Thursday’s commencement exercises at Reed Arena were the first of eight Texas A&M spring ceremonies in College Station, which — when combined with seven additional graduation events throughout the state and in Qatar — will result in more than 10,000 new Aggie grads.

“We graduate you today to do extraordinary things. That’s what you’ve been prepared to do, and that’s indeed what Aggies have done for many, many years. Aggies are making our state, our nation, indeed our world, a better place every day,” Texas A&M President Michael K. Young said to conclude Thursday’s 2 p.m. ceremony.

He noted Aggies can be found exploring the depths of the oceans and the farthest reaches of space; in the jungles, deserts and mountains studying the environment and the planet; helping others in classrooms, hospitals and farms; working in some of the most successful businesses; and serving in the country’s armed forces.

“Aggies are leaders, pursuing excellence in everything that we do,” he said. “But what truly sets you apart isn’t your technical competence. It isn’t your ambition. It isn’t even your GPA. What makes you an Aggie isn’t even what you do; it’s who you are. Your deep, profound and abiding commitment, to honor, to duty, to integrity, to services, to devotion to one another and to all mankind, that is what makes an Aggie.”

Texas A&M was a place where Breanna Ross, who graduated with a bachelor of arts in communication and served as Thursday afternoon’s commencement speaker, learned to find and be herself.

“I am grateful that people took the time to reach out to others to join their organizations,” she said, joking she would be the richest person in the world if she had a dollar for every flyer she received. “It is nice to find a place where you belong outside of simply being a student. Many students find their passions, lifelong friends and future careers from simply joining an organization. Personally, I learned more about my major and all that it has to offer through the communication organizations, as well as the sports management organizations.”

In addition to learning about herself and her career, she said, she made lifelong friendships and gained knowledge during her time at A&M.

A native of Stockbridge, Georgia, Ross said that 10 years ago she never would have believed that she would have the chance to attend A&M, graduate in three years and be selected to give a commencement address.

Quoting the late sports commentator Stuart Scott, she told her fellow graduates that every person’s life is bookended by two dates with a dash in between.

“Let’s go make that dash count,” she said.

This week’s ceremonies bring the number of Texas A&M former students to 500,000, The Association of Former Students Board Chair Mark Fischer, class of 1972, said.

Fischer led the students in turning their Aggie rings around so their class year faces away from them.

“With your class year leading the way, you are now ready to step toward your future as a former student of Texas A&M,” he said. “As an Aggie, you are never alone, and joining you on your path are your outstanding Texas A&M education, our core values and our worldwide Aggie Network. Throughout your journey, wear your Aggie ring with pride and remember that you are forever a Texas Aggie.”

Colin Callaway, a third-generation Aggie, honored the tradition established by his grandfather 55 years ago on his cap with the class years of 1964, 1990 — for his parents — and 2019 surrounding the state of Texas and the Texas A&M logo.

Though he originally started his college journey at Texas Lutheran University, he said, it never felt like home.

“I had been going to football games since I was 3 years old, so being a legacy is fulfilling, especially getting the ring and specifically graduating. It’s a fulfilling feeling,” he said.

Brandy Lewis said graduating Thursday with a degree in psychology marked a new milestone in her life as the first person in her family to earn a degree.

“I feel so grateful, but also, what’s next?” she said. “I think ... the most exciting part is what’s next. Just trying to bring everything together, what I went through these past three years to get to where I’m at. It’s like I went through a lot, but I made it. I made it.”

The reality still has not hit her, she said.

“I have this in my hand, and it’s real. I got a diploma; I got a degree. Words can’t even express how I’m feeling right now,” she said.

Right now, she said, what’s next is to pursue a master’s degree in psychology — cognitive psychology now, but that could change.

Referencing Winston Churchill’s commencement speech at Harvard in 1943, Young said, “The price of greatness truly is responsibility. Listen with empathy, love with courage and labor with compassion. Success won’t be measured by what we know or how we rise in the world’s estimation, but by who we are.

“I know who you are. I know what you will do, and I know most importantly how you will do it. I’m humbled to be in your presence and grateful to be a small part of this moment where we send you out into the world to do those great things that Aggies do. A world that I know will be so much better for your presence.”

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