a UGA alumna and correspondent for ABC, and Joshua Clifford, who graduated with degrees in geography and multicultural literature, deliver their commencement speeches at Sanford Stadium on May 10, 2019.

Joshua Clifford was accustomed to long days in the heat of Sanford Stadium as a clarinet player in the Redcoat Marching Band. But on May 10, he was on the field instead of in the stands to address his fellow Class of 2019 graduates.

“It is not only our degree that has value but rather the ways we choose to apply it,” Clifford told an audience of families, friends and students.

After his speech, 1982 University of Georgia alumna Deborah Roberts gave her commencement speech, joking that she remembered sitting where the new graduates were and hoping the speeches would be short. 

Both Clifford and Roberts encouraged the graduates to use their UGA education to help others and change the world.

Marching into the future 

Clifford graduated with bachelor’s degrees in geography and comparative literature as well as a certificate in geographic information science. 

“To be an ambassador of this institution means to use our education to change the world around us,” Clifford said. “UGA did not teach us to be comfortable, it taught us to be fearless.”

Clifford mentioned his time as a tour leader at the UGA Visitors Center as inspiring him to help change the world as a UGA student. 

He also worked as an undergraduate assistant at the Community Mapping Lab and outreach coordinator at IMPACT UGA, which is a winter and spring break service-learning program.

“How we use the privileges obtained at UGA does matter and how we use them to help others does matter,” Clifford said. “The tiny connections we make, in the little job we have, can have an exponential change in someone else’s life.”

Raised in Kingsland, Georgia, Clifford attended Camden County High School. There, he made a long-lasting friendship with his public speaking teacher who was quick to book a hotel in Athens after finding out Clifford was giving the commencement speech. Clifford said he was honored to speak to a wide audience.  

In his speech, he described how graduation is a good time for reflection and looking forward to the future.

“Although we may still be young and naive, we can find a beautiful calm knowing that we get to lean on the Arch for the rest of our lives,” Clifford said.

Hindsight is 20/20

Roberts reminisced about her graduation day, saying how special the moment was in her life. 

“Graduates, we need your creativity, innovation and most importantly kindness,” Roberts said. “We thank you for nurturing this collective body of hope and light that we so desperately need in this world right now.”

Born in Perry, Georgia, Roberts was the first of eight siblings to go to college after both of her parents quit school to provide for her siblings.  

Roberts graduated with a degree in broadcast news at the Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. The Emmy-award-winning reporter started her career in Columbus, Georgia, and began her work with NBC News in 1990.

Roberts’ main piece of advice to the graduates was to make sure they live in the present and not let technology overshadow their lives. With two teenagers of her own, Roberts discussed the importance of stepping away from devices and having meaningful interactions. 

“Live your real life, have real conversations and see real people,” Roberts said. “The way you lead your lives matter. You can change your world, and it won’t cost you a thing.”

Roberts has been a correspondent with ABC News, reporting for “Nightline,” “Good Morning America,” “World News Tonight” and “20/20.” She has won multiple Emmys for her reporting on President Barack Obama’s inauguration, ABC’s millennium coverage and the journey of an Ethiopian-American woman discovering her lost mother after returning back to her African village. 

In her years at UGA and the jobs she worked to get her to where she is, Roberts said the constant lesson she learned throughout the years is the inevitability of failures and the importance of learning from them. 

“Graduates, prepare to fall, maybe even flat on your face. And then as Maya Angelou proclaimed, you rise and prepare to be stronger,” Roberts said. “You are your ancestors’ wildest dreams.”

On that note, Roberts bid the graduates a final congratulations, and sent them off to their “vodka tonic”-filled celebrations, in true UGA fashion.

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