The view from the highest row of Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium afforded a unique perspective of East Carolina University’s 99th spring commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 10, in Greenville.
To the north, visible through the trees, were the landmark buildings of Main Campus—Joyner Library, the Student Recreation Center, and the elegant tower of Fletcher Music Center. To the west stood the proud visage of the Brody Medical Sciences building, the anchor of ECU’s Health Sciences Campus.
Commencement speaker Thomas J. Spaulding Jr. addresses the class of 2008.
To the south, in the bowl of Dowdy-Ficklen itself, the view was remarkable not for the things that make ECU a world-class institution, but for the people that make it great. Below was a sea of purple, the robes of 1,400 new graduates shimmering in the brilliance of the sun on a flawless day. And beyond them, reaching out to the horizon was a lush green panorama of eastern North Carolina.
As the words of commencement speaker Thomas J. Spaulding Jr., ECU alumnus and president and CEO of the non-profit organization Up With People, reached the ears of those in the highest reaches of the stadium, it was hard not to gaze beyond the immediate and out into the endless expanse of the region.
“Leadership is about people,” said Spaulding, “and to lead people, you have to love people. That’s what this institution is all about. Caring, leading, and loving people.”
ECU has made caring, leading, and loving the people of eastern North Carolina its hallmark. Recently, Chancellor Ballard designated ECU as “the Leadership University” in the university’s strategic plan. The plan, consisting of five distinct directives, also includes a challenge to promote economic prosperity in the east.
The significance of those two directives, and the way they meld together, was abundantly clear from atop Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. ECU produces more teachers and allied health professionals than any other institution in the UNC system, many of which remain here in the east. Countless more graduates, in fields ranging from engineering to child development, will also decide to continue to call this region home. Annually, ECU contributes more than $2 billion to the region’s economy.
It is a special thing for a place to touch someone in a way that makes him or her want to remain close—to live, work, and raise a family in the same familiar surroundings.
ECU has that appeal for many people. There is a warmth of spirit and deep-rooted sense of community that people share. As Spaulding said in his address, “When I reflect about my time at East Carolina, I don’t really remember what exactly was on my degree, or my GPA, or the classrooms, or the classes I took. I really remember the people.”
A new graduate hurries to the College of Nursing convocation at Wright Auditorium on Friday, May 9, 2008.
Perhaps most telling are the feelings of those whose experience at ECU is limited solely to their child’s education. Larry and Joanna Davis of Wilmington, North Carolina, attended the commencement ceremony to watch their daughter, Tayleigh, graduate with a bachelor’s degree in communication. Neither had any affiliation with ECU before their daughter enrolled four years ago, but both are now proud members of the ECU community.
Joanna made her feelings known with a simple declaration. “We love ECU,” she said.
Larry has enjoyed attending football games, and cheering for Tayleigh, a four-year letter-winner in track and cross-country, at various meets. “We have had a great four years,” he said, “a great four years.”
In all, more than 3,400 degrees were conferred at spring commencement this year. For some graduates, it marks the end of their time in eastern North Carolina. Others will apply the skills and training they received at ECU locally, continuing the tradition of service established by generations of graduates before them.
If one word was needed to sum up the day, none would be finer than “clarity.” Usually from such heights, images loose definition, sounds fade, and messages are lost to distractions. But at ECU’s spring commencement, the vistas were sharp, the voices powerful, and the message clear.
2008 Spring Commencement Program
ECU Graduates 3,400 at Spring Commencement