The University of Arkansas – Fort Smith held the first two of its seven commencement ceremonies this month on Saturday, May 1, honoring 2020 graduates who returned to campus to take their long-delayed walking across the stage.
Ron Orick, executive director of the UAFS Career Services office and the Doug and Kathy Babb Center for Student Professional Development, spoke to 10 a.m. graduates, offering advice on building a future through small moments. “You never know where opportunities will lead,” he said, “so seek out new experiences and grow your network. Look for ways to engage in your community and look for ways to volunteer and make a difference.”
Rick Goins, who has served as the director of Alumni Affairs at UAFS since 2014 and helped engage close to 50,000 UAFS alumni worldwide, urged graduates to stay committed and connected. Goins thanked them for their commitment to their education and asked that they thank their families, friends, peers, and mentors for their own commitment to helping the graduates make it to this point, even amid a global pandemic.
“You’ve come back today to walk this stage, and I hope you continue coming back for years to come,” said Goins. “And never forget: Once a Lion, always a Lion."
Proud friends and families gathered outside the Stubblefield Center after each ceremony, snapping photos of their loved ones in caps, gowns, stoles, and cords, as they, all smiles, celebrated this long-awaited day.
“As a first-generation student, this is a huge accomplishment for myself and my family, and I take tremendous pride in that,” said Ana Segovia following the 10 a.m. ceremony. Segovia, who is already well into her career as a water treatment technician for the city of Fort Smith, participated in extensive undergraduate research that led her to Belize and earned her an Arkansas Space Consortium grant funded by NASA.
“My time and experiences at UAFS provided me with an immense sense of pride and achievement," Segovia said. "I'm forever grateful to have been a part of the 2020 graduating class.”
May 2020 graduate Rachel Williams, who is nearing completion of her master's degree at Norfolk State University and has already secured her dream job as a television reporter, walked out of the Gayle Kaundart Arena and into the arms of friends and family donning matching "Team Rachel" T-shirts. “Because of UAFS, I’ve learned the importance of community, and the connections you build with your professors and peers. I enjoyed the smaller school because I needed that personal, academic attention to help me grow as a journalist. My degree from UAFS has given me the confidence to write and report in any medium, and I chose to come back and walk because I really wanted to fulfill this accomplishment and honor those three years of hard work.”
Colton Key, who currently works as a Software Developer for ArcBest Technologies, beamed as he explained that his mother was able to fly in this weekend to celebrate his accomplishment. “I love this campus, these classes, and my faculty,” he said. “The Math department always pushed me beyond what I thought possible for me, and the computer science professors challenged my skills in every single class."
While close to 200 students walked the stage Saturday, there were 810 graduates in the class of 2020 who earned bachelor's degrees; 247 who earned associate degrees; 119 who earned technical certificates; and 12 who earned master's degrees.