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      Thousands set to graduate in the Midlands

      Photo Credit: FILE
      COLUMBIA (WACH, AP) -- Thousands of college students are gearing up for graduation Friday across the Midlands.

      Among the biggest; USC commencement exercises kick off Friday.

      U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor is addressing the newest graduates of the University of South Carolina. Sotomayor is also receiving an honorary degree in Columbia.

      Surgeon General Regina M. Benjamin speaks to USC School of Medicine graduates. U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham is addressing the law school commencement.

      South Carolina State students also graduate on Friday.

      Saturday, Benedict, Claflin, Columbia College, and Newberry will hold ceremonies.

      Related Stories... Thousands set to graduate in the Midlands Program looks to make prom, graduation free from underage drinking Hope up for graduates entering job market

      Here's a full schedule of the weekend's graduation events:

      Friday May 6:9:30 a.m. USC Law School - Horseshoe12:30 p.m. USC Arts & Medicine " Koger Center3:00 p.m. USC Communications, Nursing, Pharmacy, Public Health " Colonial Life7:00 p.m. SC State " Dawson Stadium

      Saturday May 7:9:00 a.m. Benedict - Charlie W. Johnson Stadium930 a.m. USC Honors College, Arts and Sciences " Colonial Life Arena10:00 a.m. Columbia College " Township Theater11:00 a.m. Claflin - Seventh-Day Adventist Worship and Convention Center2:30 p.m. Newberry College - Eleazer Arena, Newberry3:00 p.m. USC Education, Engineering, Hospitality, Interdisciplinary, Miusic, Social Work" Colonial Life Arena

      Saturday May 14:11:00 a.m. Columbia International - Shortess Chapel on the campus of CIU.

      Hope for Graduates

      And the potential of these graduates getting a job right out of college is looking up.

      A recent report by the National Association of Colleges and Employers shows almost a 20 percent increase in hiring in the past year.

      USC Career Center Director Tom Halasz says he is encouraged by the news, as thousands of college students across the Midlands gear up for graduation.

      What we are seeing here locally and nationally is significant improvement in opportunities for students, said Halasz.

      Halasz says there are many factors playing a role in the hiring increase.

      The economy and financial markets have recovered enough that people can afford to retire. So we needed to have some people retire so those openings could become available. There is also increased business and companies have to hire, said Halasz.

      He says combine that with a dip in unemployment across the state and Halasz says soon to be graduates should feel more optimistic than ever.

      It makes me feel a lot better. I am excited about all the job opportunities that hopefully will be there when I start my job very soon, said USC Junior Alexandra Rippy.

      Rippy plans to graduate next year " but is gearing up for her job search now.

      This summer she TMll begin an eight month internship with the BMW Plant in Spartanburg County.

      Halasz says internships are the best way to land a job after graduation.

      We see that students last year, got internship experience and as a result of those experiences are now being offered full time positions, said Halasz.

      Do you think the economy is looking up? Leave a comment below and weigh in.

      (The Associated Press contributed to this report.)