Georgia's First Lady honors graduates

First Lady Sandra Deal applaudes 2013 graduates of the Academy for Inclusive Learning & Social Growth

While there are always a few tears shed at a commencement ceremony, the Thursday graduation of four…

Georgia (May 17, 2013)

While there are always a few tears shed at a commencement ceremony, the Thursday graduation of four students from Kennesaw State University’s Academy for Inclusive Learning and Social Growth was emotional for everyone in attendance.

Graduate Myles Thomas’ mother wiped away tears as her son serenaded her and his father, singing “You Raise Me Up,” by Josh Groban.

“You always helped me,” Thomas said before his song. “You never said I can’t.”

Joining Thomas in receiving his graduation certificate were:

  • Patrick Barnette of Marietta, Ga., graduating with a concentration in sports management;
  • John Scott Forbes of Kennesaw, Ga., graduating with a concentration in political science; and
  • Benjamin Lewis of Atlanta, Ga., graduating with a concentration in personal fitness.

“This is a major milestone in the lives of the students who are being recognized for their achievements today,” Kennesaw State President Daniel S. Papp said. “You’ve gained the courage and confidence to make your dreams a reality.”

The Academy offers  a unique two-year certificate program designed to provide students with intellectual and developmental disabilities a college experience through the auditing of college-level courses, as well as courses designed to help them gain social, work and living skills, so they can find jobs they want and become more independent.

It is one of 250 such programs nationwide, and the only one of its kind in Georgia. At a capitol rally in February supporting state funding for more programs like the Academy, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal praised Kennesaw State as a pioneer in providing post-secondary educational opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities.

In a further show of support for the Academy, Deal’s wife, First Lady Sandra Deal, was on hand Thursday to congratulate the graduates.

“You’ve reached beyond what you thought you couldn’t do, and maybe what others thought you couldn’t do,” Deal said. “You set an example for all of us to make the most of what we’re given.”

As the mother of four adult children and the grandmother of six, Deal said she couldn’t help but offer the graduates a little bit of motherly advice: Be nice.

“Be a gentleman,” she told the graduates. “Open doors; say ‘thank you;’ give everybody a smile. It just takes a moment and it means the world to people.”

Deal got a hearty laugh when she encouraged the graduates to work hard, and “pay your taxes, so we can keep the (Governor’s) Mansion open.”

Her last edict: Volunteer in your community.

“The returns are much greater than the things you do for money,” she said, “but we want you to make money, too!”

-- Jennifer Hafer



A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit