While college commencement signals the start of a new chapter in the lives of graduates, it also marks an end of an academic journey.
Most midstate universities, colleges and technical schools are planning commencement ceremonies this weekend or over the next few weeks. Fort Valley State University’s graduation ceremonies were last weekend.
Some students will continue their academic careers to earn bachelor’s or postgraduate degrees, while others will enter the work force.
This year, The Telegraph selected a representative from 11 universities, colleges and technical schools in Middle Georgia. Each of the graduates not only excelled in the classroom but also made a difference on campus or in their communities, either locally or globally.
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Here are some of the best examples of the Class of 2010.
Central Georgia Technical College
Bridgette Daniel, 26
Associate degree, dental hygiene
Post-graduation plans: “Trying to find a job in a Middle Georgia dentist’s office.”
While she was in high school, Bridgette Daniel worked in a Jones County veterinarian’s office cleaning the teeth of cats and dogs.
“I loved it,” she said. “Everyone thought I was crazy. But dogs get a lot of tartar buildup. It was fun to clean them up.”
After polishing the teeth of her feline and canine friends (they were under anesthetics, of course), Daniel was swayed from her previous plan to become a veterinarian to instead study dental hygiene. But this time, she focused on human teeth.
On June 16, she will graduate with her program class of 19 to get an associate degree in dental hygiene from Central Georgia Technical College.
At the college’s Macon campus, Daniel said she learned about nutrition, reactions to medication and proper brushing methods that will serve her in her field.
After soon passing exams to become board certified, the two years of study will allow her to land a job at any dentist’s office.
With a rocky economy, her only worry is whether she’ll get hired part-time as she hopes.
“The job field is very limited right now because of the economy and no one retiring,” she said.
In August, Daniel plans to take online courses to earn her bachelor’s degree in marketing and sales from Clayton State University and one day sell dental products.
Fort Valley State University
Taylor Sykes, 22
Bachelor’s degrees, political science and liberal studies with Spanish concentration
Post-graduation plans: Sykes will attend Columbus State University in the fall to pursue a master’s degree in public administration with a concentration in health studies.
Taylor Sykes said she’ll miss Fort Valley, but she’s anxious to move on to the next stage in her life.
Eventually, she’d like to work for the federal government, particularly for the Public Health Service Corps, to help provide services to underserved communities.
While working on a double major and spending most of last year in college holding down a job, Sykes also became the valedictorian of her graduating class.
Time management was the key to her achievement, Sykes said.
“I had to make sure I did everything on time,” she said.
As an undergraduate, she was also a member of Pi Gamma Mu, a national honor society in the social sciences; Alpha Mu Gamma, a national foreign language honor society; the Political Science Student Association; and the Foreign Language Club.
During her college years, she also had the opportunity to study abroad in Spain and Mexico.
“Being immersed in different cultures, you explore firsthand the culture and history,” Sykes said. “It is a great experience, and you meet a lot of great people.”
Georgia College & State University
Chelsea Losh, 21
Bachelor’s degree, English literature
Post-graduation plans: Losh will spend the next year serving as a volunteer for World-Wide Opportunities for Organic Farms.
It’s rare when a person has a passion in two fields and can find a way to combine them.
But Chelsea Losh did just that when she studied abroad last summer at Waterford University in Ireland. Losh loves literature as well as environmental sustainability, and she studied both while abroad.
“There was nothing like that experience,” she said. “We stayed more in the city than I would have liked, but it taught me a lot about culture and what we are missing here.”
Losh, who has a 3.9 grade point average, said she has been influenced by writers ranging from John Ruskin to Barbara Kingsolver, authors who wrote their books around environmental themes.
But Losh, who is a member of the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society and the Environmental Science Club, also wanted to make an impact on campus. She helped begin a campuswide recycling initiative that took three years to get off the ground. It’s now a part of everyday life at Georgia College in Milledgeville.
Losh also will have the distinction of delivering the address at the undergraduate commencement. She’ll work this summer with her boyfriend at a farmers market to save money. She’s still working on her future plans once her volunteer work is complete.
“I’m still trying to figure it out,” she said. “I’m a tutor right now, and I love teaching. I love editing and writing.”
Georgia Military College-Milledgeville
Kasey Durden, 20
Associate degree, general studies
Post-graduation plans: Durden will pursue a career in the medical field.
Kasey Durden has applied to both Augusta State University and Georgia College & State University. She’s also still undecided about where in the medical field she wants to find a job.
