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East Carolina University graduates celebrate the completion of their bachelor's degrees at the 103rd annual spring commencement. The ceremony was held May 4 at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. Approximately 3,800 graduates were expected to receive degrees. (Photo by Cliff Hollis)

 Success Stories 

‘It’s all worth it’ 
Nursing graduates Stephanie Gibson of Vass and Ashley Smith of Coats wore mortar boards proclaiming “I survived” and 2012 black-rimmed glasses.

“Nursing school is not easy,” said Smith, the first in her family to attend ECU. More than 20 friends and family came to watch her graduate. She wants to work in an emergency room because of the adrenalin rush, but doesn’t have a job yet.

Gibson plans to work in an intensive care unit. “You have fewer patients and you get to know them better,” she said.  
She’s also the first in her family to attend ECU. “I picked ECU because it has the best nursing school,” Gibson said. “And I love the school spirit here.”

Lauren Small of Edenton said she chose ECU because it was close to home.

“Nursing school is absolutely the biggest challenge you will ever go through in your life,” she said. “It’s a two-year challenge of every hour, minute, second, brain cell and thought process in your life, but it’s all worth it to care for patients and know you had a hand in their life.”
 ‘'A great accomplishment’
La’trish Mack of Thomasville and Kendra Jackson of Greenville received bachelor’s degrees in communications.

Mack was station manager of WZMB,  ECU’s student-run radio station, where she started out as an on-air personality. She works for an online radio station, NDJamz, an independent underground station based in Wilmington, where she plans to move.

Mack was drawn to ECU because of its family atmosphere. “I liked the way I was treated,” she said. “Everybody was very kind. They accepted me with no hesitations.”

Jackson also worked at WZMB and is in the process of applying to graduate school in communications with an emphasis on health. A Farmville Central High School graduate, ECU was the best decision for her, she said – chosen in love and support of her 4-year-old son, Isaiah.
She said statistics show that as a teenage mom, she had a 9 percent chance of graduating from college. “Family and good friends have helped me and kept me going, and my faith. I always keep God first,” Jackson said.

“When parents believe in education, children believe in education,” said Michael Jackson of Edenton, Kendra’s dad, who teaches at John A. Holmes High School. “I’m so proud of her and I’m really happy for her. I know she’s going to continue her education.”

Kendra’s mother, Gwendolyn Dupree of Greenville, said she didn’t earn a college degree but “always wanted better for her. I want her to go further. We’re going to push her,”

Dupree said. “It’s a great accomplishment. She has persevered the whole time and I’m very proud of her.“

 ‘Another way to…show our love’
Jim and Evelyn Kirkland of Lumberton sat on the Murphy Center balcony with the alumni group honored on the 50th anniversary of their graduation.

Jim, who took photographs for the campus news bureau and the East Carolinian newspaper as a student, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business education.

He also worked as the station manager for the college radio station. Evelyn earned a master’s degree in 1962, after completing a bachelor’s in education the year before.
“I wanted to teach, and ECU had a reputation for training students – the best in the state,” she said.

Jim worked in marketing while Evelyn taught middle school language arts for 30 years. Now retired, both have served on the dean’s advisory council in the College of Education.

“This is just another way for us to show our love and support for East Carolina,” Evelyn Kirkland said.

“You have to support the university and its endeavors.”
Grads ready to 'make a difference'

May 4, 2012

By Crystal Baity and Kathryn Kennedy
ECU News Services

After years of study and service, exams and extracurricular activities, East Carolina University graduates turned purple and gold tassels Friday, May 4.

Undergraduate students celebrated along with master’s, doctoral and certificate recipients at the 103rd spring commencement ceremony at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. Approximately 3,800 students graduated this spring including 73 from the Brody School of Medicine.

“It’s exciting and terrifying at the same time,” said medical school graduate Nik Collin, reflecting on leaving ECU.

Dave McRae, chief executive officer of Vidant Health, gave the featured address. He focused on the positive impact Pirates can have on the region and world, but didn’t shy away from the difficulties they may face.

“Don’t expect everything to fall in place right away,” he said. “The message is to stay flexible, to grow and change in your career but to stick to the values and core strengths your family gave you.”

McRae told graduates it’s important to keep generations connected – a message that rang true as a handful of 1962 ECU graduates looked on from the Murphy Center in gold robes. Today’s leaders will pass responsibilities and opportunities to the celebrated graduates and future ECU students, McRae said.

“There are so many areas of life in which you personally can now make a difference. You’re ready.”

Family and friends who helped and supported students as they worked toward graduation were also recognized during commencement.

Nancy Lemis of Hampton, Va., sat at the front of the bleachers with her mother and nephews to watch her daughter, Courtney Stearn, graduate with a doctorate in physical therapy. Stearn was a feature twirler with the Marching Pirates for eight years. She was introduced to ECU by attending a band event during high school.

“I’m excited for her,” Lemis said.  “We just lost my dad three weeks ago, but he is here in spirit. He had front row seats.”

Stearn graduated with a degree in exercise physiology in 2007 and has been interviewing for jobs. She plans to start work in August after taking the national board examination.

Others gained a whole new family at ECU.

Kaitlyn Mann of Engelhard majored in health and human performance and is the first in her family to get a four-year degree. Her physical education class is small, about 25 people, and everyone is close.

“They are like my second family,” she said. “I would recommend ECU to anybody.”

   More than 1,500 East Carolina University graduates celebrated with friends and family Friday, May 4 at the 103rd annual spring commencement in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. (Photos by Cliff Hollis and Jay Clark)  

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