(Editor's note: In an earlier version of this article, the Herald Democrat erred in a photo caption in the spelling of Jacob Morgan's given name.)
Austin College said goodbye to the Class of 2017 Sunday, but not before presenting the graduates with their diplomas and advice meant to put their accomplishments and what may happen in the years ahead in perspective.
More than 300 students sat on the lawn outside the college's administration building and under a cloudless blue sky. The morning ceremony was attended by friends and family, as well as 100 alumni who were themselves in the same position 50 years ago when they graduated from AC in 1967. Austin College President Marjorie Hass told the 2017 graduates to prepare for their post-college years to fly past but that they would go on to accomplish much in that time.
“Now graduates, before you know it and sooner than you can imagine, you'll be sitting right up here greeting the class of 2067 as they graduate,” Hass said. “In the intervening 50 years, you will accomplish great things. You will make your alma mater proud, and you will treasure and you will cherish your Austin College relationships.”
Hass will leave Austin College in late June for Tennessee's Rhodes College, where she will assume the familiar role of college president. Despite her departure, Hass told the graduates she felt her connection to the school and its alumni would not change and pledged to return to their collective stomping grounds.
“I hope you know that I will be counting myself as a member of your graduating class, and I look forward to seeing you at our many reunions,” Hass said.
Paul Quinn College President Michael Sorrells delivered the commencement speech and in it, reframed what he believes it means to be on the road to success. While college graduates often look forward to their future triumphs, Sorrels asked them to consider the moments in which they fall short to be of even greater value.
“When you fail, fail forward. Use your failure to prepare and propel you to the life you dream of,” Sorrells said. “Don't allow yourself to wallow in your moment of defeat. Determine that your defeat is simply a step you needed to take, a lesson you needed to learn, a midcourse adjustment that needed to be made to allow you to become the truest and best version of yourself.”
AC student and 2017 graduate Ganesh Maniam also spoke to his fellow classmates. Maniam spent the summer of 2016 volunteering as an emergency medical technician in the African country of Tanzania and used his international experience to inform the graduates of just how meaningful their newly-acquired college degrees are.
“Only 6 percent of the global population has earned a college degree,” Maniam said. “For all of us to be here now, it means that we are fortunate, that we are lucky, that we are blessed and privileged. And with that privilege comes a responsibility toward our community. With that in mind, we should go out into the real world to ensure that we can help others whenever we can, to live and laugh as much as possible, to leave this world a better place than when we entered it.”
With all the diplomas distributed, the graduates made their way through their crowd and into the arms of excited family members and friends. After posing for a post-ceremonial photo in her cap and gown, diploma proudly displayed, biology major and future veterinarian Myranda Baumgartner reflected on the contrast between her first and final day at Austin College.
“My first day at Austin College, I was miserable,” Baumgartner said. “I was sad, I was scared, I was upset and I didn't want to leave my parents. Now I feel like I've grown a lot as a person. I'm confident and happy to graduate.”
Baumgartner said she found herself far more capable than she ever thought possible, and, in Austin College-'roo fashion, encouraged anyone pursuing a degree or still considering college, to push forward.
“Keep kickin',” Baumgartner said.