With his entire future ahead of him, graduation day kept making Don Matthews think about his past.
He had his whole family beside him Sunday. They posed for pictures in the drizzling rain outside Bell Auditorium, with Matthews decked out in Paine College’s purple sash.
The togetherness made him think about when things were different, when he fled New Orleans for Augusta after Hurricane Katrina destroyed his home and school.
He had to start new in Augusta, but it turned out to be doorway for opportunity.
“It’s a milestone for me,” said Matthews, who graduated with a mass communications degree and hopes to write and draw cartoons for Disney.
“It’s a stepping stone, and I got my nieces and nephews here and they can see that it can be done.”
Paine College graduated 98 students at its 130th commencement ceremony Sunday. The keynote speaker, Georgia Health Sciences University President Ricardo Azziz, said it’s an opportunity for young people to inspire others and chase dreams no matter how large.
Born in Uruguay, Azziz decided at 14 to go into the medical field and made his life about accomplishing those goals. He encouraged the graduates to have the same determination.
“Our ability to learn is what makes us who we are, what gives us our value as humans,” he said.
Valedictorian William Harrison Lariscy III said he and his classmates will bring values learned in college with them in whatever they do in life.
They will be Lions wherever they go.
“We have an obligation to carry on the Paine College tradition,” Lariscy said. “We must love truth and seek it above material things,” he said, referencing the college’s Ideal statement.
Paine President George Bradley encouraged the graduates not to stop in pursuing an education. He said they should go on to become Nobel Peace Prize winners, presidents and educators.
“My charge to you is clear and simple,” he said. “Take the Paine College mission … with you as part of your work, leisure and spiritual life and you will move forward.”
It’s a hope Kenneth Talley had as he watched his daughter, Tiffany, receive a diploma Sunday.
“It’s been wonderful to watch her,” Talley said. “She’s my oldest daughter, the first in my family to receive a degree. I’m a proud man today.”