Auburn University today conferred 1,160 graduate and undergraduate degrees during the first two ceremonies of President Steven Leath’s tenure.

“This ceremony represents the closing of a transformative chapter in your academic pursuits, and the beginning of a new chapter of great promise and possibility,” Leath said. “Today marks the culmination of years of hard work and discipline. The degree you’re about to receive will aid in your future endeavors, both professional and personal.”

Leath encouraged the graduates to use their degrees to impact the community, state, nation and world—just as graduates before them have done.

“We’re all excited to see the mark each of you will leave on this world, but I’m especially excited because you’re the first group of graduates that I’m sending off as president of Auburn University,” he said.

Beth Thorne Stukes, co-chair of Because This is Auburn – A Campaign for Auburn University, was the guest speaker at both graduation ceremonies. Stukes, a lifelong education advocate, was a teacher in the Walker County school system. Following her retirement, she continued to advocate for education and established herself as a pillar in her local community and beyond. She is a member of the executive committee of Auburn’s Women’s Philanthropy Board in the College of Human Sciences, chair of the Walker Area Community Foundation, vice chair of the Samford University Board of Trustees and a director of Drummond Company.

Stukes used the letters of the alphabet to structure her advice for the new graduates, starting with A to remind graduates that their attitude, regardless of life circumstances, is a choice.

Moving to letter B, Stukes acknowledged that while graduation is a commencement, it is also a beginning.

“Today is the first page of the blank book on which you will write your life’s story,” she said. “Today is the beginning of your legacy. While editing is possible when writing a book, life doesn’t afford us that opportunity. Be purposeful and act reasonably.”

That piece of advice led her to letter C and the word choice. Life is full of choices, Stukes explained, and some are insignificant while others have much more meaning.

“The choice to be cautious with your words, the choice to be compassionate rather than outraged” are the choices Stukes encouraged graduates to make.

Determined and dignity were the words she chose for the fourth letter of the alphabet, reminding graduates that life is tough but to always be determined and to always treat others with dignity.

For E, Stukes used advice from her husband and former basketball coach Rick Stukes about expecting excellence.

“My hubby the basketball coach says, ‘If you aim low you’ll hit it every time!’ Expect the best from yourself. Practice excellence until it becomes your norm,” she said.

To conclude her ABCs of advice, Stukes used the letter F to represent fairness and H to represent humor.

“Be fair in all things,” she said. “Even when not seeing eye-to-eye, others will note your sense of fairness,” she said.

Stukes said she used the ABC approach “not to burden the graduates, but rather to challenge them.” She referenced a study that indicated that 6.7 percent of the world’s population holds college degrees, while 33.4 percent of Americans 25 and older have completed a bachelor’s degree.

“You are in an elite and select group regardless of your socioeconomic status, race or religion,” she said. “Recall the butterfly effect; everything you do matters to all of us forever.”