The spring commencement undergraduate ceremony proceeded Friday evening about five months after originally scheduled.
Graduates and their families sat spaced apart in the lower bowl of Sanford Stadium while others watched on YouTube. Select administrators sat on a stage near the west end zone with masks on.
The spring 2020 graduates had their college experience abruptly cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic last spring. On Friday, they were finally recognized.
Vice President for Student Affairs Victor Wilson spoke in lieu of sports broadcaster Maria Taylor. Wilson said he knows the graduates might be disappointed that he’s not a high-profile celebrity, but he pointed out that his speech marks a full-circle journey. Wilson spoke to some of the parents watching him Friday during orientation four years ago.
Wilson reminded students and their family members to find joy during difficult times.
“Graduates, what I want to ask you and challenge you today: How often do you focus on what brings you joy? Real joy,” Wilson said. “Do you choose to lead with joy and build a life of joy? Or are you consumed with all the things in life that rob you of your joy?”
Other speakers included President Jere Morehead, Provost Jack Hu, UGA Alumni Association President Brian Dill and deans of each college. The deans spoke on recorded videos. UGA canceled school and college convocations in September.
The student commencement speaker was Jack Bush, who graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering and works at Lockheed Martin. A Savannah native, Bush was a member of the National Society of Black Engineers and started a scholarship for minority engineers with his own money while still in college.
Bush’s speech appeared to be memorized. He told his classmates to “be where your feet are.” He made one reference to COVID-19 and also mentioned three of the Black men and women killed by police this summer.
“The average UGA student aspires to excel, forge paths and be influential in the world around them,” Bush said. “Excel by achieving great feats, like finding a vaccine for the coronavirus. Forge paths by assuring future generations do not experience the injustices of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery.”
He reminisced about hugs from Ms. Sandra Patterson at Snelling Dining Commons and long nights studying at the Miller Learning Center. As freshmen, he said, the class of 2020 was nervous. That feeling has returned.
“There are grad caps on our heads, new opportunities in our hands and once again, the butterflies have returned,” Bush said. “We’re apprehensive that we won’t make friends in our new cities, we won’t actually like our jobs and if all the memes about adulting are true, we’re wondering how we’re really going to make it.”
Wilson also offered some advice. A graduate of UGA himself, Wilson said he wouldn’t have attended the university if he listened to what others told him. He also wouldn’t have become a single dad if he listened to what others told him.
“Don’t let others tell you what to do or how to feel or where to go or how to live,” Wilson said. “If I had listened to what everyone else said, I would never be where I am today. Keep your head and your heart open, and I trust that you’ll discover, as I have, the joy that can be found in every single day.”