AMERICUS (May 10, 2013)—President Jimmy Carter and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter made a rare two visits to campus last week. Following the May 2 building dedication and statue unveiling at Georgia Southwestern State University’s (GSW) Rosalynn Carter Health and Human Sciences Complex, the Carters attended commencement on Saturday, May 4. GSW President Kendall Blanchard, Ph.D., served as master of ceremonies and introduced President Carter to the graduates.
“What a memorable moment it was for all of us,” Blanchard said. “As I told the graduates, they were extremely fortunate. Unlike most of us, they will never forget who spoke at their commencement exercises.”
Most often the person being introduced, President Carter was pleased to introduce someone else, one of his own descendants.
“Today, I have the honor of introducing my own grandson,” President Carter said. “The Carter family has been in Sumter County since 1833, and the speaker today is the sixth generation in our family.”
President Carter went on to mention a long list of Carters that attended or were associated with Georgia Southwestern, including himself, Rosalynn Carter and all three of their sons: Jack, Chip and Jeff. Georgia Southwestern’s James Earl Carter Library was named after his father.
“Where do you think my grandson should have gone to college?” Carter jokingly asked the crowd. “Here. But he went to Duke University. I think he tried to get into Georgia Southwestern, and he couldn't make it,” he added.
Sen. Jason Carter was elected to Georgia Senate District 42 on May 11, 2010 during a special election and is an attorney at Bondurant, Mixson & Elmore, LLP. Prior to joining this firm, Carter served as a law clerk to the Honorable Frank Mays Hull of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.
Also reflecting on the Carter legacy at Georgia Southwestern, Sen. Carter reiterated how significant the institution is to his family and the state of Georgia.
“It is a great honor for me to be here today, and thank you for allowing me to share this special day with you,” he said. “I am particularly glad that I’m giving my very first commencement address here at Georgia Southwestern. As my grandfather mentioned, this school is incredibly important to me and my family.
“This institution is not just important to me and my family, but as a state senator in this great state, I can tell you that Georgia Southwestern is a crucial part of this state university system, of the future of Georgia, its economy and its social welfare. And for that on behalf of the State of Georgia, I say congratulations to you on your graduation from this fine institution.”
Carter’s speech discussed two major points: “grandparents” and “the secret to wealth and power.” Despite their international renown and accomplishments, Sen. Carter emphasized that his grandparents, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, were “just regular people.” He also reflected on the life of his great-grandmother, Lillian Carter or “Miss Lillian,” and her decision to join the Peace Corps (India) at the age of 68.
“Her decision to go [to the Peace Corps] was remarkable to me,” he said. “She was born in Richland, Georgia in 1898, and 68 years later, she had moved 17 miles to Plains. One day she was watching TV and there was a commercial for the Peace Corps, and it said ‘age is no barrier.’ So, she said, ‘Well, I’ll apply.’”
The last “grandparent” he mentioned was a woman named “Go Go,” the Zulu word for grandmother. Jason met Go Go while he, too, was in the Peace Corps in a small village in South Africa.
Go Go’s story was one of perseverance. A black woman raised in the midst of apartheid, Go Go worked her way up to a “plum job” as a maid in Pretoria before being taken and abandoned in rural South Africa in 1975.
“…When I arrived there 23 years later ... Go Go was the president of the town’s governing body, head of the Methodist church group, ran a woman’s gardening project ... was landlord of a huge complex, postmaster ... principal of a pre-school,” he said.
He later added, “The secret to wealth and power is Go Go’s secret ... it’s recognizing that you have it.”
Like Go Go, Sen. Carter is active in many aspects of community service. He sits on the boards of several charitable and public interest organizations, including the DeKalb Women's Resource Center to End Domestic Violence, the Georgia Afterschool Investment Council and the Carter Center.
As his grandfather said, Jason received his undergraduate degree from Duke University and his law degree from the University of Georgia summa cum laude. Sen. Carter and his wife Kate have two young sons and live in DeKalb County.
During the commencement ceremony, nearly 320 GSW students graduated. Eugenia Bryan, Ph.D., associate professor of English and 2012 GSW Excellence & Commitment to Teaching Award recipient, served as the Macebearer and delivered the reflection. Greg Hawver, Ed.D., professor and department chair of Health and Human Performance, was the Grand Marshal. LaVerne Worthy, Ph.D., professor of psychology, was presented with the Professor of the Year Award.
President Jimmy Carter introduces his grandson, Sen. Jason Carter (right), during spring commencement.
President Carter and his grandson, Sen. Jason carter, hug prior to Sen. Carter's commencement address.
GSW President Kendall Blanchard, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and state Sen. Jason Carter stand for a picture following spring commencement exercises.
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