ECU holds annual fall commencement
Brig. Gen. James Gorham
(Dec. 17, 2010)
Before offering advice to East Carolina’s fall graduates, Brig. Gen. James R. Gorham of the N.C. National Guard cautioned that his words would be neither deep nor heavy.
They would, however, be words that proved useful to Gorham, a 1981 ECU alumnus and speaker at the 102nd fall commencement, as he progressed from his days growing up on an eastern N.C. tobacco farm to becoming the first African-American general in the N.C. National Guard.
“’Boys, if you play now, you will have to pay later,’” Gorham recalled his father, a sharecropper telling him and his brother as they drove around the small town of Falkland in a pickup truck. “’But if you pay now, you will play later.’”
More than 2,230 degrees were awarded during commencement ceremonies at Minges Coliseum. Approximately 1,480 were undergraduate degrees, 752 were graduate or professional degrees and one graduate received a medical degree. Figures from the registrar’s office included degrees for students who completed graduation requirements in the summer but participated in the Dec. 17 ceremony.
Gorham congratulated the graduates, whom he urged to “always be ready and always be willing for the next task or level of responsibility.”
Gorham is director, Joint Staff, of the N.C. Joint Force Headquarters in Raleigh. He also serves as commander of the N.C. National Guard Joint Task Force, responsible for joint training and deployment. He has a Bachelor of Arts in history from ECU as well as a Master of Science in strategic studies from the U.S. Army War College.
Gorham also asked students to think about the military service members serving in Afghanistan and Iraq and to consider how they can serve their country.
He quoted John Adams, “Public business, my son, must always be done by somebody. It will be done by somebody or other. If wise men decline it, others will not. If honest men refuse it, others will not.”
Life will not always work out as planned, Gorham warned. As his father said, sometimes you will feel like the windshield, and sometimes you’ll feel like the bug.
Intestinal fortitude, Gorham said, will be required.
“Do not make permanent decisions based on a temporary situation,” he urged.
The fortitude of some graduates was on display as they described the roads that led them to their degrees.
Jennifer Reilly, 39, drove to and from Raleigh five days a week so she could fulfill her dream of becoming a nurse. She earned an associate of arts degree years ago, but after years of being a stay-at-home mom to her two daughters, now ages 13 and 16, it was time to pursue her degree.
“I’ve always wanted to be a nurse,” Reilly said, who is looking for a job in the Raleigh area.
Stacy Brown-Satterwaite of Wake Forest, who earned a nursing degree, said she worked full-time throughout her progression through the RN-BSN program, which lets registered nurses earn their bachelor’s.
The toughest challenge “was balancing work and the school at the same time,” said Brown-Satterwaite, 38, a clinical nurse at Federal Medical Center in Butner.
ECU’s nursing program, she said, “prepared me to be a community leader. I feel more prepared as a nursing leader within my job.”
Zack Chambers of Durham, a construction management graduate, said he has a job lined up in his field.
“I feel really good about it,” he said.
Lindsey Lee of Wilmington, 22, a nursing graduate who hopes to work in an intensive care unit, said she looked forward to the challenges ahead, such as finding a job.
“I’m ready to make some money,” Lee said.