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LendingTree's Lebda tells graduates to seek knowledge by asking questions

by Luanne Williams

Students earning graduate degrees at Wingate University Friday evening were encouraged to think like entrepreneurs, to walk in someone else’s shoes, and to never stop looking for “t=0” moments to start something new.

The advice came from LendingTree CEO Doug Lebda, who defined his speech as a chance to speak truth through the lens of the University’s “faith, knowledge, service” motto.

“What I loved about your faith, knowledge and service, I’ll say right off the bat, is that these all build on top of each other,” Lebda said, “and if you continue to focus on those three things, I promise you you’re going to have a life of meaning and a life of consequence like you will never imagine.”

Having founded what is now a $3 billion online loan marketplace after struggling to find the best mortgage for his first home, Lebda told graduates it was a college professor who helped him find the faith he needed to start his own company. He urged his students to seek knowledge by asking questions and “reframing the game.”

“For me, it was reframing it between will the business be successful and am I learning?” Lebda said. “The times in my career I’ve been most inspired are not related to when the company’s doing well. It’s when I’m learning.”

Finally, Lebda told students to seek a win-win: a life of service to others that also brings them good outcomes. And, he said, they should always be ready to start something new.

“Entrepreneurs are great at having ‘T-zero’ moments. T is time and zero is zero,” Lebda said. “At any moment in your life, you’ve got time to start right now on something else: new career, new job, new something, new relationship, to repair a relationship. You have time right now to have a t=0 moment.”

Graduates also heard advice from Heidi Massey-Bong, the vice president of Shell Trademark Management, who was presented with a doctor of humane letters.

Massey-Bong, who started out as a summer intern at Shell, has supported Wingate’s School of Sport Sciences by providing students with hands-on learning at NASCAR and Indy Car races, the Houston Open PGA tournament, and Shell Eco-marathon events. She told graduates that she is a firm believer in the mantra of her mentor, successful racing entrepreneur Roger Penske: effort equals success.

Those at Commencement got an example of successful efforts when the Excellence in Research & Scholarship Award was presented to Carrie Griffiths for her research in critical-care pharmacy. An associate professor and clinical pharmacist at Wingate for nearly seven years, Dr. Griffiths has authored more than 20 scholarly publications, written a book chapter and made numerous presentations. She was recently awarded fellow status in the Society of Critical Care Medicine and has made huge strides in researching virtual intensive-care units. Dr. Griffiths is a 2010 summa cum laude graduate of Wingate’s School of Pharmacy and was valedictorian of her class.

More than half of the graduates crossing the stage Friday night received olive-green bordered hoods as doctors of pharmacy. Nearly 30 were awarded master’s in business administration or master’s in accounting degrees from the Porter Byrum School of Business, while 17 earned their master’s degrees in sport management. The Thayer School of Education awarded one doctor of education degree and 10 master’s degrees. And Linda Xiong was recognized as valedictorian of the School of Pharmacy.

Faculty, staff mentors honored during Baccalaureate

Earlier on Friday, Chrissy Tatum Williamson, pastor of Greystone Baptist Church in Raleigh, encouraged graduates to leave campus with confidence, knowing they are ready for whatever comes next.

Drawing inspiration from conversations between Moses and Jethro in the Old Testament and Jesus and Peter in the New Testament, Williamson reminded students of the role of mentors – the theme of Baccalaureate, which has for the past few years served primarily as a time for graduating seniors to honor Wingate employees who have helped them find their way. Students nominated more than 130 members of the faculty and staff, who were awarded medallions prior to the worship service.

“Mentors see us. They come to us in many different ways,” Williamson told the crowd in McGee Theatre. “Sometimes friends, sometimes professors, sometimes parents, and sometimes they come from unexpected places at just the right time. They share their wisdom, they share their experience and they help us find the way. They walk the path with us day after day and help us reach our goals.”

She encouraged graduates to ask for help when they need it. “You can do anything you set your minds to, but you can’t do it alone,” she said. “And I hope by now you have learned that you don’t have to.”

Williamson’s words of inspiration followed those of seniors Samantha Lev and JaVon Hopkins, who shared their personal faith journeys.

A self-described “Jewish girl from New Jersey,” Lev said she knew she was taking a risk coming to a college in the South with a Christian heritage, but what she found at Wingate was not ridicule but curious questions that helped strengthen her faith.

A preacher’s kid who had grown up in church, Hopkins said he left his faith behind once he got to college, focusing instead on parties and popularity. But when a series of deaths in his family and failing relationships with his parents and friends sent him on a downward spiral, he turned back to the Scriptures and found a new beginning.

Citing Matthew 17:20, Hopkins said his mustard-seed faith truly moved mountains in his life during his time at Wingate, where he found like-minded friends he plans to keep for a lifetime.

Provost Helen Tate thanked students headed toward Commencement for taking time out to recognize their mentors, referring to them as “prophets and wizards.”

“Mentors are prophets because they see the potential in us that we don’t see in ourselves,” Tate said. “They are wizards because they bring that forward in us just by recognizing it and calling it out.”

The Friday morning service featured a choir made up of faculty, alumni and friends of the University and student performances by Lamar Davis and Sarah Summers, both from the Class of 2019.

Undergraduate Commencement is Saturday, March 11, at 9 a.m.

May 10, 2019