Sunshine lighted the smiles of graduates as they marched into Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium for the 106th spring commencement at East Carolina University today. And even as clouds from Subtropical Storm Ana rolled in overhead, spirits stayed bright.
“I’m excited,” said Kaylee Redon, a graduate of the College of Business with a degree in managerial finance. “I’m ready to go out in the real world and use what I’ve learned.”
Redon, a hammer-thrower on the ECU track team, has a job in Greensboro with Volvo Financial Services. But first, she’s headed to Florida for a track event.
She was one of nearly 5,000 ECU students who completed their degrees this semester, many of whom marched in purple graduation gowns and celebrated with classmates on the football field as dignitaries praised the work they did to reach this point.
Tom Ross, president of the University of North Carolina system, encouraged graduates to use the skills they learned in college to live a life that matters.
“Ask yourself this question: Am I making a significant difference in the lives of others?” he said.
He also encouraged graduates to own a dog or other pet. “Because if you do, you’ll always have love in your life,” he said.
This year's commencement ceremony included the first graduating class from the ECU School of Dental Medicine, pictured above. At far right is Christin A. Carter of High Point, who plans to serve residents of Surry County as a public health dentist.
Morgan Phillips of Mooresville was one of 50 dental students in the inaugural class of the ECU School of Dental Medicine who were receiving their degrees. She’s headed to Columbia, South Carolina, for a general practice residency. She called graduation “bittersweet.”
“You’re excited to move on and practice and get into your profession, but we’re separating,” she said, referring to her fellow graduates. “We’ve spent more time with our classmates than our families.”
Another dental graduate, Sheena Neil of Raleigh, agreed. “We’ve been a family for four years.” She’s headed to ECU’s Community Service Learning Center in Ahoskie for a general dentistry residency.
Psychology graduate Wendy McFarland of Durham likely summed up the feelings of many students.
“I feel ecstatic. It’s so exciting,” she said. “I’m done with homework and tests, for now anyway.” But not for long; she’s headed to Grand Valley State University in Michigan to pursue a master’s degree in higher education.
Newly minted ECU alumni show their Pirate pride at the 2015 commencement ceremony.
“Maybe one day I’ll be the dean of a college, or a chancellor maybe,” she said.
Brandon Tedder, a graduate in health fitness, is going to Charlotte for a cardiopulmonary rehabilitation internship at Presbyterian Hospital. “I’m pretty excited about that, making an impact in people’s lives,” he said. “I’m going to work my butt off and impress everybody.”
Another health fitness graduate, Jessica Smith of Nashville, described her college years as “amazingly fun. We learned a lot and made a lot of friends.”
She’s going to Raleigh for an internship with WakeMed and hopes to enter physical therapy school.
Among the faculty members at commencement was Ken MacLeod, an associate professor of business who’s taught at ECU for 25 years.
“There are always a few students you remember,” he said. “You look back and remember, ‘Yeah, they did really well in my class.’ They’re moving forward, and you’re just really happy for them.”
Madison McGraw of Gastonia, a health and human performance graduate, spoke as the senior class representative.
Recipients of the Robert H. Wright Alumni Leadership Award, the highest honor given to ECU undergraduates were, left to right, Kristi Noelle Wilkerson of Mastic, New York; Shayna Mooney of Winterville; Jessica Jewell of Clayton; Matthew Baucom of Marshville; and Ajay Ajmera of Greenville.
“Beating Carolina 70-41, the late-night runs to Cook-Out, jumping into freezing cold water just for a T-shirt, even the final exams we all dreaded – I wouldn’t change those memories for anything in the world,” she said.
Robert Rippy, a 1964 graduate of ECU and member of the UNC Board of Governors, reminded the graduates and their parents of some changes they’ll see in their lives.
“You’re going to go home this weekend and find your room has been taken over by your little brother or little sister,” he said. “Parents, you are realizing you no longer have to fill your student’s car with gas.”
Of the graduates, approximately 3,480 received bachelor’s degrees, and 1,360 received graduate degrees – including 80 from the Brody School of Medicine.
One of those, Sarah Norris, married fellow Brody graduate Alex Dalrymple two weeks ago. Both are headed to the University of Virginia for residencies – Norris in family medicine and Dalrymple in neurology.
“I haven’t changed my name yet,” Norris said. “I want to be ‘Dr. Norris’ for a little while first.”
Individual college, school and departmental recognition ceremonies follow the main commencement ceremony across campus Friday and Saturday. A complete listing of those ceremonies is online at http://www.ecu.edu/commencement.
Pictured below, fellow Pirates are pictured in the lens of an ECU graduate's sunglasses, needed for most of the ceremony despite the threat of rain from an approaching coastal storm.