students celebrate graduation
Photo by Michael Holahan

Student speakers look to inspire fellow graduates during commencement

As is tradition at Augusta University, there will be student speakers at the three commencement ceremonies as voted on by their peers. A graduate student and two undergraduates will give thoughtful speeches and appreciation to those who helped them reach their collegiate goals.

Stephanie Jones will serve as the graduate ceremony speaker with Rakiyah Lenon and Luke Anderson having been selected to speak at the undergrad ceremonies.

All are anxious and looking forward to being part of the memorable day.

Stephanie Jones – College of Allied Health Sciences

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Stephanie Jones

Jones is a doctoral candidate in Applied Health Sciences with a focus on health outcomes in the College of Allied Health Sciences. She is a South Georgia native and the first in her family to obtain a college degree. Since then, she’s encouraged many other family members who have followed in her footsteps.

Jones is a nurse by trade, having worked the past 17 years in health care. She began her career in the Neonatal Intensive Care unit and Pediatric Cardiac ICU. She branched out into health care IT and has spent 14 years in executive health care consulting which has been very rewarding.

“It’s great to impact health outcomes every day in my career,” said Jones. “There’s nothing better than knowing that instead of one or two patients a shift, there are hundreds of thousands of patients in this country who are better served because of the lasting changes created by my work in health care organizations across the country.”

Jones picked the program because “it was a hard science degree,” but also very rewarding. She hopes to put that research to good use, focusing on improving health outcomes.

She was hesitant about returning to work toward earning her PhD, but after meeting Jeane Silva, PhD, associate professor in CAHS, Jones’ perspective on higher education was transformed.

“She held such a high standard. I clamored to meet it. She doesn’t just work at Augusta University, she believes in these values, she believes in what she’s doing. She chooses to continue to invest in students because it fills a greater sense of purpose for her life. I want to be her when I grow up,” said Jones, laughing.

Jones comes from a small cohort and wasn’t even sure whether to apply to be a speaker and wondered if anyone from the program had been chosen before. 

Her message during the ceremony will be, even though some are trying to divide us, we are more alike than we realize; if we focus on our consonance to promote community, we are invincible.

“I think you’re going to look around the auditorium and you’re going to see hope blooming on every single face, because in that way, we’re alike,” she said. “What a testament it will be to AU if this graduating class takes this community with them into future endeavors. A career in medicine, research or any allied health science – whatever it is, there’s a place for educated clinicians to formulate community, which will be encouraging and ultimately impact how our patients receive care.”

Rakiyah Lenon – Pamplin College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences

A woman poses for a photo with her cap and gown on
Rakiyah Lenon [Michael Holahan/Augusta University]

For Lenon, becoming commencement speaker will be a big step out of her comfort zone. Though quiet in the beginning of her college journey, Lenon has grown to find her voice and share it with others.

She’s also a first-generation student and was homeschooled most of her life. She finished high school from the online Georgia Cyber Academy. Now, on the verge of graduating from college with a degree in communication from Pamplin College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, she is ready to pursue a career in journalism.

“I will say, my first time being on campus was kind of a shock,” Lenon said. “I was like ‘Oh, OK, this is what a college campus is like.’ For a first-generation student like me, it was a little scary. But I got really comfortable and close with my professors. I learned from them and wanted to be the best student I could be.”

During her time at Augusta University, she’s prepared herself well for the future. Lenon interned at WJBF News Channel 6, Augusta Business Daily, The Augusta Press and Augusta Good News to set herself up for what’s next in her career.  

She’s also been heavily involved in the student newspaper, the Bell Ringer, having served as editor-in-chief. This semester, she’s expanded her portfolio and has taken on the role as podcast host of Chiming In.

“Just like our university says, we’re a graduating class like no other. The class of 2024 has had to overcome many challenges since 2020, so it’s wonderful to see how far we’ve grown together,” said Lenon.

While she’s eager to speak to her graduating class on commencement day, she’s hoping to instill some words of wisdom to her fellow graduates.

“I’d like my fellow classmates to know that our potential is endless,” added Lenon. “We should all be tremendously pleased with this accomplishment. As we become alumni, keep setting the bar high, achieve your goals and make a difference in the world around you. Augusta is dear to me. It’s been a pleasure being a student and a classmate here at AU, and I can’t wait to see what we all do next.”

Luke Anderson – College of Nursing

a man stands outside with his graduation cap, gown and stoll
Luke Anderson
[Michael Holahan/Augusta University]

Anderson’s journey through AU has been a whirlwind. Anderson arrived four years ago and now, seemingly in the blink of an eye, he’ll be walking across the stage with a degree from the College of Nursing.

Not just walking but also talking as he’s stepping out of his comfort zone as a commencement speaker.

“I had a conversation with Dr. Susan Davies, and she inspired me to take the risk and enhance my public speaking skills and take the opportunity,” said Anderson. “I’ve never done public speaking before.”

Anderson is from the Atlanta area and will be the first in his family to graduate from college. He discovered AU after they attended a college day at his high school. He and his mom made a couple of visits and knew this would be the environment he could thrive in. 

He always liked health care, but the desire to become a nurse stems from his mother’s battle with breast cancer. He watched what she faced and how the nurses played such an important role in her life. That ignited his passion for helping other people.

There aren’t a lot of male nurses, and it’s a fact not lost on Anderson.

“There’s not a lot of minority males, not a lot of male nurses period, and, with that being said, it inspired me to be the vision for future male nurses and for other future kids that look like me,” added Anderson.

What will his message be to the fellow graduates? “No matter how hard times get, just think, at the end of the day, you have an end goal, and being here at graduation, we’ve all completed our end goal. There’s more to come, but, no matter what, always see the end goal and strive to achieve it.”

For Anderson and Lenon, commencement is a big day. Both didn’t have in-person high school ceremonies due to COVID-19, so they’ve been awaiting this moment for quite some time.

“Coming in during COVID-19, everything was online our first semester, and really primarily the first year,” Anderson said. “So not having a graduation in high school, and actually having this opportunity, I know a lot of students are so excited to be actually be able to take this opportunity.”  

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Written by
Kevin Faigle

Kevin Faigle is Media Relations Specialist at Augusta University. Contact him to schedule an interview on this topic or with one of our experts at

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Avatar photo Written by Kevin Faigle

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