THOMASVILLE- Last Saturday morning, Thomas University held their 2023 undergraduate commencement ceremony at the Forbes Campus, with the commencement address being given by Dr. Robert Bohman, the retiring Vice President for Student Life. 

After an invocation was held by Thomas University Chaplain Rev. John Rainey and Bonnie Greenblatt sang the national anthem, Stephen Ferguson, Vice President for Military and Corporate Relations, recognized the military graduates within the commencement ceremony. 

“Moving from national service to the academy is a big transition, because the university is a place of open dialogue on wide-ranging ideas and insights,” Ferguson said. “Your success and achievement that we’re acknowledging today is a true testament to your dedication and determination.”

After he thanked them for their service on behalf of Thomas University and congratulated them for their accomplishments, Ferguson stepped aside for George Lilly, chair of the board of trustees, to officially welcome the crowd and the students to the ceremony.

“On behalf of the board of Thomas University, the faculty, the administration, the staff, we congratulate those of you who will be awarded degrees today,” Lilly said. “We congratulate your parents, spouses, family and friends who have supported and sustained you during your years of study.”

Afterward, James Sheppard, President of Thomas University, welcomed the students to the commencement as well, saying that today’s ceremony marked them as a person of acclaim and leadership.

“No matter what you chose to study or where you fell within a GPA spectrum, the fact that you are here now says that you have the skills and knowledge that can be put into service for others,” he said. “To be clear, your education is not your toothbrush. You can, and you should, share it with others. The honors and awards that you receive today mark you as a person with the ability to make things better, yet it is your degree that is the foundation and it says you lead with honesty, fairness and compassion anywhere in this world.”

The ceremony, he said, would be an indelible fact in their life for the rest of their days, as Thomas University would always remember them. 

“In a few moments, you will cross this stage and for forever you will be graduates of Thomas University,” he said.

After recognition of Honor Society members, Devin Crews was called to the stage to receive the highest honor the university could provide, the President’s Award.

“Devin has consistently maintained an outstanding grade point average while majoring in criminal justice,” Sheppard said. “He is an inaugural member of our track, field and cross country teams and today, he will hold the unique position of the being the first bachelor graduate of the Thomas University Track and Field team.”

A university record holder and inspiration to his peers, Sheppard said that Crews had displayed tremendous determination and effort during his time at the university. 

Sheppard then welcomed Steve Depaola to come up and receive the Teacher of the Year Award, saying that he had earned it by providing his students the support and compassion that came from having a strong mind and heart perfectly balanced in the classroom. 

“Steve is an accomplished scholar with a good balance between his head and his heart,” he said. “He is passionate about teaching and it shows in his work. When he lectures, which may involve laying on the floor and jumping on tables, his students are both riveted and fully engaged. He gently challenges them and uses both humor and his natural ability to build rapport to create a safe place for learning.”

Sheppard then welcomed Bohman to the stage for the commencement address.

Bohman, who is retiring on June 2, congratulated the students for their hard work and said that the importance of this moment could not be understated, but it is not the end for those receiving their degrees. 

“You have now reached a milestone in your life called graduation,” he said. “You can go ahead and check that box off on your bucket list or you can come to the realization that your education is really just beginning. This spring, what I want to share with you today, is just three words that I hope you will carry with you as you leave this ceremony: success, imagination and ideas.”

To perceive success as a journey, he said, would lead them to making waves in the world around them. He advised them to not simply believe opportunities would come to them, but to stand up and create them with their own hands. 

“Opportunities don’t just happen,” Bohman said. “You create them.”

Dr. John Meis then led the presentation of candidates, with Sheppard authorizing the issuing of diplomas and conferring them to each student as Meis led announcements. 

Afterward, Dr. Karl Barton, professor of music, led the attending crowd in the Thomas University alma mater, with Rainey handling the concluding benediction as the ceremony came to an end. 

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