Destini Leland imagines that if her dad were alive, he’d be so happy about her graduating from college that he would “bust a move.”
“His favorite dance was the ‘Running Man,’ and I'd think he'd be doing that right now,” said Leland, who’s the first in her family to graduate from college.
Leland, 21, participated in one of three commencement ceremonies held May 7 at Georgia State University’s Perimeter College. She earned her associate degree pursuing a psychology pathway at the college.
Commencement brought a great deal of joy to Leland, her mother and older brother. Things were different just before the holidays in 2008, when Leland’s dad committed suicide.
“I was daddy’s little girl, he was everything to me,” Leland said.
A few years after her dad’s death, Leland’s maternal grandfather also took his life. Leland has endured these painful experiences by leaning on her faith, getting therapy set up by her mom, Carmika Leland, and receiving lots of encouragement from her family — especially her brother Diionte'.
“I feel accomplished,” Leland said. “I feel like I've gotten so far after everything that I've been through, just talking about it, I get teary-eyed … I told myself that [giving up] would never ever be an option for me.”
With her can-do attitude, Leland is now part of Perimeter College’s Class of 2019, which includes 1,909 graduation candidates for spring and summer.
Among those graduation candidates were a record 69 DeKalb Early College Academy (DECA) students who received their associate degrees before their high school diplomas.
DECA is a dual enrollment program on Georgia State’s Clarkston Campus that enables students to simultaneously complete their junior and senior years of high school and their first two years of college. Students graduate from the program with the distinction of being ready for their junior year of college at Georgia State University or wherever they choose to transfer.
The graduation of the first cohort of State Farm Scholars was another major highlight of the 2019 commencement. During the past two years, the 20-plus inaugural State Farm Scholars who now are graduating received scholarship money and benefited from leadership training, professional development and experience in mentoring local high school students.
The Class of 2019 also produced nine semifinalists and two national winners of the competitive Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship. As recipients of the award, Perimeter computer science students Isaac King and Hoang Huynh each will receive up to $40,000 a year for three years to earn their bachelor’s degree.
This year’s Perimeter graduates reflected a range of ages. There were seven graduates in their 60s, with the top being 69. At age 17, Vibha Murthy — a dual enrollment graduate who attended Perimeter’s Alpharetta Campus — was the youngest graduate, but not the only 17-year-old. There were 24 17-year-old graduates, including students from the DECA program.
Accomplished alumni of Georgia State University’s Perimeter College keynoted the three commencement celebrations.
Bekah Adamson, division director of hygiene support for Aspen Dental and president of The Georgia Dental Hygienists’ Association — which represents more than 7,000 dental hygienists, spoke at the 9 a.m. commencement ceremony.
Yash-yee Logan, published researcher, electrical engineering doctoral student at Georgia Tech and recent recipient of the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, spoke at the 12:15 p.m. ceremony.
U.S. Navy veteran and business attorney Antonio Molina, who is chief operating officer of Consultorio Medico Hispano, chair-elect for the Georgia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and past chair of the Latino Caucus of Georgia Democrats, spoke at the 3:30 p.m. ceremony.
The near 2,000 spring and summer graduation candidates from Georgia State’s Perimeter College received associate of arts and associate of science degrees after following their choice of more than 30 academic pathways offered at the college.
“I’m quite excited,” Murthy said about receiving her associate degree. Murthy, who studied biology at Perimeter, plans to transfer to Georgia Tech.
The largest number of the graduates studied business administration, health sciences or nursing.
Leland will build upon her associate degree by pursuing a bachelor’s at Valdosta State University, where she’ll study marine biology and continue to persevere.
“I can strive and push through to do whatever I put my mind to.”