Commencement Spotlights "Habit of Excellence" at GPC

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Author: Roger Barnes

“A commencement speech wouldn’t be complete without the dispensing of words of advice, so I included a few to share,” keynote speaker Rep. Stephanie Stuckey Benfield told graduates during Georgia Perimeter College’s spring commencement held Friday on the Clarkston Campus. 

“Give 100 percent to every task, take the high road, listen to all sides of an issue and learn to communicate effectively,” Benfield said. “The ability to communicate effectively is key to success in life. Use proper grammar, enhance your vocabulary by reading, impress people with your diction. 

“The points I’ve delivered are a few I have collected on my life’s journey,” the keynote speaker said. “There are many others: Set your goals high, find the right balance of work and family, derive inspiration from role models, all are valuable lessons. You, I’m sure, have already begun to compile your own list, a list that will grow as you move forward to explore what each new day will bring. That is what we do. We live and we learn.” 

More than 1,000 graduates gathered to say thanks and good-byes to the college, professors and friends who helped them move a step closer to their dream. 

GPC President Dr. Anthony S. Tricoli said graduates will find a lot to celebrate during commencement: Eleven students were graduating through early-college programs, the college had two Jack Kent Cooke Transfer Scholarship winners this year— a first for GPC—and the graduating class was filled with interesting and inspirational stories of students, each traveling a different road to this milestone day. 

“There is evidence all around us that at Georgia Perimeter College, we have a strong habit of excellence,” Tricoli said in his opening remarks. “The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle said, ‘We are what we repeatedly do.’ Excellence then is not an act but a habit.” 

Graduate Amanda Browning is one example of excellence in the 2011 graduating class, Tricoli said. 

“Amanda was named the college’s Regent’s Outstanding Scholar and served as president of the Clarkston Campus Phi Theta Kappa International Honors Society,” Tricoli said. “She is a contributing author to the Polishing Cloth student magazine and an incredible force in community service. Her projects include toy drives for a local hospital, a campus workshop on domestic violence, an observance of Veterans Day and book drives for local schools. She carried a rigorous academic load, for which she earned a 3.9 GPA. 

Another example of excellence in this year’s class was demonstrated by Natalee Dukes and Michelle Borg, Tricoli said. 

Dukes and Borg were sophomores at Heritage High School in Rockdale County when they decided to become early-college students, enrolling in Georgia Perimeter’s Dual Enrollment students. 

“Michelle graduates with a 3.8 GPA and an associate degree in psychology. She will continue her studies at the University Of Georgia’s pharmacy school,” Tricoli said. “As a pre-med major at GPC, Natalie Dukes was named to the prestigious Phi Theta Kappa All-Georgia Academic Team and earned a $1,250 scholarship from the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation. Natalie plans to study neuroscience at the University of Georgia this fall.” 

Borg and Dukes were not the only early-college graduates, Tricoli said. Nine students from the DeKalb Early College Academy, Tyana Baker, Dezsarae Gill, Kaitlyn Hackett, Aaron Klaft, Zakery Mizell, Patience Shepard, Simone Thompson, Eric Williams and Amber Worthy also graduated. 

Like Dukes and Borg, the DECA students will attend graduation ceremonies at their high schools later this month to receive their high school diplomas. All the early college students plan to continue their education in the fall as college juniors. 

At the end of her senior year of high school in Ohio, Joanne Butler found that she needed one more class to graduate, but she left without her diploma. Butler moved to Georgia, started a family, found work in an attorney’s office but realized there was no growth for her at that job. 

“Joanne said, ‘I completed a GED and I put this vision into place that I’m going to be a nurse. Now I’m achieving it,’” Tricoli said. “Joanne represents the first generation in her family to graduate from college. Not only is she an honors graduate, a community service volunteer and had been named to the Phi Theta Kappa—All Georgia Academic team. She graduated today with a Health Sciences degree and has been accepted to the nursing schools at Emory and Mercer University. 

“Graduates, these are just a few examples. Each of you has our own story, your own achievements, and Georgia Perimeter is proud of you,” Tricoli said.
Benfield said she is never surprised by the achievements of each GPC graduating class. 

“I have been well aware of the high caliber of instruction and dedication of Georgia Perimeter’s faculty, the innovative work to assist students in their transfers, the opportunities that allow high school students to gain college credit— these are exemplary ways to meet the needs of Georgia students,” Benfield said. “I have long recognized the value and impact of Georgia Perimeter College, but to be here today allows me to feel the spirit of community you enjoy and to taste the student success. As a state representative and as a resident of this community, this is a sweet experience, and I appreciate the opportunity to share it.”

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Georgia Perimeter College, the third largest institution of the University System of Georgia, serves more than 25,000 students through four campuses and several sites in metro Atlanta. For additional information, visit