Graduation is Time to Celebrate Our Students

Every student has a story that collectively paints a picture of Roadrunner Nation. Spring is the time of year when our students’ stories are most in in the spotlight. We celebrate with multiple events including scholarship awards day, honors convocation, student leadership banquet, student scholarship showcases, and multiple honor society inductions, to name a few occasions. I come away from each of these events in awe of our students. Let me share a few of the stories of recent graduates with you.

Jose Gonzales graduated this month with a degree in psychology and volunteers at the Northwest Georgia Family Crisis Center (domestic violence shelter). He is a positive role model to many of the children who stay at the shelter and was recognized by the United Way of Northwest Georgia for his more than 140 hours of service to the Crisis Center last year. In addition to his volunteer work, Jose worked on campus in the Office of Computer Information Services and works at his dad’s Mexican restaurant. Jose was one of the winners of the Spence Higgins Hall of Leaders Award for Excellence in Service and Leadership this spring. He is not sure what the next step is –maybe grad school—but he knows he will continue volunteering.

Krista Shields graduated this month with a bachelor of science degree in criminal justice. She works in loss prevention and says she “chases bad guys” seven days a week. She loves her job and says she would rather work in a store catching shoplifters than be a police officer. Shoplifters are bold and brazen and drive costs up for all of us, but Krista is as tenacious as a bulldog hot on their trails.

In the spring of 2014, Cynthia Hidalgo was two months from graduating with her associate in nursing degree when a man driving under the influence of drugs hit her car head-on putting her entire life on hold. She survived the accident but has permanent nerve damage in her left leg. Her recovery has been slow but she has persevered. She graduated this semester and plans to pursue her baccalaureate degree in nursing at Dalton State soon. Cynthia had already waited for her youngest child to enter school before pursuing her associate degree. Now nothing is holding her back and she describes the wreck as an opportunity that makes her a better nurse. Cynthia also credits faculty such as Sylvia Driver (nursing) and Dr. Leslie Harrelson (English) as key supporters who helped her succeed because they made her feel welcome at Dalton State.

At 17, Laura Winter left the only home she had ever known. She moved from Berlin, Germany to a college in Oklahoma with dreams of playing tennis while pursuing her degree. Winter says she never felt at home there and decided to transfer after her freshman year. Dalton has become her second home and she cites the people here as the factor that make the difference. Although balancing academics and athletics is not always easy, Laura says her rigorous German school background helped prepare her. In addition to playing on the DSC tennis team, Laura has earned her baccalaureate degree in business management. Next, Laura will begin a job as an international logistics coordinator at Steam Logistics in Chattanooga. She will train for the next few months and will work with the company’s German clients. “Dalton State will stay with me forever,” she says.

Our May commencement ceremony always features a graduating student as our speaker. It is a competitive selection process and this year’s speaker was Austin Peterson, graduating with a bachelor of science in chemistry after four years at Dalton State. Austin came to us from Lakeview Fort Oglethorpe High school and he embraced the college experience. He has worked on campus as a tutor, math lab assistant, and a supplemental instructor for a biology class in addition to working part-time off campus. He also participated throughout his years at Dalton State in intramurals basketball. In terms of his future plans, Austin is facing a difficult decision between pursuing a graduate degree in chemistry or joining the Air Force. Regardless, it is clear this young man has a bright future ahead of him.

These graduates – and more than 400 others – leave our campus now to take their places as contributing members of society. They’re educated and equipped to be leaders in their communities, in their workplaces, in their families. These are merely a few examples of the extraordinary and diverse student stories at Dalton State. To learn about more of our remarkable students, please visit our website at