LAWRENCEVILLE - Graduating from Georgia Gwinnett College is a bittersweet experience, Student Government Association President Stephen Haney said during the commencement Friday.
"When I woke up this morning, I was truly a bag of mixed emotions," said Haney, who plans to attend medical school. "I knew it was going to be a great day for me ... (but) I'm leaving a place that has come to be a home for me over the past 21/2 years."
Haney was one of 31 students who received their diplomas at Georgia Gwinnett College's second graduation ceremony. The new alumni are some of the 119 students who attended the Lawrenceville college when it first opened in August 2006; the initial 17 graduates received their bachelor degrees in June at the institution's inaugural graduation ceremony.
"Being a charter student at GGC entailed a good deal more than just going to class," President Daniel J. Kaufman said during the ceremony. "We asked our first students to help us imagine and begin to build a vision for GGC, and they responded without hesitation.
"These 31 explorers and their colleagues have been so much more than solely students - they have been partners in this extraordinary endeavor, and so we owe to them our appreciation as well as our admiration and respect."
Chad Miller, who served as the SGA's first vice president, said graduation was a "double-edged sword." He said he was happy to receive his diploma but sad to be leaving the college. He said he chose to attend Georgia Gwinnett because he wanted to be a part of something new and have the chance to leave his legacy.
"I'm most proud of helping start the first-ever Student Government Association," Miller said. "I'm proud that it's up and running, and I hope it runs smoothly for the rest of the school's lifetime."
The former Dublin resident said he has started working with a company in Duluth and plans to pursue a graduate degree in a couple of years.
Dacula resident Althea Aschenbrenner said she decided to attend the school after receiving a postcard about the school.
The experience, she said, was more than she expected. As a student at the school, she found professors who brought real-world experience and expectations into the classroom. She said she learned a new work ethic at Georgia Gwinnett College.
"I'm most proud of taking a risk to come to a school that was not (yet) accredited and see this day come," said Aschenbrenner, who plans to apply to graduate school and study education. "I am happy. This (graduation) is what you dream of."
Georgia Gwinnett College is a candidate for accreditation. It has submitted an application for full accreditation to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
University System of Georgia Regent Elridge McMillan, who gave the keynote address, said Georgia Gwinnett College is redefining what a first-rate access institution is all about. He told the graduates they "helped create the template and set the standards for others."
"Your decision to come to Georgia Gwinnett says a great deal about each of you - and it's all positive," McMillan said. "It tells me you possess a special quality - you are unafraid to explore, to be the pioneer. In short, you have what it takes to be effective leaders. It's a quality that will serve you well as you move forward with your life, your work and your other endeavors.
"The key to a successful life and career depends on you never quitting your quest for knowledge," he said. "Keep on learning. Keep on searching. And above all, never ever lose that pioneering spirit."