Helms College graduates in Augusta, Georgia, July 2022.
By Kelly McWilliams, admissions advisor
July 13, 2022
The hugs struck me. It was in the hugs that I saw how much it meant to our graduates to complete each step of our programs. Associate students, diploma students, and certificate students. I don't know all the graduates, but I know a few of them.
While taking pictures, I hear one of the certificate graduates thanking one of our well-loved chefs, who teaches most of the first-quarter culinary students. Her eyes are full of happy tears, and she hugs Chef Michelle Boyt for a long time as Chef tells her how proud she is.
There are other grateful hugs and a sweet moment of a chef fixing the graduation cap on one of the graduates, a joyful smile beaming from the grad's face.
I remember that first grad also earned the Generations Scholarship. She had a similar joy on her face as she walked across the room to accept her scholarship award certificate during that ceremony.
Only, there had also been another look, too: She had received the scholarship certificate and then walked to shake the hands of the Senior Vice President of Marketing and Admissions and the President of Helms College like everyone else, except she never looked up at them. She was staring down at her award that had her name on it the entire time with a look of surprise and as if it proved to her that she was worthy of pursuing this education and path and that she could do it.
Now, as she prepares with the rest of the graduates in a back conference room to enter the ballroom and walk across the stage to graduate, her look is joy and gratitude. I see the same kind of look in the eyes of other graduates.
Not everyone tears up during the commencement, but there is joy and pride in the face of every graduate.
I stay busy taking photos and video for both days of graduation ceremonies in Augusta and then in Macon, working to capture each face, each portion of the program, and each moment.
Toward the end of the ceremony, the various groups of students were asked to stand: honor graduates, high honor graduates, veterans, and then last but not least, those who have already obtained jobs in their field of study and are actively working those jobs.
As the last group is called out, almost the entire graduating body stands. It hit me—this is our mission. This is the difference that we set out to make. This is what these students were working for and hoping to find when they first stepped into our hallways.
This is why my job means so much to me, someone who struggled financially to complete my own higher education degree.
These students are leaving here with less financial burden than I had. They are going directly into jobs related to their passions, jobs that are going to help people in a very concrete way. For many of them, they had begun lifetime careers that they envisioned when they first enrolled.
This is a true gift.
After the ceremony, we practically have to rip them away from proud family members and friends to get a group photo.
One of our commencement speakers and an alumnus, Joe Wilburn, has his own restaurant in Warner Robins, Georgia. I have been there, and it is wonderful: beautiful, high-end, and well-run. He has also hired several Helms College alumni and students.
Not just with Joe and those who work at his restaurant, but also with other students and alumni I have met, I have noticed that there is a strong community of Helms.
This is all so moving that I can't help but think: This is how the world should be.
My job is not always easy. As anyone with a job can probably guess, it can be challenging. However, the words of one keynote speaker, Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney Deshala Dixon Murray, resonated:
If you have a goal, you can every day take a little step towards it. Put your head down and work hard. Never wait for things to happen. Make them happen for yourself. Sometimes you hear those voices in your head: "Do I know enough? Can I accomplish it?" And those voices are scary. But let me tell you: The certificates and the degrees that y'all are getting here today, they say that you know enough. They say that you are good at what you do. So, don't ever doubt your accomplishments because of what you have accomplished here and where you are sitting today. But whether you are scared or happy, this is the beginning of your career. And remember that you can accomplish any goal that you set your mind to, and you work hard. You know what makes your heart beat. You know what makes you catch your breath in your throat. You know what makes your chest tighten in anticipation. Now, go get it!
I don't think she was just talking to our graduates. She was talking to all of us.