Americus Times-Recorder, Americus, Georgia

Local News

December 8, 2012

‘Guide dreams through tough times’

GSW commencement speaker advises

AMERICUS — Nearly 400 students marched in Georgia Southwestern State University’s Fall 2012 Commencement Saturday.

Grand Marshal Greg M. Hawver, Ph.D.,  ushered Macebearer Jason Berggren, Ph.D., and the proud train of graduates into the Student Success Center for the ceremony. Hawver is professor and department chair of Health and Human Sciences. Berggren is assistant professor of political science and 2011 recipient of the Excellence and Commitment to Teaching Award.

University President, Kendall Blanchard, Ph.D., welcomed the families of graduates to campus and introduced a panel of dignitaries, which included a very special guest — Marjorie NeSmith, mother of commencement speaker William “Dink” H. NeSmith Jr.

Marjorie NeSmith is a Georgia Southwestern alumnae, who was on campus sitting on a bench outside Wheatley Hall in December 1941, when she learned of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

“I feel very proud to be here. It is a special time for me to see my son speaking on this stage,” she said.

Her daughter-in-law Pam NeSmith shared that it “ended her college days. She started working for the war effort.”

Marjorie NeSmith reminisced, “Even the young men who had permits to go to school canceled. The saying was ‘Keep Them Flying.’ We were so young. I have never seen a greater display of loyalty and love for America. We were so proud. I can’t remember what I ate for lunch yesterday, but I remember every minute of that day.”

Blanchard referred to her story in his welcome address and told graduates of her bravery and sacrifice and commended her for “raising an amazing son.”

He introduced Berggren who delivered the reflection.

“I hope that we at Georgia Southwestern have inspired you and helped you find your calling. Celebrate your achievements with your friends and family,” Berggren advised.

He quoted Woodrow Wilson and urged the graduating class to “grow great dreams.”

He explained the achievements etched on the gravestone of Thomas Jefferson and encouraged the students to and to give some thought to “what you want on your grave marker.” He referenced Jimmy Carter’s famous advice to treat endings as beginnings, noting that “in life, there is everything to gain.”

Brian Adler, Ph.D., vice president for Academic Affairs and the Dean of Faculty, recognized the 2012 Excellence and Commitment to Teaching Award. Eugenia P. Bryan, Ph.D., was awarded the honor for her work as an associate professor of the Department of English and chair of the Women’s Studies Program.

Blanchard then formally introduced the commencement speaker, William “Dink” H. NeSmith Jr., chair-elect of the University System of Georgia Board of Regents, as a friend of higher education and Georgia Southwestern.

NeSmith is co-owner and president of Athens-based Community Newspapers Inc., which publishes several dozen newspapers in Georgia, Florida and the Carolinas. The 1970 graduate of the University of Georgia (UGA) is chairman of the Richard B. Russell Foundation that supports the UGA Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies. He is an emeritus member of the UGA Athletic Association’s board of directors and the UGA Foundation’s Board of Trustees. He is also past president of UGA’s Alumni Association and the Georgia Press Association.

Opening with a joke, NeSmith recounted the call in which Blanchard invited him to be the commencement speaker.

“He said, ‘Dink, I know you are in newspapers, but do you believe in free speech?’ Sure do, I told him. And he invited me to give the commencement speech.”

Keeping the atmosphere light, he told a story about Lawrence of Arabia taking guests to Paris and delighting in their fascination with the hotel’s running water. In the anecdote, the guests purloin the hotel’s faucet, convinced that it would solve all the problems in the desert.

NeSmith told the families and graduation candidates that schools are like faucets, and that the students’ “energy, resources and ideas that flow through it make Georgia Southwestern a great university. You and your friends have to be the reservoir.”

He also referred to his mother’s experience at Southwestern in the 1940s.

“My 88-year-old mother is watching you do something today that she didn’t get to do. She dropped out to support the war because she believed in freedom. Her war hero came home and she married him.”

The lesson his mother taught him about life is to “never stop dreaming. With determination and hard work, dreams do come true. Carry them along with you and nurture them from the stormy gusts of criticism and cynicism,” he shared, blowing soap bubbles from the stage.

“I ask, what are your dreams? You are thinking it is tough to dream in these tough times. Tough times don’t last. Tough people do.”

He gave points of advice to help develop a “rudder” to guide a person’s dreams through tough times.

He encouraged the Class of 2012 to “decide what is important to you and have faith. America is founded on freedom of religion. The strength of your faith in yourself and your fellow graduates will carry you and America through this recession. Family and friends are the only true wealth a person can accumulate on this earth.”

NeSmith explained that fitness is important because “God only gives you one mind and one body.”

He encouraged reading and life-long learning.

“What you put in your head is as important as what you put in your mouth.”

He touched on finances.

“Money is like manure. If it is stacked in one place, it stinks. If you spread it around, it helps things grow.”

The last element of the foundation for a guiding philosophy is fun.

“Most people start to die from the neck up at 25 because they stop dreaming. It isn’t as easy as it looks to make your dreams come true,” he closed before adding a final, “Good luck.”


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