Columbia Southern University Welcomes 2021 Graduates, Waffle House’s Bert Thornton


ORANGE BEACH, Ala. – Approximately 700 excited graduates and their loved ones celebrated today during Columbia Southern University’s commencement ceremonies at the Foley Event Center at OWA in Foley, Alabama, today.

Graduate Allyson Kelly of Pensacola, Florida, graduated today with her Master of Business Administration.

“It was two years of hard work and I’m proud of myself for it,” said Kelly. “It feels like putting a stamp on an envelope, ya know? Did it. Done. What’s the next hard thing I have ahead of me? From one hard thing to another, just getting better and stronger. I’m excited.”

Kelly currently works as the center operations supervisor for the for the USO Northwest Florida aboard Naval Air Station Pensacola. 

“This definitely helps me open more doors at the USO. I love being able to support military and their families. I’m just really excited that this will help me get to the next level to help more service members,” she said.

Graduates listened to keynote speaker Bert Thornton, retired vice chairman emeritus of Waffle House. He started his career with Waffle House in 1971 and worked his way up to president and chief operating officer. Thornton talked about the importance of finding a mentor.  

“Find a mentor. Ladies and gentlemen, I know a lot of successful people. And I don’t know one, not one, zip, zero who does not now have or has never had a mentor,” Thornton said. “Ladies and gentlemen, a mentor is central, is integral to your success. The greater your respect for your mentor, the greater your chances of success.”

Graduates participated in three separate ceremonies to allow for social distancing. CSU took COVID-19 precautions such as requiring all CSU staff to be masked, reducing room capacity to 32% for each ceremony, providing sanitizing stations throughout the building and offering disposable masks.

For those who could not attend, CSU is planning a virtual commencement ceremony in May to allow them to participate. To watch a replay of today’s ceremonies, visit our website.