Keith Davis, the first USC Aiken student to take the walk across the stage at commencement Thursday, was recognized with nine others as military veterans – all of them greeted with generous applause.

Davis received his master's degree in educational technology. He spent 24 years in the Navy, earning an undergraduate degree during his career. After retiring in 2009, Davis is currently the North Augusta iIgh School Naval Junior ROTC unit commander.

“I'm glad it's over,” he said with a smile of his return to college. “But I had a great time with a great bunch of people.”

A total of 416 students were eligible to participate in commencement – among them Vanessa Capers, a political science major who plans to go to law school. Her professors were excellent and she stayed active with the political science club.

During her sophomore year, “A teacher high-fived me on campus,” Capers said. “That's when I fell in love with the school.”

Indeed, attending USCA is a family affair, said Chancellor Dr. Sandra Jordan – not only for the graduates themselves, but for more than 2,500 family members and friends at the Convocation Center.

“The sense of community is abundant tonight,” said Jordan. “Your future is brighter because of your accomplishments.”

Dr. Harris Pastides, the University of South Carolina president, welcomed Martin Koffel, the guest speaker and president and CEO of the URS Corporation. Koffel also received an honorary degree from USCA. He told the students his work had taken him to other nations throughout the world. Along the way he met writers, scientists, business people, musicians and those from many other careers.

Yet certain qualities may be more important that a specific position, Koffel said – core values such as integrity, responsibility and humility.

Tomas Greizinger, the outstanding senior graduate, is the fourth student from Slovakia to receive that award. His older brother was the first, and Greizinger knew from childhood how badly he wanted to attend USCA too.

“I have grown as a student and as a person here, thanks to the professors and some dear friends,” he said. “This was the best four years of my life.”

What makes the university so great, he said, are the close relationships. The students were not just numbers. In a given class, if a chair was empty, the teachers would know who was missing.

Jessie Corbin, a summa cum laude communications major, always appreciates her former third-grade teacher, Jason Fulmer, at Redcliffe Elementary School. Fulmer likes to attend graduations to see how former students are doing.

The last four years “have been incredible,” Corbin said. “I feel like I'm ready for today. I've tried to stay involved and be in the middle of things. Right now I'm hoping to enter the job market.”