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Record numbers graduate and commission at UNG

(May 8, 2017)

The University of North Georgia (UNG) awarded more than 1,800 degrees and certificates this spring, while 66 members of UNG's Corps of Cadets commissioned as second lieutenants, both new records for the university.

Commencement ceremonies held May 5-7 on UNG's Dahlonega and Gainesville campuses, which included more than 1,300 graduates, featured prominent leaders as guest speakers and hundreds of students who distinguished themselves through academic perseverance and excellence.

Among those graduates was 2nd Lt. Joseph Peterka, UNG's first Cyber Leader Development Program graduate, and first UNG recipient of the C1 (cyber) Army Skill Identifier. Dr. Bryson Payne, director for UNG's Center for Cyber Operations Education, said Peterka's success is a huge step forward for all UNG cadets relative to the university's peer institutions.

2nd Lt. Joseph Peterka takes his oath.

"The cyber world has always had a huge impact on my life, and when the Cyber Leader Development Program came along, I knew it was too good an opportunity to pass up," Peterka said. "UNG has given me so many opportunities to be on the cutting edge, which is so important because our battlefields are constantly changing. I think what I have learned has the potential to take me many places, but more importantly, the knowledge I have will help me and the people I lead to overcome anything, and will help us achieve whatever is necessary to protect our nation's infrastructure."

Over the commencement weekend, Peterka commissioned as a second lieutenant into the U.S. Army's signal corps branch.

Another accomplished spring graduate is 15-year-old Christie Taylor of Cleveland, Georgia.  Too young to drive herself to the ceremony like many of her peers who crossed the stage, she earned two associate degrees, one in chemistry and one in biology, and will continue at UNG in the fall to pursue a Bachelor of Science in biology.

Taylor has been participating in the state's Move On When Ready (MOWR) program, which allows eligible high school students the opportunity to enroll in college or university prior to their high school graduation and to take courses that grant both college and high school credit. Tuition, books and mandatory fees are paid for by the MOWR program. Taylor was one of six UNG students to earn a degree before receiving their high school diplomas; she will graduate as valedictorian later in May from White County High School.

"I was a freshman in high school while also a freshman at UNG, which was a bit intimidating, but I have loved everything about UNG," Taylor said. "The people here are so welcoming and helpful, and my professors have been top-notch. They answer as many questions as I can throw at them, and I always feel like they expect me to do well."

After earning her bachelor's degree, Taylor is considering many options, including advanced degrees in the fields of law and medicine and possibly running for the U.S. Senate.

"We are here to honor you with the richest tradition in the academic community — a commencement ceremony," UNG President Bonita Jacobs said before conferring degrees. "We all know what it took for you to reach this moment. Our graduates are known for their civic engagement and service. We know that, as graduates of UNG, you will add meaning and value to the lives of those around you. Our hopes and dreams are with you. Congratulations on this important milestone."

Guest speakers at each ceremony spoke to students about the opportunities and challenges that await them. The speakers included: State Senator Renee Unterman; Steve Vande Loo, founder and owner of Advanced Beverage Concepts; Dr. Steve Dolinger, president of the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education; Ronda Rich, best-selling author and syndicated columnist; Jennifer Herring, senior vice president for college affordability initiatives at Georgia Student Finance Commission; and Michelle Prater, president and CEO of the North Georgia Community Foundation.

Separate commissioning ceremonies were held May 5-6 for members of the Corps of Cadets entering the armed forces as second lieutenants. Individual commissioning ceremonies for the cadets recognized their service and leadership, and formally marked their entry into the U.S. Armed Forces. This year, 33 UNG cadets will become officers in the Georgia Army National Guard, which meets 71 percent of the Georgia Army National Guard's officer production mission for 2017.

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