SSU’s 197th Commencement With Speaker & Doctoral Recipient Mayor Johnson


On November 21st, 2020, the “University by the Sea” held their 197th commencement ceremony at T.A. Wright Stadium for their Fall 2020 graduating class.

Practicing social distancing and adhering to CDC guidelines, Savannah State University housed over 300 graduating seniors, with a maximum of four guests each. Guests had to be pre-registered by students and screened before taking their seats in the stadium’s designated areas.

Savannah’s Mayor, Van Johnson, an alumnus of SSU, delivered the commencement speech. Using the Wizard of Oz as his muse, Mayor Johnson encouraged the gleeful class that the ceremony was bigger than arriving at that destination. But more so to celebrate the different journeys that lead them to that celebratory point.

“It’s the places you’ve gone, the people you have met, the experiences you have had, and the things you have learned on the journey.”

He continued speaking on some of the trials and tribulations students have had to overcome to complete their matriculation through SSU. Mayor Johnson reminded students that they could not have arrived at that moment without the support of friends and family along the way. He concluded his speech by elaborating on our nation’s state amidst a global pandemic, massive demonstrations of civil unrest, and the recent presidential election’s divisiveness.

Tamia Jones and Aurelle Ross
Tamia Jones and Aurelle Ross

“Our world is in need of scholars. Our world is in need of people who are going to turn our upside down world right-side up. Our world is in need of people with some sense. Our world is in need of people with integrity. Class of 2020, I am telling you, not from what I think but from what I know–you have brains, use them! You have courage; exhibit it! You have a heart; follow it! Live your best life!”

Before holding the mayor’s position, Johnson served 16 years as alderman for Savannah City Council’s First District.

Mayor Johnson is only the fourth elected official from Savannah to serve on the Board of Directors of the National League of Cities. He also recently served as Chair of the Advisory Board of the National League of Cities, becoming the first Savannahian to hold such an office.

Salutatorian and Miss SSU Aaliyah Buckholts (center) & fellow graduates
Salutatorian and Miss SSU Aaliyah Buckholts (center) & fellow graduates

Interim President Kimberly Ballard awarded Mayor Johnson an Honorary Doctorate Degree for his profound contributions to scholarship, culture, and the improved quality of life in society-at-large.

Some profound speeches were also given by graduate student, Billie Doby and salutatorian, Aaliyah Buckholts, congratulating their fellow classmates and reminding them that their journey has only just begun. We are honored, at The Savannah Tribune, that one of our own interns, Aurellé Ross, was recognized as her class’ valedictorian.

“Graduating as valedictorian came as a shock, but it gives me a great sense of accomplishment. I put a lot of time and effort into my schoolwork. It feels great to be recognized for my merit.”

Congratulations to all SSU Fall 2020 graduating seniors. May they be resourceful and persistent in what they believe like Dorothy; curious and open-minded like the Scarecrow; kind-hearted like the Tinman; and courageous in all efforts like the Lion. As the university’s motto exclaims, “You can get anywhere from here.”

Aurelle Ross (right) with fellow graduates
Aurelle Ross (right) with fellow graduates

Savannah State University plans to host another in-person graduation ceremony on December 12th for Spring graduates of 2021.

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