Spring commencement speakers deliver powerful, heart-felt message

Spring commencement speakers deliver powerful, heart-felt message

M eet the 2022 spring commencement speakers: Dr. Lionel Brown, ’94, ’98, ’07, superintendent of Peach County Schools and Chris Clark, ’96, president and CEO of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. Both spoke about the importance of serving others.

Brown spoke at the graduate commencement May 6 about how students should give back to the community.

Dr. Lionel Brown speaks at the graduate commencement.
Dr. Lionel Brown speaks at the graduate commencement.

“Their degree should open up more opportunities for them,” he said. “Not only for advancing their careers with greater payoff or even upward mobility but for opportunities to serve.”

Brown believes the education students receive should enable them to be better servants in the community, and there are a lot of opportunities for them.

“Fulfillment in life comes through service,” he said. “It also helps to not focus on self all the time. If we could get everybody on that page, we’d probably have a better society.”

“People always look at ways to be more fulfilled in life,” he said. “But I've learned that fulfillment in serving others is very gratifying.”

Brown and his wife started a faith-based, non-profit organization called The Lotus Center several years ago in central Georgia.  They specialize in youth mentorship, counseling, enrichment classes, community projects and fundraisers to help those in need.  

“Fulfillment in life comes through service. It also helps to not focus on self all the time. If we could get everybody on that page, we’d probably have a better society.”
– Dr. Lionel Brown

“People should want to cultivate, nurture and develop the ground in which they live,” Brown said. “That’s the recipe for great communities.”

Brown knew he wanted to be a teacher when he was a sophomore history major at Georgia College. He fondly recalls the classes he took for his master’s degree in social sciences and his specialist in education certification in educational leadership.

“My classes really helped me find out why I was here, what I needed to do and the approach I needed to take,” he said. “I thank Georgia College for shaping me to walk in my purpose.”

Brown looked up to Professor Emeritus Dr. Larry Elowitz, who taught social sciences.

“He was just that guy who not only taught the concept, but lived it,” he said. “Dr. Elowitz showed his passion for each subject. We’d pull our desks together to form a roundtable discussion in every class. It wasn't a lecture. It was more like conversation.”

Elowitz served as a mentor to Brown, making a lasting impression on him after he graduated.  

Dr. Lionel Brown reads a Dr. Seuss book to Peach County students.
Dr. Lionel Brown reads a Dr. Seuss book to Peach County students.

“He helped me tremendously in my career when I taught social sciences in high school. And I was able to call on him as a point of reference for a lot of things that were going on at the time. I remember him being very personable, a master of his craft and highly respected.”

Like Elowitz, Brown became a personable teacher.

“Potential and growth inspire me,” he said. “I like to look at the potential of a person and watch them evolve. I guess that's why I'm an educator. I don't teach children where they are. I teach children where they can be.”

Brown wants students with advanced degrees from Georgia College to strive for significance rather than success.

“You become fulfilled in who you are when you serve others,” he said. “There has to be a relationship there to make you feel like you're significant. When you serve, you feel like you have a positive role with your family and in our society.”

Chris Clark, ’96, president and CEO of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce spoke at the undergraduate ceremonies May 7. He advised graduate candidates to have a purpose-driven life. 

Chris Clark awaits speaking at the undergraduate commencement.
Chris Clark awaits speaking at the undergraduate commencement.

“When I answered the big, existential quandary that students face, ‘What’s my purpose in life?’ It's an eternal question for all of us. I firmly believe it’s to serve others,” he said.

Clark has worked with many students enrolled in Georgia College’s Georgia Education Mentorship (GEM) Program and those in the workplace.

“They're focused so much on the next job that they're missing the opportunity to serve where they are,” he said. “I think that's where their happiness and fulfillment is going to come from.”

Clark has been mentoring Georgia College students through GEM for 12 years. The Georgia Chamber of Commerce helped create the program 19 years ago. He feels he’s gained an understanding of the next generation workforce.

“Once you're a CEO, you don't spend a lot of time talking to 20-year-olds, so there's a huge disconnect,” Clark said. “Through GEM, Georgia College has really done a good job of helping to bridge that gap.” 

“Serving others is in the DNA of Georgia College and its graduates. I hope they continue to serve. If they love Georgia College, they can pour themselves back into it by volunteering or donating. Wherever they are in life, I hope they continue what they’ve learned at Georgia College and serve for the greater good.”
– Chris Clark

Clark knows listening skills are key to serving others. He learned these from Professor Emeritus Dr. Mike Digby who was Clark’s counselor for his master’s program.

Clark shopped around for master's programs. At Georgia College, Digby was the first person who asked, “What do you want to do? Let's craft a program that meets your strengths and where you want to go in life.”

“That customized, personal development made a huge difference for me, and I didn't see that in other schools,” Clark said. “Then, when I was in the program, I honed in on the area I wanted to pursue as a career.”

Digby shifted some classes, connected Clark with a network of people and guided him toward his capstone project. 

Chris Clark (center) during the GEM Program Closing Reception.
Chris Clark (center) during the GEM Program Closing Reception.

“Dr. Digby helped me be effective in the world, and that just made such a huge impact on me,” Clark said. “Slowing down to listen to others is a skill I tried to take forward.”

Clark is involved in a variety of organizations, but he most enjoys mentoring GC students through GEM and two ministries he works in at Dogwood Church—the food bank and service ministry.

“I think everyone's purpose in life is to serve others, whether it's your family, coworkers or community,” Clark said. “But, if you can't listen, you'll never know what those real needs are.”

It's one of the reasons Clark traveled throughout Georgia on listening tours the last two years during COVID. The Chamber staff surveyed its members to see what was important to them and find out how it could make their businesses grow.

Clark wants new graduates to be joyful wherever they are in life—whether they have a job already lined up or are still hoping to get into their chosen field.

“Serving others is in the DNA of Georgia College and its graduates,” he said. “I hope they continue to serve. If they love Georgia College, they can pour themselves back into it by volunteering or donating. Wherever they are in life, I hope they continue what they’ve learned at Georgia College and serve for the greater good.”