At the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith’s commencement ceremony Dec. 13, Mayor-Elect George McGill urged UAFS graduates to “not forget the town that trained you and educated you.”
“I believe with all of my heart and soul that each of you can help make the future come to life right here in Fort Smith,” McGill said to the more than 400 graduates and a capacity crowd assembled in the Stubblefield Center. “The elite education that you have received at UAFS will allow you to compete anywhere in the world, but you should strongly consider making a massive difference here at home. We are not yet where we should be when it comes to higher-wage, higher-skill jobs for a community of our size, but we are making progress and, with your help, we will arrive where we need to be.”
McGill continued by stressing the importance of “retaining and empowering” young residents like those in the fall 2018 graduating class, and made a promise to those who decided to make a career in the city.
“I promise that if you choose to stay, you will have numerous opportunities to be involved in building the future of Fort Smith and the River Valley,” he said. “I will not hesitate to seek your advice, listen to your wisdom, recruit you to serve on an Advisory Board or a Policy Commission, or even encourage you to run for office. Our region offers its residents the unique and wonderful chance to speak out and participate and make a difference. Our home craves new leadership, new ideas, and new doers who will make things happen and who will leave a lasting impact.”
McGill closed his speech by reiterating the importance of gratitude.
“Gratitude is the gift that, once given, continues to multiply and bear fruit, as long as ears are eager to hear it and lips are eager to speak it,” McGill said. “Never forget to be thankful for where you came from, for who helped you along the way, and to pay the gift of gratitude forward.”
Dr. Edward Serna, interim chancellor at UAFS, spoke prior to McGill and remembered how his own life and family were impacted by the power of education. He recalled his father, who served in the Vietnam War instead of attending school and who eventually earned a college degree as an adult learner.
“His decision to put in those long nights of studying after a full day of work would pay dividends not only for his own life but in the lives of the generations that would follow him,” Serna said. “Now, did he appreciate the immense impact that his decision would have? Probably not. Did he know that his son would one day be addressing you as a university chancellor? Absolutely not. But, this is the transformational power of education that can echo through generations.”
“This is the change you have made in your life,” Serna continued. “And make no mistake, it’s a change for the better. Whether you are one in a long line of family members to earn degrees or if you are the first to complete college, you are continuing – or beginning – a legacy of educational attainment in your family that will be felt for generations to come.”
Dr. Donald Bobbitt, president of the University of Arkansas System, also spoke briefly during the ceremony.
In addition to Chancellor Serna, UAFS administrators presenting candidates were Dr. Georgia Hale, provost and senior vice chancellor; Dr. Ken Warden, dean of the College of Applied Science and Technology; Dr. Ashok Subramanian, dean of the College of Business; Dr. Carolyn Mosley, dean of the College of Health Sciences; Dr. Paul Hankins, dean of the College of Communication, Languages, Arts and Social Sciences; Dr. Ron Darbeau, dean of the College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics; Dr. Norm Dennis, senior associate dean for the College of Engineering at the University of Arkansas – Fayetteville; and Wayne Womack, registrar.
The ceremony included a musical prelude by the UAFS Symphonic Band; a performance of “The Star Spangled Banner” by graduate Kalyn Rhoads; a call to order by Mitzi Jones, chief marshal and bearer of the mace; the presentation of the colors by the UAFS ROTC; and a welcome to the Alumni Association by Christopher Cluck, chair of the Alumni Advisory Council at UAFS.
Pre-ceremony music and a post-recessional bell peal were performed on the Donald W. Reynolds Bell Tower Carillon by Dr. Stephen Husarik, head carillonneur.