ALBANY, Ga. -- This weekend, there will be a group of area college students ending one phase of their lives to begin another.
Albany State University will hold its fall commencement at 9:45 a.m. Saturday at the Albany Civic Center.
"Commencement is a joyous occasion marking the transition from student to informed citizen and prepared professional," Albany State President Everette Freeman said. "Over the course of their studies, ASU's graduating students have equipped themselves with the knowledge and skills necessary to pursue their chosen careers.
Commencement opens the door to a world of new opportunities and rewarding life experiences. Students step through that door to begin the next phase of their lives as professionals.
"They become 'Potential. Realized.'"
At the ceremony, 351 students are expected to receive degrees during a program that will also feature speaker Shirley Sherrod, former United States Department of Agriculture Georgia Director of Rural Development.
Sherrod made headlines in July when she was forced out of her position after a conservative blogger posted video excerpts online of her speaking at an NAACP event suggesting she discriminated against a white farmer. The excerpts were later found to have been taken out of context. She was offered another position with the USDA, which she turned down.
Sherrod, a native of Baker County, graduated from ASU with a bachelor's degree in sociology in 1970. She also holds a master's degree in community development from Antioch University.
"We have a new group of leaders who have a potential to make an impact," Sherrod said Wednesday in a phone interview. "I would like to share with them and encourage them to do good.
"When you look at the times, I think it's important to challenge those (acquiring new skills). I hope wherever (the ASU graduates) settle, they will make that the best place it can be."
In the 1960s, Sherrod and her husband, the Rev. Charles Sherrod, helped form several land trusts in Southwest Georgia. She served on the board for the Rural Development Leadership Network until 2009, at which time she left to assume her USDA post.
"In choosing a commencement speaker, we strive to make sure that person is an outstanding role model for our students. Mrs. Shirley Sherrod is just such a person," Freeman said. "She demonstrates grace and courage in the face of adversity. Her life is one that exemplifies how each of us can make the world a better place through commitment, hard work, sacrifice and compassion. We are thrilled that she has agreed to share that story with our students as they begin the next phase of their lives."
Of the 351 Albany State graduates, 266 are receiving bachelor's degrees. Six are receiving specialist degrees and 79 are getting master's degrees.
Twenty-two honor graduates will be recognized at the ceremony. Thirteen of them are cum laude, which means they earned a GPA of 3.5-3.74. The magna cum laude group, those with a GPA of 3.75-3.89, consists of five people.
Four people are being considered Honors Program Merit Scholars. There are no summa cum laude graduates for this commencement.