Sonia Mendoza, a business student at Dalton State College, will be graduating in December, and she says she has just one regret.
"I'm sorry that I will only have one semester in this beautiful building," she said Thursday afternoon just before the ribbon cutting for the renovated and expanded Gignilliat Memorial Hall, which is now home to the Wright School of Business. "This is not only an absolutely beautiful building, it has the latest, most innovative technology. The classrooms are bigger. This will have a major impact on students of the business school."
The expansion of the building was funded by a $5 million gift from C. Lamar and Ann Wright, which was matched by the state with another $5 million. The project took 15 months and added 15,729 square feet to the building.
"We hope this will create opportunities for students, for professors, for staff and for the administration to continue to provide a superior education and to keep changing lives," said the couple's son Kevin Wright. "We want it to be a challenge to students, to earn their success and to then give back to their community just like Lamar and Ann did."
Lamar Wright was one of 524 students in the first freshman class in 1967 at what was then Dalton Junior College and was in the first graduating class in 1969.
The Wrights, originally from Polk County, came to Dalton in 1965 when Lamar took a job in the poultry industry. After graduating from Dalton Junior College and later the University of Georgia, Lamar got into the floorcovering business, founding his own company.
The couple could not be at the ribbon-cutting because Ann was injured in a fall over the weekend. College officials said they were reluctant to hold the ceremony but the Wrights insisted it go ahead.
Matt Evans, lead pastor at Dalton's Rock Bridge Community Church and a friend of the the Wrights, said he asked Lamar what he should say before he spoke.
"He said, 'Don't make this about me or my family. Make this about the glory of God,'" Evans said.
Evans said Thursday's celebration represented "the power of the good."
"Good can overcome evil. Good can change lives," he said.
Several of the speakers noted that Lamar Wright often spoke of how Dalton State College had changed his life, how it was changing the lives of current students and how he hoped it would change the lives of students for years to come.
David Elrod, director of institutional advancement for the college, said he would send Lamar Wright stories from the newspaper showcasing the accomplishments or success of Dalton State College students or graduates and get back the response "Changing lives.'
"This beautiful building has energized the students like I have never seen," said Marilyn Helms, dean of the Wright School of Business. "It's for current students and for future students for years to come. We've been a largely commuter campus. We are transitioning to a residential campus. We've got spaces in this building for students to study, work and remain before and after class. I think this will allow them to get to know their classmates better."
Grace Nabila, a Dalton State College senior majoring in marketing, said she is excited that the building is now officially open.
"You'd walk by and say 'Oh, it's finished.' But it wasn't ready just yet. Now, it is," she said. "Oh my, this building is so beautiful. This is going to be a big stepping stone for the college and for all of the students."
Kevin Wright said his parents' gift came with "strings." The strings are a challenge to students in the business school to forge a path to their own success and then to give back to the community just as his parents have.
Dalton State College President Margaret Venable said the new Gignilliat Memorial Hall and the example of the Wrights should help students do exactly that.
"When they enter this building, they know that it was made possible by a Dalton State College graduate," she said. "They know that after Lamar Wright graduated from Dalton State College he went on to be successful enough to donate $5 million to help fund this building and that they, too, can have that sort of success."