Moving forward: Graduates leave JSU with new goals
by Paige Rentz
As more than 630 graduates prepared to cross the stage Friday night to receive Jacksonville State University degrees, many were leaving the institution of learning on a much different path than when they began.

“I just realized that who I was four years ago is very different from the man I am today,” said Zachary Nichols, a 23-year-old from Atlanta who received a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice during the first of two commencement ceremonies at the Pete Mathews Coliseum on Friday. But now that he’s a college graduate, Nichols is already looking to his next degree … a master’s in international relations. He hopes to study abroad, perhaps in Spain to improve his foreign language skills, or maybe England or Germany to pick up a third language.

Eventually, he said, he would love to do ambassadorial or humanitarian work.

He said his huge shift in focus has been the result of JSU’s International House program.

“I’ve met people from all over the world, I’ve traveled the world,” he said, “... and those experiences made me want to change my career and perhaps be more of a global member of the world.”

Jacksonville resident Hali Boyles, 23, began her undergraduate career as a dietetics major. She made it to her junior year before she began to tire of her nutrition classes and realized she didn’t want to pursue a career in food and nutrition.

At the same time, outside of classes, her photography hobby was becoming more and more serious.

“I loved it, and I could really see myself making that a career,” she said.

By the summer of 2011, she had begun a business called h+m photo with her boyfriend, Micah McNair.

“It started with a family asking if I wanted to take their pictures, and now I have six or seven weddings booked next year,” she said.

She quickly shifted her academic focus to business and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in management and a minor in photography, which she plans to use to run h+m photo.

“I’m kind of in transition right now,” Boyles said, noting that she hasn’t yet decided whether she will devote herself to her business full time or take advantage of opportunities to work with established photographers in order to “gain more knowledge from being in the field learning from a small business owner who has been successful for many years.”

Like Nichols, Austyn Blais is headed to graduate school to help her make the transition from her former career path to her new goal of becoming a college history professor.

The 22-year-old Jacksonville resident graduated Friday with a bachelor’s degree in psychology but she discovered her passion while in history classes at JSU. After working in the tutoring center, she knows she still wants to help people, but rather than as a counselor, she’ll do it in the classroom.

“Just being able to help other people understand history, I think it’s something I would really be good at and that I would love doing rather than something I might make good money in,” she said.

As university President Bill Meehan prepared to confer degrees on the last JSU class of 2012, he reminded them of what their education means. “Education that does not touch the heart is not true education,” he said. “True education addresses the larger purposes of life. I hope that in all we have taught you, that we have given you a sense of that larger purpose.”

And as Blais ends one phase of her academic journey and prepares to seek her purpose, she said having her degree in hand would definitely be a relief.

“It’s taken me it seems like an eternity,” she said. “I’m very excited, and I’m definitely anxious to see what happens in the future.”

Jacksonville State University

Winter 2012 top graduates (summa cum laude)

• Lance William Hicks, bachelor of arts in English

• Hannah Lauren Cooper, bachelor of fine arts

• Viachaslau Katliarou, bachelor of science in biology

• Yuye Cao, bachelor of science in finance and accounting

• Catherine Robbiann Davis, bachelor of social work

• Sabrina Amber Whitmire, bachelor of science in biology

• Zebulon Harris Vaughn, bachelor of science in education
© 2012