Gov. Robert Bentley joined the Spring 2012 graduating class as a newly-minted JSU degree-holder. The JSU Board of Trustees awarded the governor an honorary doctorate of letters in recognition of his service to the state of Alabama.
Jim Bennett, chairman of the board of trustees, noted Bentley’s leadership in debris removal and recovery efforts following the 62 tornadoes that swept across the state last year, keeping him from speaking at last year’s JSU graduation as planned.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is a governor who is unafraid to lead…who makes quick but reasoned decisions,” Bennett said. “He did promise to come back this year, and he is here to fulfill that promise.”
Bentley praised the graduates for their own work -- more than 1,000 hours, he said -- devoted to recovery efforts after last year’s tornadoes.
“The graduates before us tonight have already shown remarkable character and service to their community,” he said. “As you spent your time here at JSU, you made a positive impact on the world surrounding you. You have seen where needs exist, and you have responded admirably.”
The governor urged graduates to continue to lead by being a follower of principle.
“The most effective leaders adhere to a core set of values that shape every decision they make,” he said, including values such as keeping one’s word and being willing to make difficult decisions even if they might be unpopular.
Bentley repeatedly emphasized to the graduates to be true to their principles, their character and their word as they face the challenges that will confront them.
“Plans have a way of changing,” the governor said. Bentley told the grads that when he first entered college he wanted to be an aeronautical engineer, but he ended up becoming a physician, joining the U.S. Air Force and serving as a hospital commander, and then practicing medicine in Tuscaloosa for 34 years.
“Now, many years later…I am honored to serve as your governor,” he said. “Circumstances will never be exactly what you expect.”
The governor acknowledged that the grads will be entering the world during challenging times but said he hopes the decisions made by today’s leaders will lead to better times.
“Our nation and our state face unique and difficult circumstances. We see signs of recovery,” he said. “We hope that there’s a brighter future ahead.”
The university conferred 690 degrees, with 533 graduates walking across the stage Friday night to receive their diplomas. University President William Meehan highlighted the accomplishments and service of the graduates seated before him. He recognized the work of members of AmeriCorps, the Peace Corps, military and National Guard. He mentioned three members of the Spring 2012 graduating class as newly commissioned officers through the university’s Army ROTC program.
The top seven graduates include Lydia Leigh Elkins of Cedartown, Ga.; Savanna E. Striplin of Altoona; Nicholas Jordan Wheeler of Centre; Carolene Devon Akins Smith of Eastaboga; Teresa Barrett Clark of Homewood; Nicholas Ryan Haney of Munford, and Matthew Caleb Ingram of Piedmont.
Ingram was among four students honored in a brief ceremony as Daugette Award recipients, Ingram as the male with the highest grade point average in his class. The criminal justice major is headed to the University of Alabama Law School to pursue a joint J.D. and M.B.A. program.
“I’m excited to be done,” he said, “but I’ll miss my professors, the relationships I had with some of them. They’ll spend a lot of time with you.”
Meehan urged graduates to continue to focus on learning.
“Faculty members have taught you what they love, which is learning, so that you may also,” Meehan told the graduates. “It is now up to you to continue to build on that foundation. I ask that each of you accept the personal challenge to be an individual who recognizes that tonight’s commitment is just a beginning which offers you an opportunity for further learning and personal development.”
Meehan congratulated the new graduates on joining the ranks of Alabama’s college degree holders, 22 percent of all adults statewide -- less than 8 percent for graduate degree recipients.
“It is not as much an elite status and privilege as it is a responsibility for you to exercise leadership,” he said. “It is your responsibility to solve the problems facing us today in our state and nation.”