Chancellor urges graduates to confront challenges, choices
(Dec. 14, 2003)
East Carolina University Chancellor Bill Shelton Saturday (Dec. 13) urged new ECU graduates to confront both challenges and difficult choices.
Shelton, speaking to about 750 degree candidates and a standing-room-only fall commencement crowd of family members and friends in Minges Coliseum, said, "Life is about choices and challenges. The choices you make affect the challenges you'll face. And the challenges you face will require you to make difficult choices."
He said that challenges "should not be something that would cause us to stop along our path. We should look at those challenges and say, 'There are opportunities there.'"
"Our job at East Carolina University," Shelton said, "was not to build your minds, but to open your minds to be able to adjust to whatever life offered you."
The university conducted two ceremonies Saturday, both in Minges. Undergraduate degrees were conferred in the morning and graduate degrees were awarded in the afternoon. More than 1,500 candidates were eligible to receive degrees. Famed jazz pianist Billy Taylor, a Greenville native, was awarded an honorary doctor of letters degree at the afternoon program. Taylor, whose widely honored career has included stints as musical director for the David Frost Show and artistic adviser for jazz to the Kennedy Center in Washington, was the Robert L. Jones Distinguished Visiting Professor of Music at ECU during the 2002-03 academic year.
As a young man growing up in segregation, Taylor said he sought to change the world he knew and to make it a better place to live.
"I never dreamed my love of jazz would take me so many places," he said. "In each of those areas, I've used my training to express the beauty I hear and help others do the same."
Taylor urged the graduates to follow in his footsteps by using their own interests and abilities to improve the lives of people around them.
"If my 82 years have taught me anything, it's that as individuals, we can make a difference," he said. "My challenge to each of you is, what will you do to make life better for those around you?"