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Georgia Southwestern recognizes 2020 graduates across four separate, socially-distanced ceremonies

Georgia Southwestern State University (GSW) recognized Spring, Summer and Fall graduates in the Class of 2020 on Saturday, December 12 across four smaller, socially-distanced ceremonies inside the Convocation Hall. Approximately 175 graduates walked across the stage to receive their diplomas, with 726 students total earning their bachelor's, master's and specialist degrees in 2020. Among those were unique stories of mother and son, twins, dean and son, and a special needs graduate.

"It was a great day," said GSW President Neal Weaver, Ph.D. "This is one of the most important days of our graduates' lives, and certainly the most anticipated day on our campus, so we had to figure out a way to make an in-person graduation happen. The day may have been long, but it was absolutely worth every bit of it to honor all of our 2020 graduates with as much of a traditional ceremony as possible. I want to thank GSW's Graduation Committee who worked extremely hard over the last few months to plan and safely execute four ceremonies in one day. I think the day went smoothly, and it was apparent the graduates and their families were happy to be here."

Georgia Southwestern took many safety precautions throughout the day to hold in-person ceremonies and help ensure the safety of the graduates and their families. Face masks were required inside the building and were worn at all times, graduates were allowed up to four guests, and seating on the floor and in the stands was spaced out and marked off to meet proper social distancing protocol. The arena was also thoroughly cleaned in between ceremonies.

The first ceremony of the day began at 10 a.m. and recognized graduates earning their bachelor's and master's degree in the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Nursing and Health Sciences. This was the largest ceremony of the day, with approximately 78 graduates in attendance, and possibly the most unique in terms of those graduating.

Kelly McCoy, Ph.D., dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, presented a diploma to his son, Will McCoy, who earned his undergraduate degree in biology. Cedarian Holsendolph, graduating with his bachelor's in psychology, walked across the stage in the same ceremony as his mother, Monica Holsendolph-Frazier, who earned her bachelor of science in nursing. Twin sisters from Sylvester, Ga. were also among those graduating in the same ceremony. Keshondra Shipp graduated with her bachelor's in English, while Deondra Shipp earned her bachelor's in psychology.

And possibly the most heartwarming of all was the recognition of 2020 graduate Jordan Manning. Jordan, diagnosed with Asberger's syndrome, has always dreamed of his college graduation day - a day his mother, Kelly Manning, wasn't sure would be possible.

"I am just so grateful," Kelly said with her tears in her eyes. "GSW has been beyond anything I could have ever envisioned for Jordan. I never had to ask for anything, everyone here just always knew what to do before I could even ask. I admit I was very hesitant at first because I was so scared, but Jordan adapted well and had support all around him from his professors, his peers, and the staff in Disability Services."

Jordan, a jazz and classical musical enthusiast, was proud to earn his undergraduate in general studies with a minor in music and certificates in pop music and general music.

"It's been a phenomenal experience," Jordan beamed. "My professors have been amazing, especially Dr. Mark Laughlin. He's good at everything he does, and he really knows how to teach. He's more than a great professor, he's a great friend."

Following the morning ceremony was the 1 p.m. ceremony for 25 graduates earning their bachelor's and master's degrees from the College of Education. Many of those walking were Spring graduates who have already been teaching in classrooms across the region since their virtual graduation in May.

The 4 p.m. ceremony, held for those earning their specialist degree in education, was more intimate with only 18 in attendance. This allowed for guests to sit on the floor with graduates, and for some little ones, in their mother's lap. Given the different life stages for these particular graduates, President Weaver acknowledged the fact that earning this third degree took time away from their families and children, to which many gently nodded their heads or wiped away tears.

One great example of this was Robin Young, whose three boys proudly joined their mother as she walked across the stage and accepted her third degree. Similarly, sisters Ashley (Bailey) Hadley, Amber (Bailey) Hogg, and Alicia (Bailey) Bilbo of Lagrange, Ga. may have spent time away from their husbands and children, but they were also thankful to spend more time together as they completed the specialist program.

The fourth and final ceremony at 7 p.m. recognized bachelor's and master's graduates from the College of Business and Computing with 48 in attendance. A few of these graduates were stepping foot on campus for the first time, as they were fully online students traveling from states such as North Carolina and South Carolina to personally accept their diploma.

The Macebearers for each ceremony were as follows: Dr. Chadwick Gugg, associate professor of mathematics in the College of Arts and Sciences, and Dr. Paula Bryant, professor and associate dean in the College of Nursing and Health Sciences; Dr. Queen Brown, professor of education in the College of Education; Dr. Chu-Chu Wu, professor of education in the College of Education; Dr. Robert Bennett, professor of business in the College of Business and Computing.

Each ceremony was streamed live and recorded on GSW's YouTube channel. More pictures from the day can be found on GSW's Facebook in the Fall Commencement | 2020 album.