But whatever she pursues, it will be a marked change of scenery. Durden attended GMC’s prep school for four years and the junior college for two more.
“They’ve supported me a lot,” she said. “It’s a small school, but they’ve given me a lot of encouragement. It’s a long time to be somewhere.”
Durden said she is aiming for a biology degree. She’s excelled at GMC both in and out of the classroom. In high school, she was the school’s salutatorian.
She entered GMC on a HOPE scholarship and earned an athletics scholarship as a pitcher and infielder for the school’s softball team. Even with all the time she spent on the diamond, she maintained a 4.0 GPA.
“It really takes a lot of discipline and time management,” she said. “You have to get your priorities in order and decide what you want to succeed in.”
Georgia Military College-Warner Robins campus
Keith Socarras, 24
Associate degree, general studies
Post-graduation plans: Socarras will attend Macon State College in the fall to pursue a bachelor’s degree in biology, where he plans to work toward a career in physical therapy.
After spending four years in the U.S. Marine Corps, including a tour of duty in Iraq, Keith Socarras decided to return to school full-time to make his education his top priority.
Socarras took two classes at Georgia Military College during his first quarter, earning a B and a C.
“I guess college isn’t going to be as easy as I thought,” he said.
Every quarter since, Socarras said he’s been making straight As, graduating with a 3.81 GPA.
“I exceeded my expectations, which I like,” he said. “Anything I do, I try to at least be above average. If everyone can do average, I can do a little better.”
Being a nontraditional college student has kept him focused on his studies, Socarras said.
“The difference between me and the 18-year-old kids in high school is they’re doing everything because they’re told do to it,” he said. “When you get a little older, you’re doing things for yourself. You’re taking things more seriously.”
Christina Rogers, 32
Bachelor’s degree, early childhood education, special education
Post-graduation plans: Rogers will work full-time at the Dauset Trails Nature Center in Jackson.
Christina Rogers has the distinction of being the first student at Gordon College to get her work, co-written with associate professor Mark Brinkman, published in an academic journal.
The pair wrote “Bait Preferences of Ground Dwelling Ants in Central Georgia” for the January edition of the Journal of Entomological Science.
When she learned of the honor, “the professor told me, ‘Don’t you realize how big a deal this is? This is what most people wait a lifetime for,’’’ Rogers said.
Rogers was a biology major at that time, but she switched majors when Gordon College extended its education program to a four-year degree. She had already earned an associate degree in early childhood education at the college. She’ll finish with a 3.2 GPA.
She works as a naturalist at Dauset Trails, and Rogers, the single mother of a 10-year-old, will have the opportunity to combine her love of teaching children with her love of nature.
“I get the best of both worlds,” she said. “I’ve integrated (science and nature) into the classroom. My whole goal is to teach them about insects, animals and nature. My full-time position at Dauset is an outreach program to schools all over the state, from pre-K to middle school. I’m very lucky and blessed to be able to work with kids and animals. I feel like it’s making a difference, not only in kids’ lives but also in the world. Environmental education is something very important.”
Macon State College
Tanyce Lucas, 21
Bachelor’s degree, math, secondary education track
Hometown: Warner Robins
Post-graduation plans: Lucas will begin her teaching career at Rutland High School in Bibb County.
Tanyce Lucas has wanted to teach ever since she could remember.
“Ever since I was a little girl,” the Houston County High School graduate said. “I had awesome teachers influence me. I want to be someone who can change someone’s life like mine was changed by my teachers. I can have an impact.”
Macon State College provided a perfect opportunity for Lucas, because it offered “a quality education for a good price.”
Lucas, who has a 3.62 GPA, earned the HOPE, Geico and Macon State Foundation scholarships. She will graduate from college completely debt-free, one of her goals when she started.
Lucas was one of Macon State’s first student ambassadors, representing the college in the community and to prospective students and their parents.
Lucas said she wanted to return to the Houston County school system to teach since she’s a product of that system but says she’s fortunate to land a job with Bibb County’s public schools.
“Bibb County is a great place to make a difference,” she said.
Kathryn Doornbos, 22
Bachelor’s degree, biology
Hometown: Brasstown, N.C.
Post-graduation plans: Doornbos received a Fulbright Research Grant to study tick-borne illnesses at Mahidol University in Bangkok, Thailand.
Kathryn Doornbos said she is one of the few biology majors at Mercer who doesn’t intend to become a physician.
Rather, she wants to earn a doctorate in microbiology to do research and ultimately return to the classroom as a college professor.
