Under a setting sun and the bright lights of Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, nearly 3,400 East Carolina University students received degrees May 8.
The university’s 100th spring commencement recognized the academic achievements of approximately 2,325 undergraduate students, 65 medical students and more than 1,000 graduate/professional students.
Lt. Gen. Gary L. North, commander of the 9th Air Force and U.S. Air Forces Central and an East Carolina alumnus, delivered the keynote address.
Commencement speaker Lt. Gen. Gary L. North.
North completed ECU’s ROTC program as a distinguished graduate and, in 1976, was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Air Force. Today, he is responsible for the command of more than 350 aircraft and 24,000 active-duty and civilian personnel in the eastern United States.
North spoke to the graduates about East Carolina’s long history of service and ambition, encouraging graduates to make these traits a daily habit. “It is the habit of service that has made East Carolina University and its graduates a beacon of light and a centerpiece of Greenville and eastern North Carolina for the last 100 years…. We have graduates serving around this world, and in this world. It is our challenge to serve and reach out across the world to achieve our ambitions,” he said.
North said he has met members of the Pirate nation serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the globe. “As an airman, I serve among true heroes in a very deadly world,” he said, adding that it was his honor to represent those men and women who fight to protect our freedoms.
In closing, North charged the graduates to meet the challenges of today. “We are a nation of the best because of our people. For all we are, for the beacon of freedom that our nation stands for in both a troubled and dangerous world, you the graduates of 2009 will rise to the task. You are the hope for our future, for our future literally rests in your hands,” North said.
Graduates also heard from Matthew Hojatzadeh of New Bern, senior class officer, and Jan Tovey, chair of the faculty senate.
Chancellor Steve Ballard addresses ECU's newest graduates.
“ECU has taught us all to never accept the impossible,” Hojatzadeh said. “As long as you have the skills necessary to overcome those impossible odds, there is no doubt you will have success. I hope each of you will continue to strive to take chances, and to never let the word ‘failure’ play a role in your decisions.”
Tovey told the graduates to believe in themselves, their abilities and talents. “You will touch many lives. You will make new discoveries. You will succeed, if you give yourself a chance. We believe in you. We believe you will succeed and make us all proud,” she said.
Several special awards were presented during the commencement ceremony.
Three graduating seniors received the 2009 Robert H. Wright Alumni Leadership Award, which recognizes academic achievement, service and leadership qualities. Joel Funmilola Banjo-Johnson of Winterville, Dianna Andreea Gliga of Jacksonville and Stefanie Marie Wethington of Greenville accepted their awards from Sabrina Bengel, chair of the East Carolina Alumni Association.
Derek Alderman, associate professor in the Department of Geography, received the UNC Board of Governors Award for Excellence in Teaching, which came with a commemorative bronze medal and a $7,500 cash prize.
Alderman holds an undergraduate degree in history from Georgia Southern College and master’s and doctoral degrees in geography from the University of Georgia. He has received the Board of Governors Distinguished Professor for Teaching Award, the Robert L. Jones Award for Outstanding Teaching and the Scholar-Teacher Award, in addition to other honors, has authored a book, chapters in edited books and more than 40 journal articles.
Story by Christine Neff, ECU News Bureau
Photos by Jay Clark