In the Age of Covid, the big themes at Wingate’s Fall Commencement on Saturday were, unsurprisingly, persistence and growth.
More than 250 students received undergraduate and graduate diplomas in Cuddy Arena, amid high-fives, hugs and tears of joy. At the morning ceremony for graduate programs, 149 students were awarded degrees, with over 60 percent receiving health-sciences degrees. In the afternoon, 118 undergraduate degrees were conferred.
Among the graduate students who celebrated on Saturday were 42 who received doctoral and master’s degrees and specialist certificates in education. They and the other graduates were treated to a Commencement speech by Dr. Charlesa Hann, interim dean of the Thayer School of Education.
Hann relayed her struggles as a mother of four and breast-cancer patient trying to finish her doctorate. The words of her doctoral advisor – “the doctorate is not a test that you are any smarter; it is a test of your persistence” – stuck with her as she plugged away despite several obstacles. The experience was ultimately instructive and taught her to learn from difficult times.
“When you experience a sense of failure, stop, evaluate the process, learn from it, store it for future reference, and keep moving,” she told graduates. “As you grow professionally, learn to see things less as failures and to appreciate more the small successes.”
In the afternoon, biology professor Dr. Alison Brown echoed Hann’s words in her address to undergraduates. She talked about people who exhibit a “growth mindset” when presented with difficult challenges – those who take failure as an opportunity to grow rather than to brood.
“They are not afraid to face the unknown,” she said, “because those experiences, even the ones that didn’t work out, helped them learn and grow, and opened doors to opportunities that put them on the path where they were meant to be. Getting there was not about the final destination, but all about the journey.”
Trevina Washington-Nixon, who earned her bachelor of science degree in biology, was thrilled to have Brown as her commencement speaker.
“She’s everything — classy, smart and beautiful, my all-time favorite,” said Washington-Nixon, a Monroe resident and former area manager for a medical equipment company who will start her journey toward a master’s in physician assistant studies in January.
Kendrick McKnight of Goldsboro, N.C., appreciated the advice about persistence and said he found success on the way to his communication degree by simply “continuing to push through.” He transferred to Wingate in 2018, having decided to pursue a career in sports broadcasting.
“It has really helped get me out of my shell,” said McKnight. While at Wingate he was able to get hands-on experience working an internship with radio station WDZD in Monroe. He now has his sights set on earning a master’s at Full Sail University in Florida.
The most popular undergraduate majors among graduates receiving degrees Saturday were human services (15 degrees conferred), biology (13), psychology (11), elementary education (9) and finance (9).
On the graduate side, 53 physician assistant master’s degrees were handed out, followed by 38 doctorates in physical therapy, 20 doctorates in education and 13 MBAs.
The H.K. Helms Award, presented to the undergraduates who have achieved the highest academic average, went to Noemi Ambriz-Ruiz of Pageland, S.C; Peyton Anderson of Gastonia, N.C.; Wade Johnson of Cleveland, N.C.; and Kaitlyn Waters of Unionville, N.C. Anderson and Johnson were a part of Wingate’s Honors Program as was Washington-Nixon.
Chandra Jernigan Eley of Elizabeth City, N.C., and Laneika Kawanze Musalini of Anderson, S.C., doctor of education graduates, received special awards for their outstanding dissertations.
Eley said her doctorate in educational leadership will help her better support educators and keep them in the classroom. A teacher when she started the program three years ago, Eley is now an instructional coach in Bertie County Schools. Her dissertation was titled “What are the Factors that Influence Beginning Teacher Retention or Attrition in Title I Schools?”
She said she chose Wingate’s doctoral program because of its flexibility.
Musalini, director of Grants at Tri-County Technical College, has described Wingate’s Higher Education Executive Leadership program as a perfect fit for her.
Perhaps creating an unintentional illustration of the persistence theme, New York native Connor Kennedy crossed the Cuddy stage on crutches. A Weddington High School alumnus, Kennedy said it was an incredible feeling to have earned his doctor of physical therapy degree and that the most challenging aspect was figuring out what study and time-management techniques worked best for him.
Scheduled for ankle surgery on Tuesday as the result of a scooter accident, Kennedy will undergo a bit of physical therapy of his own in the near future. He’ll have no lack of instruction and support as his fiancee, Courtney Lyn Arms from Rutherfordton, N.C., also earned her DPT degree from Wingate on Saturday. The two are planning at May 2023 wedding and will live in Waxhaw, N.C.
Saturday’s ceremonies marked the fourth fall commencement at Wingate, and the first time that the event has been split into two ceremonies. In addition to hearing from the main speakers, graduates got some words of wisdom from Joe Patterson, the chair of Wingate’s board of trustees, and University President Rhett Brown, who each addressed intellectual humility, and from Provost Jeff Frederickson, who introduced the speakers and presented the degree candidates.
“We must stay open-minded and aware of our fallibility,” President Brown urged graduates. “When you are most convinced that you are right … be gentle, be careful with your certitude, be humble.”
For a list of those earning degrees on Saturday, visit the Registrar’s page and click on Fall 2021 Graduates.
Dec. 18, 2021