Doornbos, who has a 3.7 GPA, will begin her postgraduate work at the University of Alabama-Birmingham once she returns to the country.
Doornbos said the decision to go to Thailand was relatively simple: She visited last year as part of a Mercer On Mission trip. She had considered pursuing a Fulbright opportunity in eastern Europe, but “I didn’t want to go somewhere where it was winter eight months of the year.”
Doornbos has been actively involved in various service projects at Mercer, even among a student body that prides itself on public service.
Doornbos adapted a program created by artists in her native Brasstown called Mercer Empty Bowls, which fostered support among the artistic community in Macon to assist local hunger-fighting agencies. The program raised about $3,000 in 2008 and even more in 2009, she said.
She also served on the executive committee for the school’s Caring For Creation conference, coordinating the event’s service day by getting more than 500 Mercer students into the community to work on environmentally oriented projects.
“It’s definitely part of the Mercer experience that I really appreciate,” Doornbos said of her service work. “That’s one of the reasons I chose Mercer and recommend it. It’s bittersweet leaving, because I love it here.”
Middle Georgia College
John Lukas Edwards, 18
Associate degree, physics
Post-graduation plans: Edwards will attend Georgia Tech in the fall to pursue a degree in biomedical engineering.
John Lukas Edwards had no time at Middle Georgia College for games, mostly because he was busy with GAMES — the Georgia Academy of Math, Engineering and Science.
Edwards will finish school in the extremely rare position of being valedictorian of both Hawkinsville High School and Middle Georgia College — simultaneously. He spent the last two years of high school taking classes at Middle Georgia College and even lived on campus.
“I actually liked it better than high school,” he said. “I enjoy the freedom of living on campus. You mature a lot faster.”
The 4.0 student didn’t have a whole lot of free time while juggling the course load at both schools, but he did play trumpet in both of their marching bands.
Edwards will enter Georgia Tech having completed all of his core curriculum classes, meaning he will be free to focus on classes that relate to his degree. Ultimately, he aims to become a neurosurgeon.
“It’s the most underdeveloped field,” he said. “I’ll have plenty of opportunity for research. The nervous system has always been something that’s been interesting to me.”
Middle Georgia Technical College
Philamenia Brown, 51
Associate degree, business administrative technology
Hometown: Warner Robins
Post-graduation plans: Brown, who will earn her associate degree in June, plans to one day pursue a bachelor’s degree. In addition to being a student, she also works in the school’s admissions office.
Philamenia Brown began attending Middle Georgia Technical College after being laid off from a job she held for 10 years.
“I didn’t have any more excuses for not going to school,” she said of her decision to become a student in 2001.
After receiving nine technical certificates and two diploma programs in business-related areas, Brown is achieving her goal of earning a degree.
“I never knew I was going to school this long,” she said. “Once you get started, you get motivated to go higher.”
Brown said she had to stay focused to work, study and balance family life all at the same time.
“It was a challenge. I hung in there,” she said. “There were times when I wanted to quit, but my dream was to get one degree.”
Now she says her experience serves as an example to other older students looking to return to school to sharpen their workplace skills.
“It’s never too late,” she said. “It may be hard to get started, but it’s never too late. Always pursue your dream.”
Jessica Albrecht, 22
Bachelor’s degree, biology
Post-graduation plans: Albrecht will begin a master of science degree in the physician’s assistant program at Baylor University’s College of Medicine.
Jessica Albrecht has wanted to be a physician’s assistant since high school, and many of her college activities were centered on that goal.
She has interned at The Medical Center of Central Georgia in the emergency room and the Children’s Hospital. She also has done mission work in Chile, Guatemala and Germany.
Albrecht, who was born in Hamburg, Germany, chose Wesleyan College because it was a small college.
“I think the biggest thing is that they have the small class sizes,” she said. “They always offer help. It has a small community feel, like high school.”
Albrecht hasn’t decided whether she will work in emergency medicine or pediatrics once she becomes a physician’s assistant, but whatever route she takes, she wants to be able to help others in underprivileged areas around the world.
She is graduating with a 3.9 GPA and earned the Presidential, HOPE, Sally Bowen, Ouida J. Ward, Community Foundation of Greater Atlanta, Newnan Hospital and Kiwanis Club scholarships. She’s also a member of the Phi Kappa Phi, Beta Beta Beta and Mortar Board honor societies.
Staff writers Phillip Ramati, Andrea Castillo and Julie Hubbard contributed to this report.