Middle Georgia State College graduation historic, somber

Middle Georgia State graduation historic, somber

jmink@macon.comMay 10, 2013 

As Ambernecia Warren prepared to walk the graduation line Friday, she took in the moment.

“We’re making history,” said Warren, of Sparta.

It was a momentous occasion as Middle Georgia State College held its first graduation ceremony. A crowd of about 8,000 packed the Macon Coliseum as more than 800 out of about 1,400 graduates attended the ceremony.

But there was a somber tone to Friday’s event, as a search continued for a missing 19-year-old MGSC student.

Interim President John Black began the ceremony with a moment of silence to honor four MGSC students who died this year.

“Nothing we can say here will be sufficient,” he said.

Jmaal Malik Keyes, a student at the Cochran campus, was last seen April 25. Police have charged a Hawkinsville teenager with his murder, and officials were searching for Keyes’ body.

“It is incredibly sad, incredibly devastating,” Marti Venn, vice president of academic affairs, said before the ceremony. “It’s always hard when events like (the student going missing) coincide with events that celebrate the success and accomplishments of our graduates. It is heavy on all our hearts this day.”

As she waited to walk the graduation line, Elizabeth Worthy said the day was “bittersweet.”

“Anytime a student anywhere goes missing, it always touches you,” said Worthy, a graduate from Macon.

Still, the graduation went on as scheduled. Family members toted balloons and flowers. Students waved and pumped their fists when their names were called. Speakers offered advice.

Black encouraged graduates to never stop learning and to balance their careers with their personal relationships.

“Those close, personal ties will be the treasures of your life,” he said.

Hank Huckaby, chancellor of the University System of Georgia, urged graduates to use their skills to make a difference and fix society’s problems.

“We need you to use the power of your education to help us meet the challenges before us,” he said.

One by one, students from five midstate campuses walked toward the stage. After all students crossed the stage, they moved their tassels to the other side of their caps and marched out of the arena as the first alumni of Middle Georgia State College.

The college formed in January after the merger of Macon State and Middle Georgia colleges. Now, the college “is on the cusp” of achieving university status and offering graduate degrees. Hopefully, that will happen within the next three years, Black said.

In the Coliseum lobby, workers handed out free, leftover merchandise from the former Macon State and Middle Georgia colleges. Nearby, graduates embraced, snapped photos, chatted with former professors and searched for their family members.

Judith Garis did not have to search far for her daughter. The Hawkinsville woman graduated alongside her daughter, Nicole Garis. Judith Garis earned a degree in business administration and hopes to land a job in accounting. She finally had time to pursue a college degree after raising her children, and she ended up attending the same college -- at the same time -- as her daughter.

“She got to see me go (across the stage), and I got to see her go,” she said. “It was so special.”

To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.

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