When JoAnne Lewis stepped to the podium at the South Georgia State College Douglas Campus commencement ceremony, she not only gazed upon smiling faces of students anxiously awaiting their diplomas, but she also saw a bright and promising future for the community and region she loves so much. These soon-to-be graduates represented a record number of 370 having their degrees conferred from this academic year, including 58 receiving bachelor degrees and 11 dual enrolled students graduating from college and high school within days of each other.
Lewis grew up just outside of Douglas in West Green, and spent much of her adult life serving her beloved Coffee County as a respected leader in the areas of community and economic development. Her accolades throughout her career are proof that she embraced creating a better quality of life and job growth locally and throughout the state of Georgia.
“South Georgia State College represents leadership and economic prosperity,” Lewis shared with the graduates and guests. “What began on this semi-circle street in 1906, with these three historic buildings, has continued to produce abundant crops of capital - intellectual, financial, human and social. SGSC has been a catalyst for building a well-rounded community and supporting a strong quality of life for our citizens.”
Lewis fully believes in taking what is given to you and creating the best. She explained, “American journalist Sidney Harris once wrote that the whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows. I feel the purpose of education must include the door. The mirror reflects a self-portrait. Windows allow us to look outside as we try to identify our hopes and dreams. But it's the door that allows us step outside and make a difference.” She added as a special message to the graduates, “I challenge each of you to be confident in who you are and your education. I encourage you to embrace windows of opportunities. But most of all, I hope each of you will be willing to unlock the door, step outside of your comfort zone and chase your dreams.” She went on to say, “I have continued to fulfill my dreams of service with the creation and management of Still Waters Outreach, a Christian women’s substance abuse recovery center in Coffee County with a mission to provide a place of healing through faith while preparing them for reentry into the workforce. I urge you to find your passion and follow it as you move forward from this day.”
As Lewis prepared to exit the stage, little did she know that one of her own dreams would be realized. On behalf of the college, President Dr. Ingrid Thompson-Sellers presented to Ms. Lewis an honorary degree from South Georgia State College. “JoAnne, we are honored today to have a first for South Georgia State College. Throughout your career, you have worked with many industries, governmental officials, managed teams of folks, helped create marketing programs to sell our community and held a number of other business-oriented roles,” said President Dr. Ingrid Thompson-Sellers. “I am excited to share with you that the University System of Georgia has authorized and approved for South Georgia State College to award you an Honorary Bachelor of Science Degree in Management for your countless contributions to the business, education and economic components for Coffee County.” Ms. Lewis was then presented with an SGSC diploma, cap and gown to commemorate the momentous occasion.
Dr. Thompson-Sellers commented, “Ms. Lewis is very deserving of this honorary degree and I sincerely appreciate the numerous contributions she has made to our community and the college throughout her life.”
Also during the ceremony, Dr. Thompson-Sellers shared some highlights from this academic year. “Much of this past year was focused on shaping our new strategic plan. Entitled Moving Forward, the strategic plan is built on the college’s legacy and articulates key goals for the next five years. Our commitment to strengthen the economic health of the region remains one of the core goals. This commitment comes in many forms--from providing strong academic programs delivered by talented faculty and staff to establishing and maintaining relationships through collaborations with our community and region.”
She also shared information on the three new bachelor’s degree programs that will launch in fall 2019, recognized several students, athletic programs and college clubs that received state and national attention and honored two faculty members retiring, Mr. Bill Webster and Dr. Glen Maul.
Dr. Thompson-Sellers reflects, “This was a landmark celebration for our college, and I am delighted to have been a part of celebrating the hard work of our students, faculty and staff as well as honoring our speaker.”