The Warnell family grew by 91 members recently as spring 2023 graduates walked across the stage at The Classic Center in Athens.
The Convocation event, hosted by the University of Georgia Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, featured words of wisdom from faculty, students and alumni. They spoke about the strong friendships built during classes, labs and study sessions, and how these bonds continue in the professional world.
View photos from Spring 2023 Convocation
Alumni speaker Carter Coe (MFR ’11) reinforced this idea as he talked about the family aspect of the school. The recent death of former dean and professor Mike Clutter underscored this: “His passing was like the passing of a father,” Coe said.
“Keep seeking connection here and everywhere in life,” he added. “Warnell is your lifelong fan club.”
As an alumnus, Coe shared a few lessons he learned in the years since his own graduation. For example, we all have our blind spots; we think we know what we need to know. But there will come a time when we don’t see the world the way we thought we did.
“Now I wonder what blind spots I have at 41 that I’ll be seeing at 61,” he said.
Lance Rogers (BSFR ’23) was selected by faculty and students to be this spring’s student speaker. A forestry major, Rogers came to Warnell at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
His experiences in Athens were in stark contrast to what he had hoped. A musician, Rogers was looking forward to experiencing Athens’ legendary music scene. But he arrived to campus amid Zoom meetings, face masks and downtown curfews. Even so, he said, “I could see that light at the end of the tunnel, and that involved becoming a professional student.”
His first class as an official Warnell student took place in Room 1-304, and that’s where Rogers began making his connections. He realized there were others on campus who shared his passion for the outdoors, and whether they were majoring in forestry or something else, they could all come together as one at Warnell.
He also thanked the faculty at the school, who went above and beyond to keep him and his fellow students encouraged—and in line. Rogers promised the event would not be the last time his class would celebrate together—nor would it be the last gig for his band, Maples Crown.
But it was faculty speaker Nick Fuhrman who brought out a bandmate. Or, more precisely, a gopher tortoise.
“It’s time to shell-a-brate,” declared Fuhrman, who is also known as Ranger Nick for his natural resources-focused television show.
'Be that person who makes a difference to others in your organization to others.'
But the guest appearance by Sheldon the gopher tortoise was part of a lesson. Gopher tortoises, said Fuhrman, play an important part in the South Georgia ecosystem, where their school bus-sized burrows create critical homes for a variety of other species. This is especially important when fires move through the area and the burrows provide shelter.
“Be a Sheldon. Be that person who makes a difference to others in your organization,” he told the Convocation audience. “One gopher tortoise makes one heck of a difference.”
(Afterwards, Fuhrman and Sheldon were available for ... shellfies.)
Fuhrman also relayed a story to graduates and their loved ones. In his teaching, he places a stamp on assignments that receive an A. It’s a small form of positive feedback, he said, but it’s an important part of life and in connecting to others.
One day one of his students, a football player, came in to ask about an assignment. “He said, ‘I got a 91—why didn’t I get a stamp?’ said Fuhrman. “So, I put a stamp on it and wrote ‘owl-standing.’”
Be positive. Be passionate. Learn from your mistakes. These are lessons the new Warnell graduates could take out into the world. “No matter where you are, we are Warnellians,” added Rogers, “and we wear that no matter where we are.”
It’s a good connection to have. Some might even call it “owl-standing.”