Troy University students walk in summer commencement (PHOTO GALLERY)

Published 10:00 pm Friday, July 25, 2014

Above, graduating students wait to cross the stage in their caps and gowns while listening to commencement speakers at the beginning of the program.

Above, graduating students wait to cross the stage in their caps and gowns while listening to commencement speakers at the beginning of the program. (Messenger Photos / April Garon)

Graduation day was surreal for Troy University students capping the end of their academic careers and planning their futures.

“I don’t think I’ll feel it until I get the degree in my hands,” Holly Vernon said. “It hasn’t hit me yet that there are no more finals.”

Vernon was one of 325 students that walked across the stage to receive degrees at the commencement ceremony at the Trojan Arena Friday morning.

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Dr. Earl Ingram Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, gave the welcome and introduction. He encouraged the graduates to give back to their communities as they move forward.

“Go out and serve your community well,” Ingram said. “It was Winston Churchill that said you make a living by what you get, but you make a life by what you give.”

Ingram also welcomed them as alumni of the university, which has over 140,000 alumni around the world.

“The value of your degree is not static—we want it to be worth more in three years than it is today, and I know you’ve invested your time money and efforts and want that as well. 1 We can’t do that by ourselves. we need your involvement and your support. go out and become great alumni.”

Retired Colonel Leo Thorsness of the U.S. Air Force gave the keynote address. Thorsness is a Medal of Honor recipient and former prisoner of war.

Thorsness was held captive for six years in Vietnam at the Hỏa Lò Prison, known as the infamous ‘Hanoi Hilton’. He shared lessons he learned during his time imprisoned with the graduates.

“Webster’s defines ‘hero’ as a person who is admired for great or brave acts,” Ingram said. “Probably, the term hero can be overused, but that term has applications today, to our speaker, because he is truly one of America’s true heroes. He has survived trials most of us can’t even imagine.”

Thorsness spoke about experiences he had during the last two years of his captivity. As a pastime, he kept track of all the topics that his fellow prisoners spoke about in the group cell they were located in. He tallied up topics, and thought work would be the one of the top things spoken about. He came down to 20 topics that the prisoners typically talked about, and assumed that work would be one of the top subjects, but was surprised that was not the case.

“Work came in at number 17,” Thorsness said. “Here’s what came in at the top 4: family, friends, faith and fun. When I was a young guy, coming out of college, I got so wrapped up in my work that I ignored these four things. If you have a little bit of four things in your life each day, your life is going to be richer, fuller and better. You will look back and say, ‘that was a good life’.”