Visual Slideshow
ECU COMMENCEMENT: ‘Our education should never stop’

By Jeannine Hutson and Kathryn Kennedy
ECU News Services
Another class of Pirate graduates set sail Friday, Dec. 16 at the 103rd fall commencement.

More than 800 baccalaureate, masters and doctoral students took part in the ceremony at Williams Arena in Minges Coliseum. With family and friends cheering them on from the coliseum’s upper seating, they processed onto the covered court at 10 a.m., beaming and waving.

“Today, as we say goodbye, we can look back on these last four years with a smile,” said Senior Class Officer Casey Anthony. “Our education should never stop, even though our formal schooling has.”

Dr. Thomas G. Irons, associate vice chancellor for health sciences and professor of pediatrics at the Brody School of Medicine at ECU, delivered the primary address. He recently received the Award for Excellence in Public Service from the Board of Governors of the 17-campus University of North Carolina system.

“I hope you will choose to be forces for change,” Irons said at commencement, “to work to make a difference, to take your talents and use them in the service of others.”

As a physician, faculty member and private citizen, Irons has focused his time, his medical expertise and his consensus-building skills on addressing the needs of abused children, disabled children, at-risk teens, farm families and the rural uninsured.

The Greenville native offered operating principals for graduates accepting ECU’s mission: To serve. They must not judge others or hide their own troubles, he said. They must be willing to accept pain and failure, and cultivate relationships with friends and family who can support them in tough times.

Graduates must also take risks, Irons said, and learn to forgive both others and themselves.

“I hope every one of you will make a difference, and above all that you will find joy.”

That joy emerged from the undergraduates as each college and school was recognized and its graduates stood for recognition. Nursing students – who hold a reputation as the most spirited at graduation – fired off cans of silly string while yelling and shaking noisemakers.

“Pirate! Nurse!” some chanted from underneath elaborately decorated mortarboards. A few hats would take flight as undergraduate students from all departments turned their tassels, signifying the completion of their degrees.

ECU Chancellor Steve Ballard led the applause of friends, siblings and cousins, grandparents, children, spouses and, finally, parents who “sacrificed, stood by you and now share in your success.”

Faculty Chair Marianna Walker summed up Friday’s transformative event.

“Yesterday, students. Today, graduates. Tomorrow, alumni. And forever Pirates.”

More than 3,300 students are received their degrees this commencement, including approximately 2,220 bachelor degree candidates and 1,110 graduate degree candidates.


ECU graduate Marquerite Latham hugs her neighbor rev. Elbert Coburn after the ceremony is done. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)

Ashley Tyson’s decorated mortarboard summed up her years at ECU this way: “I can do trauma and drama.”

Tyson of Washington, N.C., was one of many boisterous College of Nursing graduates celebrating Friday during commencement exercises at Minges Coliseum. She completed her bachelor of science in nursing degree.

She also holds a bachelor of fine arts degree from ECU, which she earned in 2008.

Tyson plans to work in nursing for the next two years to pay off her student loan debt and to fulfill her requirements as a N.C. Nursing Scholar, then she plans to head to New York City to put her musical theater degree to work.

“I would like to thank my theater faculty at the School of Theatre and Dance for the professionalism that they have prepared me for to be able to get my nursing degree,” she said.

_ _ _ _ _

After the ceremony, Trey Sloan of Deep Run gathered with his family and his doctorate faculty advisor, Dr. David A. Brown of the Department of Physiology and an adjunct professor in bioenergetics.  Sloan earned his doctorate in bioenergetics and exercise science for his research on the connection between heart attacks and diabetes.

“People with diabetes are more susceptible to die from heart attacks and we wanted to know why,” Sloan said. “We found some things at the mitochondrial level.”

Brown noted that eastern North Carolina has one of the highest rates of diabetes in the nation, not just the state. “Anything we can do to identify how we can help people, especially diabetics with heart disease, we think has huge clinical potential,” he said.

As he earned his doctorate Friday, Sloan was also celebrating completing his first semester as a medical student at ECU.  Brown added that Sloan is also a UNC Board of Governors Scholar at the Brody School of Medicine.

Sloan is not the only ECU graduate in his family; his wife Kristi earned her degree in nursing in May. She also has a business degree from ECU.

Trey Sloan’s mother smiled and said, “He has wanted to be a doctor since he was three years old and he would walk around the house in his little scrubs.”

The family joked that they have one more ECU graduation on their calendars – in three and one-half years when Trey graduates from the Brody School of Medicine.

- - - - - -

It would be hard to say who was smiling more Friday morning: Jerry Bartz or his wife, Loretta.

Jerry Bartz, who works at the Brody School of Medicine, earned his bachelor of science degree in information technology. Bartz earned his associate degree at Pitt Community College and then completed his bachelor’s degree at ECU.

The father of three said it was tough some weeks juggling schoolwork and family responsibilities, but he had a goal.

Bartz wanted to graduate before their oldest daughter completed college. She is slated to graduate from UNC-Pembroke in May.

“And he did it!” Loretta exclaimed. 

- - - - - -

Erionna Skinner said the reality of graduating college didn’t sink in until well after Friday’s ceremony began. Even lined up in the hallway before proceedings began, cloaked in a purple robe and mortarboard, Skinner, of Pittsboro, said the occasion didn’t feel too special.

“It kind of felt like high school again,” she said. “But when they actually had us stand up for our departments, it just all hit me. I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is a really big deal.’”

With a dual degree in accounting and Spanish, Skinner is the first in her family to graduate college.

Deneen Ascenzo stood with Skinner, her first-born, outside Minges Coliseum, her eyes welling up with joyful tears.

“I’m extremely proud,” said Ascenzo. “She’s the first (of three) to graduate and it’s just awesome.”

She said she isn’t worried about her daughter finding work, even in the current economic climate.

“She’s a type-A personality with good grades, sports, work, the whole thing,” Acenzo said. “It’s amazing. It’s nice to have a graduate in the family.”

- - - - - -

Surrounded by nearly 20 family members and friends, Tayloria Kesler of Salisbury posed for photo after photo Friday outside Minges Coliseum.

“(I’ll remember) the school spirit, the clubs I was in,” she said, “my friends, the long hours in the library studying chemistry.”

Kesler plans to apply for and attend pharmacy school in 2013. Until then, she’ll move back home and look for work as a pharmacy technician in that city or the nearby Triad.

Even with more school to come, she said Friday’s graduation felt like a defining moment.

“I’m finished,” she gushed. “I’m done. That’s all I can think about.”

# # #