Alabama Secretary of State Addresses Snead State Graduates at Spring Commencement Ceremony


The annual Spring Commencement Ceremonies at Snead State Community College brought students, faculty and staff, family and special guests together to share in the successes and accomplishments of the 2019 graduating class. Of the approximate 295 graduates this spring, about 238 students participated in the ceremonies held Thursday, May 9, in the Plunkett Wallace Gymnasium.

Snead State Community College President Dr. Robert Exley encouraged the graduates to “not be strangers. We want to hear about your future accomplishments. We know there will be many.”

As he addressed the many people in attendance, Dr. Exley shared with them quotes from one of his favorite authors, C.S. Lewis. “I’d like to ask you to do your best to remember these. The first one is a simple truth. ‘The children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.’ ‘No book is really worth reading at the age of 10 which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of 50 and beyond.’ So choose your reading materials wisely. 

“And the last one, ‘Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back, everything is different?’ When you look back five years from now, 10 years from now, on your time at Snead State, we hope you will truly see the difference it’s made in your life. I strongly encourage you to find a favorite author, and never stop reading and rereading great books.”

Dr. Exley introduced the Commencement speaker, Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill. A native of Heflin, Ala., Mr. Merrill was first elected to public office as a representative of Alabama House District 62 in 2010 and was elected as Secretary of State in 2014. He has dramatically enhanced the efficiency of the office through a series of reforms and innovations. He has dedicated his life to public service, from his youth as an Eagle Scout and SGA President at The University of Alabama to his professional career in the West Alabama Chamber of Commerce and Tuscaloosa County public schools. He and his wife Cindy, a native of Phil Campbell, Ala., and former public school educator, have two adult children and reside in Tuscaloosa.

Mr. Merrill reminded the graduates of Snead State’s legacy of excellence in education since it was founded in 1898 and of all the students who graduated from Snead during its 121-year history. “Those people have been excited about what lies ahead of them and their future. So I ask you, why did you choose to continue your academic career at this institution? What do you want to accomplish by achieving your diploma and then moving ahead?

“We all have the innate desire to be someone who is considered important or significant,” Mr. Merrill continued as he shared his favorite example of this from a passage in the Bible, Mark 10:35, which chronicles a request from James and John to sit at the right hand and left hand of Jesus in the kingdom of Heaven. “(Jesus) elected not to use that opportunity to chastise them for their desire to be recognized as important. Rather yet, he asked them why it was important to them. He told them…it was not his place to grant them the opportunity to sit on his right or his left. But he continued to instruct them…that the most important thing those people who desire to be important, those people who desire to lead, will find [is] the greatest way that they can lead is by humbling themselves and presenting themselves as a servant.

“You are going to have triumphs and tragedies. You are going to have struggles, and you’re going to have successes. You’re going to have so many opportunities before you in the next few years. How you choose to respond to those struggles is up to you. I don’t know what the challenges are going to be for you. I don’t know what the obstacles are that you’ve got to overcome. But I do know this. You’re going to beat them. How you choose to respond to those are going to say more about you and who you are than about the challenges themselves.”

The evening was a time for honoring success and achievement for faculty, staff and students. Some of the graduates were also recognized as award recipients. 

Autumn Fox of Fyffe received the Civitan Best All-Around Student Award.  The Civitan Award is presented annually to the Best All-Around Student of the graduating class. To be eligible for this award, the student must have attended Snead State Community College for at least three semesters and attained a minimum cumulative academic average of 3.0 on a four-point scale.  In addition, the student should have participated in extracurricular and community activities. The student is elected by a vote of the faculty from a list of eligible graduates who are participating in the graduation ceremonies.

Angela Barajas Salcido of Boaz was awarded the James B. Allen Award presented annually to the Outstanding Student of the graduating class.  This award is a gift of the late James B. Allen, United States Senator from Alabama. To be eligible for this award, the student must have exhibited outstanding qualities of leadership and service, attained a minimum cumulative academic average of 3.5, and attended Snead State Community College for at least three semesters. The student is elected by a vote of the faculty from a list of eligible graduates who are participating in the graduation ceremonies.

Hannah Black of Joppa and Abby Williams of Crossville were recognized as this year’s members of the All-Alabama Academic Team. The All-Alabama Scholarship program is a complement to the All-USA National Academic Team Program, which is sponsored by USA Today, Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, and the American Association of Community Colleges. 

Dr. Exley also honored the individuals among the faculty and staff who were nominees or winners of the Alabama Community College System Chancellor’s Awards and those who wore the medallions signifying they are recipients of the League for Innovation in Community College’s John E. and Suanne D. Roueche Excellence Award or the recipients of the University of Texas at Austin’s NISOD Excellence Award. These awards were created to specifically celebrate outstanding contributions and leadership by community college faculty and staff.

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