“I’d love to be among you, but I ain’t giving it back,” Bragg said. “Every one of you is smarter than me and if I can do it, you should be able to do it holding a concrete block.”
Bragg, 54, grew up just a few miles from Jacksonville and achieved fame as a man of the written word, first in newspapers, from The Anniston Star to The New York Times, and later in best-selling novels. Bragg graduated from Jacksonville High School in 1977 and started school at JSU soon after, but he never made it past the first semester.
“All my life I’ve driven past this place with a certain amount of regret,” Bragg said. "Every day after I quit, dropped out or was sent packing, I would drive by here wishing I had stuck it out.”
Bragg may not have needed a degree to find professional success, but the JSU graduates who walked away with degrees Friday are betting that they will.
“The opportunities I’ve had here have given me the opportunity to follow my dreams,” said Delana Parker. “I think it opens a lot of doors.”
Parker just returned from an internship at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. She said she majored in communications with a focus in broadcast and would like to work as a motorsports reporter.
Brittany Fisher-Pinkard received a diploma for completing JSU’s nursing program. Fisher-Pinkard, 31, a wife and a mother to four children, received an associate's degree years ago, but came back to JSU to get a bachelors degree.
“I needed it, of course, for the income,” Fisher-Pinkard said. “It just didn’t work out that I finished in four years.”
But Fisher-Pinkard said, for her, earning a bachelors degree was about more than just the power to earn a living.
“It’s me setting an example and letting my kids know no matter what obstacles get in your way, you can always overcome them,” Fisher-Pinkard said.
The degrees also hold significance for the graduates’ families. Amanda Maynard’s mom and stepfather, Ramona and Jim Springs, traveled all the way from Iowa to watch the graduation ceremony.
“We are proud of her because she has shown determination,” Jim Springs said. “It’s kind of a dream to step up and be a college graduate.”
Staff Writer Laura Gaddy: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LGaddy_Star.