As a freshman at Wingate in 2005, Suzanne Bostic Philemon ’09, ’14 (MBA) had no idea what she wanted to major in. “I was envious of my friends who had it figured out,” she says.
One thing she did know: Education was vital. The daughter of former Wingate music professors Ron and Polly Bostic, Philemon says she was taught from a young age that there were no limits on what she could accomplish and that education was the avenue for her to reach her goals, whatever they turned out to be.
Philemon eventually settled on communication, because she enjoyed those classes, and she uses the skills she learned at Wingate on a daily basis as executive director of The Cannon Foundation. Promoted to the position in January, Philemon says that every day brings a new opportunity to help make life better for the people of North Carolina. And often, those opportunities revolve around ensuring access to education, something she never takes for granted, especially in her own life.
“The liberal arts education that Wingate provided – for a person who didn’t know what she wanted to do – really taught me how to write, how to think critically, how to speak to others,” Philemon says.
Philemon worked an internship in the University’s marketing office and wound up taking a grant-funded position there after graduation, still unsure where she was headed career-wise. Within a year she had started pursuing her master’s in business administration.
“That was really beneficial, expanding my knowledge, helping me think outside the box and giving me another set of tools, so to speak,” she says. “Wingate itself, whether pursuing degrees, working or even growing up around campus, instilled in me a love for education, and ultimately that’s what brought me to The Cannon Foundation.”
She moved to The Cannon Foundation in 2016, as higher-education program officer, moving from an institution of higher education to a philanthropy that helps fund them.
“It was a change in the sense that you are on the other side, so now you have to remember that you, in some ways, carry the power,” Philemon says. “But you can’t forget that we’re not the experts in the field. We’re just given the opportunity to help learn about and fund things that are happening across the state.
“Every county in North Carolina is very different, and problem-solving looks different for everyone. We need to hear them out and understand what they are trying to accomplish, the vision they have to make life better for the people in their area.”
Philemon says current Wingate students eyeing careers in the nonprofit sector should take a broad approach to their education, getting involved on campus, meeting as many different people as they can and saying yes to opportunities.
“Whether the opportunity is an internship or a new course, take it, and know that even if you still don’t know exactly what you want to do, that’s OK,” she says. “Things have a way of working out. Every job that you take along the way is an opportunity to get where you want to be. The pieces will come together, especially if you have gotten involved and formed important relationships.”
Another bit of advice she shares: Find a mentor. Gene Cochrane, the retired president of The Duke Endowment who has served as interim executive director of The Cannon Foundation, has been her go-to with questions large and small. And although her promotion has introduced new challenges, Philemon says she is grateful for the chance to lead and ready to meet them.
“There are so many things that I have to learn, but I love learning, again instilled in me from my parents and from Wingate,” she says. “I look at it like, there are things I don’t know yet, but I can learn them. Every day has been different since I got here in 2016. You never know what can happen. What I do know is that all of us in this office have a love for people and relationships and this state, and we want to make life better for everyone, so I’m grateful to be a part of this work going forward.”