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First OTD grads highlight midweek Commencement ceremonies

by Chuck Gordon

Among the 563 newly minted graduates leaving Wingate University with degrees this week will be the first cohort of doctor of occupational therapy (OTD) graduates.

Undergraduate Commencement will be held on Tuesday at 9 a.m. in the Academic Quad. On Wednesday, OTD students and others in graduate programs will have their ceremony, also at 9 a.m. in the Quad.

Dr. Melissa Sweetman has waited four and a half years to see Wingate OTD students have their big day. She arrived at Wingate in December of 2017 as OTD director and started building the program from scratch. The first cohort of students arrived in 2019, placing a bet on a program that wouldn’t be up for full accreditation for two more years (Wingate gained accreditation in December 2021).

“The class of 2022 have truly been trailblazers,” Sweetman says. “The minute they started in the program, they started creating student organizations and developing service initiatives that were not part of their academic requirements but that reflected the type of program we hoped to be: one focused on serving others while celebrating the distinct value the profession of occupational therapy has to offer.”

Imparting words of wisdom to the 32 OTD graduates and 116 other graduate-degree seekers will be one of Wingate’s own, Dr. Russell Booker (’91). Booker retired two years ago after 28 years in education, including the last 10 as superintendent of Spartanburg (S.C.) School District 7. He received numerous plaudits in his career, including the Order of the Palmetto, South Carolina’s highest civilian honor. Booker is also a Wingate University trustee.

Speaking at undergraduate Commencement will be Molly Barker, founder of Girls on the Run. The afterschool program helps third- through eighth-grade girls develop essential social, emotional and physical skills.

Also during undergraduate Commencement, honorary lifetime Wingate trustee Joe Hunter will be awarded an honorary doctorate. A former executive with Wachovia Bank, Hunter has worked with the Cannon Charitable Interests for the past 35 years. During Hunter’s tenure, the Trusts have provided more than $20 million in grants to the University.

Of the students earning degrees this week, 415 are undergraduates, with biology/environmental biology topping the list of majors represented (60), followed by exercise science (42), psychology (41) and sport management (26).

On the graduate side, 60 students are earning doctor of pharmacy degrees, while 25 are earning master’s degrees in sport management.

The annual Baccalaureate service will be held on Monday at 4 p.m., followed by the Farewell Celebration at 5 p.m. Both events will be held in the Batte Center.

Learn more about Wingate’s Commencement ceremonies.

See this story and this one for examples of Wingate’s OTD program making a difference.

May 15, 2022