Congratulations Class of 2020: Georgia universities celebrate GAIPSEC graduates

GAIPSEC held virtual commencement for graduates. Photo by Olivia Nash | The Signal

On May 19, the Georgia Inclusive Postsecondary Education Consortium held a commencement ceremony via Zoom to honor the spring 2020 graduates. 

According to their website, GAIPSEC “is a project of the Center for Leadership in Disability at Georgia State” that provides secondary education to students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

The commencement consisted of a collection of the nine GAIPSEC programs, including the Columbus State GOALS Program, the East Georgia State College CHOICE Program, Georgia Southern University Eagle Academy, the Georgia State IDEAL Program and the University of Georgia Destination Dawgs. 

Susanna Miller-Raines, the GAIPSEC statewide coordinator, hosted the commencement. 

Closed captioning was available throughout the ceremony as it was also being streamed to Facebook Live. Other than the presenters, everyone was muted throughout the commencement.

Dr. Daniel Crimmins, director of the Center for Leadership in Disability at Georgia State, welcomed and congratulated the students as the ceremony began showing a message from Temple Grandin.

Temple Grandin is a biologist, psychologist and best-selling author with autism. With over 60 scientific research papers on animal behavior, Grandin advocates for the humane treatment of cattle and livestock. She is one of the leading advocates for the autistic community and has an Emmy Award-winning biopic about her life. In 2010, she was named as one of the Time 100 most influential people in the world. 

Following Grandin’s message was Darien Todd, a Kennesaw State alumnus and intern at the CLD.

Todd encouraged the graduates and shared his experience while attending a GAIPSEC.

“Life is an open book of endless possibilities. I am a 2019 graduate of Kennesaw State University’s IPSE Program and in that program I learned a lot about self-advocating,” he said. “This skill I use in everyday life. So, I am saying the skills you have learned in your IPSE program can, or will help you be more successful in life. Graduates, life’s a climb, but the view is great. What I mean by that is, in life, you will struggle, but if you work hard, the outcome is worth it.”

Todd also credited a good support system and knowing one’s strengths as “a way for [people] to succeed in life.”

Afterward, Isaiah Branford, a Georgia State IDEAL 2020 graduate, delivered a message.

According to Spenser Norris, with the IDEAL Program, Branford is a role model who often counsels others. He earned “straight A’s in all of his classes” and is “an active member in the Atlanta community.” 

“During my time at IDEAL, I have experienced a lot of incredible things. I made lots of new friends during my time. I have had a lot of experience on campus,” Branford said. “One thing I am going to miss most is the people that I got to meet at Georgia State and all the new connections I’ve made. If it wasn’t for IDEAL I probably wouldn’t be where I am, so I am very thankful for that.” 

After graduation, he plans to continue working in radio or at a local record store or recording studio while pursuing his passion for hip-hop and rap.

The last message was given by Columbus State University President Chris Markwood. 

In 2017, he was named one of Georgia’s most influential people by Georgia Trend magazine. Markwood has been a longtime supporter of Columbus State’s GOALS Program. 

“There has never been a class like yours. Think about your journey. You are ready. It won’t be easy, but you are ready. You are ready for whatever comes next. You’re ready, and we can’t wait to see what you will accomplish next,” Markwood said. “I’m so proud of what you have accomplished at Columbus State University, and though I know we are all apart during these changing times, I encourage you to stay in contact with your faculty and your staff because we care about you and your future.”

Then there was an 8-minute commencement video constructed by Georgia State’s IDEAL Production Team to celebrate the class. The Well Wishes Video Montage consisted of various Georgians addressing the students of GAIPSEC. Family, friends and faculty of the students sent in videos to congratulate the class of 2020.

As the commencement closed, the graduates’ names rolled across the screen. Each student was divided by college as their program director announced the student’s major and aspirations. GAIPSEC graduates and peer mentors were recognized. 

Closing remarks were then given by Eric Jacobson, the executive director of the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities.

“Gratitude is constituted in part by the way that we pay it forward. Your job now is to show the gratitude that exists for what you’ve accomplished and pay it forward,” he said. “We at the Council look forward to having you now as part of our advocacy and being a part of what’s happening in the disability community to strengthen it. Your role is to remain an important part of the disability community and use what you’ve learned at the schools that you graduate from to help others get through that process as well.”