Hard work is rewarded, said the speakers at the fall convocation ceremony for the University of Georgia Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, and this year’s crop of graduates should soon harvest their benefits.
That was the message brought to this year’s fall graduating class, as 65 undergraduate and graduate students walked across the stage at The Classic Center in Athens to be congratulated by Dean Dale Greene. The message hit especially close to home for the students, as many of them began their time at Warnell during COVID-19 restrictions.
For these students, perseverance takes on a deeper meaning.
“Who would have thought a little girl from the Himalayas, more than 8,000 miles from Georgia, would be standing here as a student speaker?” asked Srijana Baral, a doctoral graduate who was selected to speak for her graduating class. Baral completed her master’s and doctorate degrees in five years—she finished her thesis defense this past summer—and is now an assistant professor at Colorado State University.
Baral shared her enthusiasm and joy with her classmates, which included her husband, Anil Koirala; he also completed his Ph.D. earlier this year. “I am so glad I was able to do this together with Anil,” she said.
Graduating students also heard from alumni speaker Gordon Grizzle (BSFR ’13). Grizzle served as student speaker at his own graduation, although he noted that he remains proud of his classmates and their own accomplishments.
“I knew that hard work pays off, and good work is worth doing,” he said. “Now I see all the good work my classmates are doing and I’m in awe.”
Success requires work, he said, and the work might be difficult. But it will pay off in the end. For Warnell students, that work over the past few years has looked like labs, papers and tests—along with Zoom meetings and social distancing. Annual events such as the Fish Fry or Wildlife Supper returned this fall, giving students an opportunity to take part before leaving campus.
But throughout it all, Warnell students never lost sight of why they came to the school to begin with. Warnell associate professor Marty Hamel reminded students that getting their hands in the dirt, taking measurements in the field or catching salamanders can be hard work.
But if it’s fun and you enjoy doing it, is it really work?
“Some of the most rewarding parts of my job are working with all of you during these shared experiences. Whether it’s taking the electrofishing boat out to Lake Herrick, backpack electrofishing at Watson Mill Bridge State Park, or setting nets on the ponds at Whitehall Forest, I get to be out there on the water with you,” said Hamel, the recipient of the 2021 Alumni Faculty Award for Early Career Teaching at Warnell. “I get to share I the smiles, the laughter, the excitement. And for that, I want to thank all of you. I have one of the best jobs in the world because I get to have these college experiences every year.”
Hamel, Grizzle and Baral all echoed the same advice for new graduates: Just go for it.
Our brains don’t like uncertainty, Hamel said, which is why things that are new and different might seem scary. But a good work ethic can carry you to the finish line. Be willing to make the leap, added Baral, and you just may surprise yourself.
And don’t forget, said Grzzle: while the graduates are no longer students, they will always be Bulldogs.
“Being a Bulldog isn’t just a rite of passage, it’s a way of life,” he said. “A new life is about to begin. Cherish every moment, and go Dawgs!”