Morning rain showers failed to dampen the enthusiasm of more than 2,000 new East Carolina University graduates inside Minges Coliseum on Dec. 18.
“Today is a time to celebrate your accomplishments,” said Dr. Carol Goodwillie, commencement speaker and associate professor of biology at ECU. “It makes me happy and hopeful to look out at a room filled with talented and highly skilled graduates who are ready to take on the job.”
The most passionate seemed to be ECU’s College of Nursing graduates, each armed with Silly String that they sprayed wildly after Dean Sylvia Brown announced they had satisfied the requirements of their degree.
Hollers, high fives and shouts of happiness erupted throughout the arena as the individual colleges were recognized and 2,093 students received their degree, including 1,520 who earned bachelor degrees, 530 who received graduate degrees and 42 who completed their doctoral degrees.
One of those was 23-year old Latisha Robinson, who earned her bachelor of science in university studies. She waited with several classmates before marching into Williams Arena for the fall commencement ceremony.
“I’m strictly here for my son,” said Robinson, who became pregnant while a student at ECU.
She said she had just “been in school to be in school,” but all that changed with the birth of her son Emmanuelle, now 3.
Charlotte resident Latisha Robinson earned a bachelor’s of science in university studies, completing classes online while working full time in non-profit management.
She completed the university studies program online while working full time in non-profit management in Charlotte. “There was a time I didn’t think I would get my degree. I’m unbelievably grateful,” said Robinson, who’s the first in her family to earn a four-year degree.
Her classmate, 41-year-old Tomeka Carr of Kinston, overcame the unexpected and a few stops and starts while getting her degree. “My mom passed away and my son had a life-threatening illness,” Carr said.
Her son, Tabronze, 17, is healthy now and sees the sacrifice, hard work and dedication of his mom. “It really shows him you can do this,” she said.
Carr’s focus is working with at-risk children, and she already has a job offer thanks to the university studies program. “I was able to take my life skills and experiences and tie it into a degree I wanted to do,” Carr said. “This graduation means so much to me.”
Dale McLean Jr. of Sanford spent three and a half years as a student worker in Mendenhall Student Center while completing his bachelor’s degree in science and mathematics. He said working in the student center has been an important and memorable part of his experience at ECU.
“It has made it a lot more fun,” he said. “I’ve met a diverse group of people and built connections with both teachers and other students.”
Dr. John Stiller pointed out in his remarks of behalf of the faculty that relationships with college mentors can be among the most important connections a student will ever have. “So stay in touch,” he encouraged them.
Chancellor Steve Ballard asked the graduates to thank their parents, families and friends for supporting their educational pursuits.
Sitting in the first row near Section 207 overlooking the graduate seating area was the family of Jon Smith of Wilson. They came to celebrate the graduation of his brother, Lannis E. “Gene” Smith Jr., who earned a doctorate of education.
“It’s a lot of pride. I know the work he’s put in to achieve this,” Smith said. “It’s inspiring to his children and his family.”
Gene Smith is vice president of Wayne Community College and the first in the family to earn a doctorate. All three Smith brothers, the children of Lannis Smith and the late Sharon Smith, have advanced degrees.
“Our mom died in 2013 and we all know she’s proud of this moment, and our dad’s here to witness it,” Jon Smith said.
Also in the stands were Steve and Darla Parker of Elkin, who watched their daughter, Carley, earn her bachelor’s degree in education. She was sporting a Dr. Seuss quote on her cap: “Oh, the places you’ll go.”
New ECU graduates waved to family and friends as they left Williams Arena in Minges Coliseum, encouraged by commencement speaker Dr. Carol Goodwillie to learn their own lessons and find their own path as they move into the next phase of their lives.
“This has gone by really fast,” said Darla adding that with the end of their daughter’s tuition payments, “we’re getting a pay raise, and we finally get to take a vacation.”
Carley, who completed her degree in three and a half years, will start teaching fourth grade at a magnet school in Winston-Salem on Jan. 4.
“I’m going to miss everyone, all my friends here,” Carley said. “But I’m looking forward to taking that next big step.”
Goodwillie, ECU’s 2015 recipient of the UNC Board of Governors Excellence in Teaching Award, encouraged graduates to learn their own lessons and find their own path as they move into the next phase of their lives.
“Enjoy your journey, find new families and communities but continue to hold your ECU family dear,” Goodwillie said. “Go out and do good things. The world is waiting for you.”