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Excited for their opportunity, Burr says grads need to hone their soft skills

by Luanne Williams

“This is a bright moment in our history because it presents so much opportunity for you and your generation,” U.S. Sen. Richard Burr told graduates at Wingate’s 123rd undergraduate Commencement on Saturday. But he warned them that in order to take advantage of that opportunity, they will need to “look forward with an active eye, and eagerness to learn and adapt.”

Burr addressed roughly 400 undergraduates and their families in a packed Cuddy Arena, while more than 1,000 people watched the ceremony via livestream from other campus locations. It was the first time in more than 25 years that Commencement, usually held in the Academic Quad, had to be moved inside. The threat of thunderstorms caused the change.

Graduates at spring commencement

Focusing much of his speech on the quickening pace of technological innovation, Burr said a recent study on the coming “Fourth Industrial Revolution” showed that high-speed mobile Internet access, artificial intelligence, widespread use of big data, and cloud technology would be the major disruptors of the next decade, creating a net gain of 133 million jobs globally but bringing to an end an estimated 75 million traditional occupations as positions are automated.

He said that graduates will need to make a lifelong commitment to adaptation and that they must improve soft skills, such as interpersonal relationships and the ability to interact with others.

“In layman’s terms, take the earbuds out and talk to people,” Burr said.

Serving his third term in the U.S. Senate after five terms in the House, Burr admitted that the government is not keeping pace with technological changes.

“While this explosion and growth of innovation has created innumerable products to make our lives better, the architecture to accommodate it is largely still stuck in the 20th century,” he said. He cited the fact that it can take nearly 10 years for the federal government to approve a life-saving drug and mentioned the U.S. Patent Office’s ongoing backlog of 500,000 to a million requests.

Still, Burr said, it will be up to citizens to create change.

“You’ll have your own responsibilities in order to succeed,” he said, “and that’s how these foundations of our society, those that remain outdated to the present challenge, will change from within. They’ll be forced to.”

Burr told the graduates, 347 of whom were awarded bachelor of science degrees, that they will need to continue seeking, learning and adapting.

A funny hat

“The most successful people in life – and those who will remain successful in the coming period of innovation – are those that find things they love, but also find new things to love that will engage their curiosity, activate our natural impulse to do good in our communities, and continue learning throughout their lives, even after they’ve passed through commencement as you’re about to,” he said.

After the ceremony, Nyinyi Myin of Charlotte, one of nine students to earn a bachelor of music education, said he was beyond excited about graduating.

“I am ready to conquer the world,” Myin said. “I plan to teach music and hopefully go on to get my master’s and doctorate at some point.”

Harrison Taylor isn’t sure what’s next for him but said he was thrilled to have earned his bachelor of science in communication with an emphasis in journalism and mass media.

“The most exciting thing I heard during Commencement was when they called my name to give me my diploma,” Taylor quipped.

Forty students earned bachelor of arts degrees; 21 were awarded their bachelor of science in nursing; and 11 received the bachelor of liberal studies.

Also handed out during Commencement were two honorary degrees. Gen. James Amos, USMC (Ret.), the 35th commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, and his wife, Bonnie Amos, were each awarded a doctor of humane letters.  

A graduate poses with her family

A 42-year military veteran, Gen. Amos led Marines in combat in Iraq in 2003 and 2004, later serving at Camp Lejeune and in Quantico, Virginia. He led the U.S. Joint Task Force overseeing air combat operations in Serbia and Kosovo, and during his tenure as commandant of the Marine Corps he completed the Corps’ combat mission in Afghanistan.

By his side, Bonnie Amos became a staunch advocate for military families, influencing policies and programs within the Marine Corps and the Department of Defense. She continues to be involved in the Military Spouse of the Year Award and is a spokesperson for Hiring Our Heroes.

Additionally, the University handed out faculty awards to Laora Brizendine, an associate professor of mathematics, and Brandy Clemmer, an assistant professor of sport sciences and clinical coordinator for athletic training.

Dr. Brizendine, who has a knack for helping students understand how to solve difficult problems, was awarded the Charles and Hazel Corts Award for Excellence in Teaching. In presenting the award, Joe Patterson, chairman of the University’s Board of Trustees, said Brizendine’s “kindness, patience and knowledge have opened students’ eyes to the beauty and wonder of mathematics.”

“Students leave her class understanding math’s relevance in their lives,” Patterson said.

Brandy Clemmer won the Debra M. O’Neal Award. Dr. Clemmer was recognized for redesigning her department’s clinical education courses to not only be more efficient and effective for students but also to be better aligned with accrediting-body standards. Colleagues said Dr. Clemmer is driven to make her students the best they can be, Patterson said in presenting the award, which is reserved for faculty members who have worked for Wingate for eight years of less.

More than a dozen students also earned special recognition.

Tanika Rose Santos MacSwain won the Budd E. and Ethel K. Smith Award, given to the graduating senior judged to have made an outstanding contribution through leadership of fellow students. An exercise science major from Charlotte, MacSwain is headed to the University of Kentucky to study kinesiology with a concentration in health promotion.

The C.C. Burris Award, reserved for the graduating senior woman who represents the ideals of scholarship, leadership, and service, went to Anna Catherine Holmquist from Lincoln, Nebraska. A political science major and All-American volleyball player, Holmquist earned a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship to Brazil for 2020.

Marketing major Niklas Martin won the A.F. Hendricks Award. A Kempten, Germany, native, Martin served as captain of the swim team and earned national recognition for an online platform he developed for social entrepreneurship faculty around the world to exchange teaching resources. Martin is headed to graduate school in the Netherlands. The Hendricks Award is presented to the graduating senior man who represents the ideals of scholarship, leadership and service.

Kirby Dean Goodin, a human services major from Statesville who spent her spring break helping the Missionaries of the Poor in Jamaica and has worked to improve the lives of children locally and in Haiti, took home the The Fred H. Allen Award. This award goes to the graduating senior judged to have exhibited outstanding Christian leadership and to have been involved in significant Christian service projects.

The Jerry and Alice Surratt Award, presented to the graduating senior who has made the most significant contributions in the area of international education through scholarship and service, went to Danielle Lee Nook, a communications major and Spanish minor from Ridge, New York. Nook studied abroad in Costa Rica and in Spain and served in the University’s Office of International Studies.

The H.K. Helms Award, reserved for those with the highest academic average, went to Sarah Brooke Barnhardt, Carrie Joy Brown, Leanne Elizabeth Mansfield, Hannah Brook Mullis, Savannah Noelle Rollins, Hannah Marie Teague, Mikhayla Lynn Turner, Chandler Dalton Williams and Lucas Yatsugafu, all of whom earned a 4.0 GPA.

May 11, 2019

Two graduates hold up their diplomas