More than 650 students graduated from the University of West Georgia Thursday, with keynote speaker Dr. Tristan Denley encouraging them to “look toward the horizon and step out” into the future.
“Today is a day in which you can allow yourself to look back and take stock on the journey that’s led you here,” said Denley, who serves as chief academic officer for the University System of Georgia. “But more importantly, look forward knowing you are well-prepared for this moment and step out into the future that’s to come. I for one am excited about where that future will lead.”
The Commencement ceremony was held at the UWG Coliseum at 11 a.m. for students graduating from the College of Arts and Humanities, the College of Education, the College of Science and Mathematics, the College of Social Sciences, the Richards College of Business and the Tanner Health System School of Nursing.
More than 650 undergraduate and graduate degrees were conferred for the summer semester, according to preliminary numbers, with approximately 475 students walking across the stage Thursday. Of those degrees, 344 were undergraduate, with 319 at the graduate level.
UWG President Kyle Marrero said the summer ceremony’s graduates represent the best graduation rates in their four-, five- and six-year cohorts in the history of the university.
“The time you’ve spent at UWG has given you the opportunity to transform your life, but what it will do for you in the next 50 years will be even bigger,” Marrero told graduates before asking them to turn their tassels. “We are truly joined together. Your success in the future is UWG’s success.”
Joshua Lester, president of UWG’s Student Government Association, said graduates are “truly blessed” to be able to share the experience of attending UWG together.
“For a period of time, we’ve been able to learn, laugh and grow together,” Lester said. “You are all proof that hard work, consistency and dedication will allow you to accomplish any goal you set for yourself. We are Wolves. We are strong and resilient, but more importantly we are all part of the same Wolf pack, and together we are more resilient than we would ever be by ourselves.”
Denley’s remarks centered on a quote by 19th-century Scottish philosopher, Thomas Carlyle: “Go as far as you can see; when you get there, you’ll be able to see further.”
“Those words require looking carefully at opportunities you have, but to do more than simply make the best of whatever’s coming,” Denley said. “Seek how you can be an active participant in shaping the future unfolding around you.”
Serving as executive vice chancellor for academic affairs and chief academic officer for USG, Denley takes a hands-on approach on initiatives to impact student success. Prior to moving to Georgia in 2017, Denley served as vice chancellor for academic affairs at the Tennessee Board of Regents from 2013-2017. Before that, he served as vice president for academic affairs at Austin Peay State University.
A native of Penzance, England, Denley earned his Ph.D. in mathematics from Trinity College Cambridge. He has also held positions in Sweden and Canada before coming to the United States.
Denley spoke on how he doesn’t necessarily work in his field today, but he still uses his degree every day in another way.
“My training as a mathematician provides a distinctive viewpoint and a way to look at problems that’s different from the ways other people look at them,” Denley said. “Just the same, you’re absolutely prepared to take what you learned and apply it to your field today, but the training in your discipline also provides you with an important lens through which you can see the world and its problems in a new, distinctive way.”
Denley closed his remarks by congratulating graduates for balancing life’s pressures with their academic progress.
“Beating those mountains has brought you here, but it also enables others to take strength in your achievement,” Denley said. “You now have the ability to inspire others around you who are still on their journey and assure them that they, too, can prevail against the mountains you faced and conquered.”
UWG serves more than 13,500 students from across Georgia, 37 other states and 72 countries. Perennially ranked by U.S. News and World Report as a top national university, West Georgia offers 88 fields of study, including business, nursing, education, STEM, social sciences and the arts. It generates a regional economic impact of nearly $520 million and provides a safe, quality and affordable college experience that transforms lives.