She has already spent 25 years in health care, including 10 years as a registered nurse, but on Friday Erica Albea was brand new – she became the first person to be handed a diploma from Georgia Regents University.
“I feel honored,” she said, clutching the tube that held her Bachelor of Science in Nursing after crossing the stage at James Brown Arena.
Albea was the first of 875 graduates who received their degrees from the university that arose from the consolidation of Augusta State and Georgia Health Sciences universities earlier this year. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal called it a “historic occasion” and drew loud cheers when he called it “the graduation of Georgia Regents University Augusta.”
Deal admitted he couldn’t remember “a single word” uttered by his graduation speakers at Mercer University but nonetheless offered some advice.
“I urge you to take control of your life, be a self-starter, be willing to innovate, explore, stretch your mind and your body, set your own goals,” he said. “You must overcome fear and be willing to be an adventurer who will take the knowledge you have gained and acquired here and illuminate the dark corners of the world.”
Despite a sea of caps and gowns on the arena floor, it took less than an hour and a half to confer degrees in all nine colleges.
Sitting on the front row of the College of Education section, with her mortarboard decorated like a classroom bulletin board and “Ms. Peacock” spelled out in glittery letters, Kristen Peacock said she wasn’t worried about the wait.
“I’m the first person on both sides of my family to graduate from college,” she said, waiting to get her Bachelor of Science in Education in Early Childhood Education degree. “I wouldn’t have missed it. I could sit here all day.”
Most of the colleges took five minutes or less to call out the names of the graduates once they lined up. As he walked up for a handshake from GRU President Ricardo Azziz, David McCall instead pulled him into a bearhug.
“He looked like he needed it,” said the Bachelor of Science in Physics graduate.
The last to cross the stage was Medical College of Georgia graduate and newly minted physician Dr. Wondwossen M. Zenebe.
“My name always has me last,” he said, so he was not surprised. And he didn’t mind the wait.
“I thought it was brisk,” Zenebe said. “It did not go on forever. And I enjoyed it. My parents enjoyed it.”