HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - This is a news release from Jones County Junior College
The Jones County Junior College 2015 Graduation was a day of memorable firsts: a noteworthy number of graduates, the first honorary degree awarded, and the first time in recent memory the guest speaker was a parent of a participating graduate.
A record number of 901 students were eligible to graduate with 629 participating in commencement exercises. Thousands of friends and family turned out to watch the day's event.
The keynote speaker, Jones County District Attorney, Tony Buckley shared with students how he first came to America, with two suitcases, $600 and knowing no one. He gave students this advice: visualize a goal, have a plan to achieve that goal and then put it into action, and he used his own life as an example. Taking a class on the U.S. Constitution was his inspiration to go to law school, which in turn inspired him to become district attorney.
"One of the main things I think is great about America is your education system," said Buckley. "It allows you time to figure out what you want to do with your life. If you couple the education system with the American work ethic and integrity, then you can succeed in whatever you set your goals to. America still rewards those who are educated, work hard and have integrity."
To illustrate another lesson, Buckley held up a golf ball for the audience to see, a golf ball that he keeps on a shelf in his office next to the scales of justice. He explained that when the golf ball was first created in Scotland, it was originally smooth, but it wouldn't go far or in the direction it was hit. It was discovered that the more dings and nicks the ball received, the straighter and farther the ball would go.
"That's the same with life for you," Buckley said. "You're going to have setbacks and disappointments, dings and nicks like that golf ball, but it's how you react to them and learn from them. Instead of seeing them as a roadblock, you can knock it down that fairway far and straight."
His son, Evan Buckley, a pre-med major and a top soccer player for the Bobcats, participated in the graduation ceremonies. Although he had opportunities to attend other colleges, Evan chose Jones and said he was happy with his choice.
"Everyone here has been fantastic. My experiences have been great," he said. "I realize I still have a lot more work to do, but I've had a really good two years and hopefully the rest of the years will match up to what it's been like here at Jones."
Evan plans to continue his education at Ole Miss, where his older sister, Emily, went straight out of high school.
"I saw how hard it was for her transitioning from high school to a university, so it helped me decide it would be better to go to a junior college."
His younger brother, Erik, will begin JCJC this fall and will play soccer like his brother.
When Evan first heard that his father was speaking at his graduation, he didn't believe it.
"I really thought he was joking because he jokes all the time. Turns out he wasn't. It's definitely cool to have your dad giving your college graduation speech."
The college's first Honorary Degree was awarded to Richton businesswoman Oma Hibbler, owner of Community Development Incorporated (CDI). The $3 million business assists the community through services such as assisted living, adult daycare, personal care and transportation. Her company provides transportation for students from Wayne and Greene counties to JCJC.
JCJC Dean of Students Dr. Samuel Jones nominated Hibbler for the Honorary Degree because of the work she is doing in communities within the college district.
"Ms. Hibbler created this business because she saw a need in her community because she has the heart of a servant. She is truly an asset to the community and she has been a beacon of light for many. I believe because of her, many have been inspired, challenged and provoked to see themselves as people who can overcome barriers to press toward a better life," said Jones. "She's really inspiring our students to be great every single day. She's a great example for us all. Even if you don't have a college degree, you can still work hard and make a difference in your community, and that's why she's being recognized."
Said Hibbler of her first college degree, "Words cannot explain how I feel. It is so hard to come to the realization that people who love and care for you would go to the lengths to help you achieve your dreams. I often tell my staff, I do not have an education and often dream secretly of how it would feel. I am humbled by the award."
Hibbler credits God with the start and success of her business. Although she hesitated beginning her business due to fear of rejection and her lack of a college education, with her faith she persevered, and today, not only does she own a multi-million dollar business, but she has now received the diploma she always wanted.
"I am grateful, humbled, amazingly excited and praise God for His miracles," she said, quoting Phillipians 4:13: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."