Joel Katz founded Katz, Smith & Cohen 30 years ago. In 1998, Katz merged his practice with Greenberg Traurig, which he called one of the biggest entertainment law firms in the world. He spoke to the graduates before receiving an honorary degree at the ceremony.
During his speech, Katz advised graduates to be ambitious.
“Time is more precious than all of the gold and all of the diamonds in the world because that time allows you to prove to the world who you are and what you can do,” Katz said.
Katz was awarded the degree because of his contributions to the school. He founded the music business program and is heavily involved in the school that was named after him. Students can earn certificates, which are similar to minors, from the program in two years, said Keith Perissi, the program’s director.
Perissi said the program has 250 people enrolled for the fall semester, compared to 50 people in fall of 2011, when the program was created.
Four graduates out of the 1,163-person KSU summer class of 2014 received the music and entertainment business certificate, Perissi said.
Music program creates connections
Teresa Samaras, who received a MEBUS certificate in December and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in marketing Tuesday, said the program was responsible for all her opportunities in college. Samaras interned at Washington D.C.-Black Entertainment Television and Atlanta-based Sixthman, a cruise ship event business, among other places while in college.
“Every internship that I had has been through connections with the program,” Samaras said.
Samaras, who is from Savannah but now lives in Kennesaw, said she already has a job lined up marketing entertainment events in Atlanta as well as at KSU with Accurate Event Productions.
“The program has really prepared me for the real world and taking the next step out of college,” Samaras said. “I kind of didn’t want to get out and then when I was in this program I realized what I wanted to do after college.”
Samaras said she enjoyed participating in the program because it helped make music, something she had always loved while participating in music programs at her high school, a part of her job.
“I’ve always had that passion in my life and this program brought it back in my life,” Samaras said.
Mychael Ball, who graduated Tuesday with the MEBUS certificate and a bachelor’s degree in communications, said he moved to Kennesaw from Midland, Texas, to get in the program.
Ball, who is a singer-songwriter, said Kennesaw is an ideal place to start a career in music, and the program helped him with that.
“All my music needs were being met through that program,” Ball said. “I was getting exposure to the Atlanta and the national music community. That’s a reason I picked Atlanta to move to.”
“It’s enabled me to be able to connect with various people in the music business,” Ball said. “I have entertainment lawyers in my phone that I can call if I have questions about a contract or anything like that.”
Perissi said he was proud to see his students graduate and thankful to Katz for speaking.
“For me it was better than winning a Grammy — to see them graduate,” Perissi said.
Summer class includes variety
KSU, which has 24,629 students enrolled in the fall of 2013, compared to 24,604 in fall 2012, still has one more graduation before incorporating with Southern Polytechnic State University after fall 2014, said Tiffany Capuano, a spokeswoman for the school.
In the summer of 2013, 1,403 students graduated from KSU, compared to this summer’s 1,163. The most popular undergraduate major was psychology, with instructional technology ranking first for graduate students, Capuano said.
Martavius Thompson, 22, moved to Kennesaw after graduating from Southwest DeKalb High School four years ago, and he said he felt “a sigh of relief” when he received a degree in communications during the afternoon ceremony.
“It feels like a feeling of freedom. Just a relief, like I’m done,” Thompson said.
With his communications degree, Thompson said he hopes to “do a lot of mentoring and public speaking.”
“Right now I’m building a business,” he said. “It’s based on social marketing, and it encompasses a lot of communication skills, mentoring skills, things like that.”
Thompson said his business, which caters to students, aims to help students manage their money by providing personal finance education and promoting money management software.
Thompson said he said he doesn’t share concerns about the uncertain job market with his fellow graduates.
“I think a lot of college students do get nervous, but me personally, I’m not nervous at all,” he said of landing a job.
A survey of graduates from summer and fall 2013 and spring 2014 reveals a little more than half of the 3,190 students surveyed — 55.5 percent — found work after graduation. KSU officials said this represented a four percent decrease in employment from the previous graduating class.
Thirty-five percent of respondents landed jobs in their desired field.
Helen Spence, 50, of Powder Springs, experienced the hardship of joblessness firsthand when the construction company that employed her shut its doors as the economy began to sour.
Spence said her sister encouraged her to go back to school, which she ultimately decided to do in the spring of 2010 because her son had reached the age of self-sufficiency.
Her son, who graduated from McEachern High School in May, will start his freshman year at KSU this fall.
“I’m so proud of him,” she said of her son, who was accepted into KSU’s international business school.
“He’s a smart one. Now it’s my turn.”
Spence said she decided to study psychology because the field provides “answers.”
“I just fell in love with it. The physiological side is fascinating, the genetics of it all,” she said.
Spence was cheered on by her mother, sister, husband, son, mother-in-law and close friends at the afternoon ceremony Tuesday.
But Spence said she missed two members of her family who were not able to attend.
Spence said she lost her brother to alcoholism 10 years ago.
“He hung the moon as far as I’m concerned,” she said of her brother.
Spence said her brother’s alcoholism is part of the reason she decided to study psychology.
“I’m looking for answers, and my hope is to help future generations not have to go through what I had to go through,” she said. “That’s why the research is so important.”
Spence also said her father, who would have been “very, very proud” to see his daughter graduate from KSU, died 25 years ago.
His birthday would have been Tuesday, just in time for graduation.
“I kind of feel like there’s somebody watching over my shoulder today,” she said.
While Spence said she hopes to earn a doctorate in psychology and pursue research work, she said she is currently applying for jobs so she can put her son through the school she just left.
“I’m excited about part two and watching my son have this experience,” Spence said of the next chapter in her life.