Nearly 2,500 people packed Finis Horne Arena on May 12, 2018, to see 321 graduates receive degrees at Lander University's 157th commencement.
Representing the fall class were students from Canada, Serbia, Puerto Rico, several from the United Kingdom, Germany, China, Lithuania, Zimbabwe, Colombia - and 12 U.S. states including South Carolina, Iowa, California and Georgia.
"I am ready to graduate," said Sara Howe of Elberton, Ga., who will soon begin her career with the Greenville Hospital System after earning her Bachelor of Science degree in Lander's nursing program. "The last three years of nursing school have been preparing me for this moment, and I'm ready to start."
Delivering the commencement address was math professor Gina Dunn, who used the inspiration of Dr. Seuss to tell the new graduates, "you're off to great places, you're off and away!"
Starting as a Lander adjunct instructor in 2000, Dunn steadily rose through the ranks, moving up to instructor, then to tenured assistant professor, and eventually becoming chair of Lander's Math and Computing Science department in 2012.
Her efforts in the classroom not only led to being named as the school's 2017 Distinguished Professor, she also made school history by becoming the first guest speaker to deliver both the commencement and convocation address in the same school year.
"Your education is just beginning," Dunn told the graduates near the end of her address. "But with all respect to Dr. Seuss, you're not on your own. Lander is your family, and we're here for you. So don't just go after a career - go after your heart's desire."
Lander University Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Suzanne Ozment, who presided over commencement, thanked Dunn, saying, "It is our pleasure, Gina, to have you as our speaker today."
Dr. Ozment then recognized undergraduate academic honors, student veterans, student athletes, and senior Evidence Mushaninga of Zimbabwe, winner of the annual Thayer Award, Lander's highest academic honor.
"We had 10 finalists for the Thayer award," Ozment said, recognizing all of them before the commencement gathering. "Congratulations to every one of you."
Once all degrees were in hand, graduates and parents and friends erupted in celebration with shouts, smiles, hugs, tears, picture taking - and above all, excitement that this part of their journey was successfully completed.
"It's going to be really sad to move away," said Kaitlin Sherfield of Laurens, S.C., who earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in art and graphic design. "It's been a wonderful four years, full of growth and learning about myself, and I will miss my Lander family."
Nicholas Mann, a mathematics major from Clinton, S.C., added that while he too finds it hard to leave, he won't be going too far away after graduation.
"I have a job lined up teaching math at Clinton High School," said Mann, who signed a first-year teaching contract in April. "And both the Lander math department and the education program prepared me completely for this."
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