ECU graduates 3,400 at spring commencement
(May 10, 2008)
Thomas J. Spaulding Jr., told the graduates of East Carolina University May 10 to see “community service not as a punishment but a privilege” during their lives.
Spaulding, who is president of the non-profit organization Up with People and an East Carolina alumnus, delivered the keynote address to the approximately 1,500 graduates who attended commencement exercises along with more than 6,000 friends and family members in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
In total, more than 3,400 degrees were conferred during the university’s 99th spring commencement.
During his welcome to the graduates, ECU Chancellor Steve Ballard quoted the Irish poet William Butler Yeats, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”
Spaulding told the graduates that he didn’t receive his diploma with honors as some of his friends did in 1992, but he has made the most of the four ideals that he sees in ECU and remembers from his years on campus: service, leadership, spirit and people.
He urged the graduates to make the most of what their ECU education will provide them throughout their lives.
“Volunteerism is the rent you pay to live in a free society,” he said. “Eighty percent of the world lives in poverty. Think about your contribution today, not when you’re 50 or 60 years old.”
“The world is filled with leaders, followers and critics,” Spaulding said. “Which one are you going to be?”
Ballard also awarded honorary doctor of letters degrees to three residents of eastern North Carolina: Felix Harvey, Valeria Lee and Walter Williams.
Harvey, of Kinston, is a philanthropist and one of the most successful businessmen in North Carolina.
Lee, of Rocky Mount, retired in March as president of the Golden LEAF Foundation, which distributes tobacco-settlement funds to help ease the transition from a tobacco-dependent economy.
Williams, an alumnus and longtime benefactor of the university, is the founder of Trade Oil Co., which merged with WilcoHess in 2005.
After receiving his honorary doctorate degree, Williams told the graduates, “This piece of paper means a lot to me, and I hope yours means a lot to you. You will always be a pirate.”
ECU senior class officer Armand Vonsiatsky and Mark Taggart, chair of the faculty, also addressed the graduates. Of the degrees conferred May 10, approximately 2,400 are undergraduates, 910 are graduate/professional students, and 74 are medical students.
During the ceremony, the university’s first physical therapy doctoral students and the nation’s first three medical family therapy doctoral students also received their degrees. ECU’s engineering program also graduated its first class of 22 students.
In addition to the conferral of degrees, five graduates received the Robert H. Wright Alumni Leadership Award, presented by Brenda Myrick: Vladim Bobrovnikov of Raleigh, Jonathan J. Edwards of Raleigh, Julie D. Goldfarb of Chagrin Falls, Ohio, Sarah Elizabeth Parker Womack of Washington, and Christopher K. Vo of Fayetteville.