ALBANY, Ga. -- When someone reaches an ending, it often gives an opportunity to pursue a new beginning.
Darton College said goodbye to another class of graduates at its commencement ceremony at the Cavalier Arena Thursday evening.
Rod Risley, the executive director of Phi Theta Kappa, the largest honor society in higher education, was the guest speaker at the event. Risley, a graduate of San Jacinto College in Texas, was elected Phi Theta Kappa's national president in 1974. In 1985, he was elected the society's only second executive director since its founding in 1918.
In his address on Thursday, Risley sought to illustrate why it is so important to support students in two-year institutions.
"Research shows that community college graduates will perform as well as, if not better, than those from (four-year institutions)," Risley said. "Really, they are the smart ones. When you look at the cost, it's about one-third of the cost to get an associate's degree and go to a four-year school than go to a four-year school throughout."
Risley said that two-year colleges are often thought of as second-class, a notion he said he aims to defeat.
"Over half of undergraduates in the country begin (their education) in a community college, but there are those that think if they start at a community college that their education is of lesser value," he said.
"That's just not true."
In an interview prior to the ceremony, Risley also noted the significance of the occasion.
"(Commencement) is a celebration, but also an opportunity for students to recognize their responsibilities -- not just for themselves, but for the benefit of the community," he said.
Risley is also the founding editor of Note Bene, the only nationally circulated honors anthology for community college students. He also serves as a moderator for the society's honors seminars.
Risley recently led the effort to establish the Phi Theta Kappa Foundation, which has raised more than $5 million in its first three years.
A big part of Phi Theta Kappa's mission is to promote the concept of college completion in order for the United States to maintain its competitive edge, something that is beneficial even on a local level.
"(The aim) is to double the number of Americans earning higher education degrees by 2020," Risley said. "We are helping all students at Darton understand the benefit of completing their credentials and the consequences of them not. That's one way we bring value to (Darton).
"The U.S. has fallen from No.1 to No. 12 among industrialized nations (in regards to) citizens getting higher degrees. That says we are no longer competitive. That's why we need to double the number of 'completers,' if you will. It's an imperative."
Risley serves on numerous national education commissions and boards concentrating on public policy issues related to education and advancement of the humanities and writes for various education periodicals. He has received many prestigious national awards, honorary doctorates and is a highly sought speaker who has delivered more than 35 commencement addresses.
About 345 Darton graduates were eligible to receive associate of science degrees, associate of arts degrees, associate of applied science degrees or certificates at Thursday's commencement.
The college's allied health and nurse pinning ceremonies were also held Thursday at the arena. The guest speaker at the ceremony was Joan Darden, former Darton vice president for academic affairs and former dean of nursing and allied health.