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Fuqua Grads Are Challenged

Fuqua School held commencement exercises for the Class of 2011 on Friday, May 20, on the lawn of the Upper School campus.

Fuqua Middle/Upper School Dean Rick Davis welcomed students and their families and introduced Class Salutatorian Genevieve Porter Herdegen.

Herdegen expressed thanks to her teachers and family and offered some advice to her classmates.

“My advice to you, the Class of 2011, is to slow down every once in awhile from texting your friends and appreciate what's around you,” she said. “In the long run it's really the small things that we fail to appreciate.”

As giftorian for the class, Herdegen presented $2,000 from the class to be used for renovation of the football field bleachers.

Rick Davis noted that this year's class has two valedictorians. The first to speak was Hannah Marie Spencer.

“I challenge you to leave your comfort zone,” Spencer told her classmates. “Go out and see the world and all it has to offer you. See the beauty in the diverse world that we live in.”

Maggie Jean Morris reminded the Class of 2011 of the importance of family.

“Family has always been and will always be the lifeblood of your being,” Morris stated. “After God, my strongest support base is my parents.”

She also credited teachers, “Teachers have made a positive, lasting impact on each of our lives,” she said. “They have relentlessly supported our opinions, endeavors, and actions.”

Fuqua School President Ruth Murphy noted the multi-dimensional qualities of the class.

“They can be serious students, and then in the blink of an eye be doing odd things, like have the homecoming queen ride in a 4-wheel drive pick-up truck during the Christmas Parade,” she said.

“As a class, you are especially nice,” Ms. Murphy continued. “That niceness has had an impact on the whole school during the year. When I think of you, I think of how well your class quote reflects who you are: 'What lies ahead of us and what lies behind us are small matters compared to what lies within us.'” (Ralph Waldo Emerson-attributed)

“What lies within each of you is a wonderful spirit, intelligence, and a clear understanding that you have to get along with people to ever be successful in this life – and you'll be good at that,” Ms. Murphy observed.

The Class of 2011, Ms. Murphy added, was collectively offered academic scholarships of $3.6 million.

After addressing the graduates, Ms. Murphy introduced the commencement speaker, which in keeping with tradition, is an outstanding alumni of the school.

James Blair Gates, a 1997 magna cum laude graduate of Fuqua School, is the son of Dr. James Gates and the late Dianne Gates, of Rice. His father was a 1960 graduate of the school, then Prince Edward Academy.

This year's speaker received a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Speech Communications with minor in Spanish from the University of Georgia in 2001. He earned a Master of Public Administration from the School of Public & International Affairs at the University of Georgia in 2004.

Gates currently serves as Director of Major Gifts at Piedmont Healthcare in Atlanta, GA, where he resides with his wife and daughter.

Gates began his remarks by citing a recent commentary on PBS about commencement speakers. Some sought-after speakers, such as Former President Clinton and NBC News Anchor Brian Williams, might expect to receive $50,000 to $100,000 for their remarks.

“Young men and women,” Gates said. “Let this be your first lesson with real life economics. Your commencement speaker this evening is synonymous with the word, 'recession.'”

“My ultimate goal this evening is to give you some insight – and to challenge you,” Gates said. “I've been where you're sitting. I know the experience of Fuqua School and the effect it has and will continue to have on your lives. We share a common bond of community and school. You see, graduates; we're both like a turtle on a fencepost. You can bet that we didn't get up here by ourselves.”

Gates pointed to the importance of family support.

“Like you, much of my success can be attributed to a supportive family,” he said. “Like you, I'm the product of parents who made sacrifices because they wanted me to have the best education available. Like you, I'm the beneficiary of J. B. Fuqua's vision to be the model in rural education.”

Gates noted that Mr. Fuqua's vision included offering scholarships to foreign students.

“My mother, Dianne, who passed away almost two weeks ago, was the driving force behind our family's participation. She almost single-handedly built the program at Fuqua – it is the greatest thing our family has experienced. We enjoyed a close relationship with all seven students that lived with us.”

Life lessons came from many sources for Gates.

“One of the most important lessons I learned at Fuqua, I learned in Mrs. Roberta Stables third-grade class,” the speaker noted. “Above the chalkboard there was a banner that read, 'If it is to be, then it is up to me.' It's a simple but profound statement. Your teachers, parents, and friends will support you in pursuit of your goals, but you must be the one to put in the long hours and hard work to be successful. You have to push yourself to be the best you possibly can be. You must create your own opportunities in life and not rely on others to do it for you.”

Gates reminded the graduates of lessons learned outside the classroom.

“I can attest that Fuqua School is a wonderful gift,” he remarked. “The lessons you have learned and the friendships you have forged will serve you well throughout your life.”

One lesson Gates found particularly helpful was taught by St. Augustine.

“St. Augustine said that there are two kinds of things in life – objects that should be used and objects that should be loved and cherished,” the speaker stated. “St. Augustine is telling us that if we only find joy and fulfillment in inanimate objects we are hindered in our life's true course. Now St. Augustine's words are a convoluted way of saying that as human beings we develop morals and principles. We must ask ourselves. What is it that we truly value in life?”

“Ten years from now people are not going to remember that you made a hundred on your physics exam or that you scored the winning touchdown,” Gates told the graduates. “But they are going to remember if you were a good friend, if you were trustworthy, if you had integrity.”

“Today is indeed a special occasion,” Gates told the Class of 2011. “It is the dawn of your adulthood. Your decisions will impact the rest of your life. As you advance in your professional careers, decisions will be harder. As you start your own families, choices will be more complicated. You'll rely not on grade point average to guide you, but rather your moral compass.”

To guide that moral compass, Gates offered some advice: do not pick your major your first year in college; when you enter the job force find a mentor, not a boss; don't be afraid to go out on a limb – it's where the fruit is; find your passion in life; don't be afraid to fail; set challenging goals; it's OK to make mistakes; call your parents and tell them you love them.

The commencement speaker ended his remarks with a challenge.

“As Fuqua School's Class of 2011 you have been given much,” he concluded. “As a result much, much will be expected of you . . . You are the future of this community and country. I challenge you to remain loyal, faithful alumni and help preserve this very special place for future generations. If it is to be, then it is now up to you.”