A crowd of graduates wearing caps and gowns.Hundreds gathered on the Wingate University Academic Quad Saturday morning, for the second time in 24 hours, to give graduates a celebratory send-off. The 9 a.m. Commencement was for more than 330 students earning bachelor’s degrees. Master’s and doctoral degrees had been awarded Friday evening.

On Saturday, North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein challenged the class of 2018 to be engaged citizens, to be compassionate toward those around them and to stay true to the Wingate creed of faith, knowledge, service.

A graduate of Dartmouth College and Harvard University who served as a state senator before being named the state’s 50th attorney general, Stein told graduates that he left college knowing that he wanted to explore, to keep on learning and to serve – goals that led him to Zimbabwe, where he taught English and economics to young adults who had become disabled during their nation’s war for independence.

Contrasting what happened when then-President Robert Mugabe ran Zimbabwe’s government into the ground with the strength and stability of the United States, Stein told Wingate graduates that there is still much work to be done, and that it will be up to them to sustain our nation’s freedoms.

“Paper rights only have meaning when they are backed by a legal system that will enforce them and an engaged citizenry that will defend them. Class of 2018, I call on you to be those engaged citizens,” he said, urging them to stay informed and hold their elected officials accountable.

Describing bipartisan efforts in North Carolina to battle the opioid epidemic, Stein told graduates that they should not focus on what divides us, but “come together to find solutions to common problems.”

Finally, he cited examples of accomplishments by a number of Wingate alumni to encourage graduates to find ways to serve that involve their own passions.

“Find your passion and listen to it – it may tell you to make time for doing math, preparing food or a hundred other things,” he said. “No one can choose for you what makes you happy.”

Prior to Stein’s speech, Wingate University President Rhett Brown presented Wingate Mayor Bill Braswell with a doctor of humane letters. Brown described Braswell’s contributions as a citizen, public servant and family man and held his life up as a model of one being lived in the service of others.

He said Braswell reminded him of Nelson Henderson’s definition of the true meaning of life: “to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit.”

Awards and honors

Also at Saturday’s commencement, several students and two professors received special awards.

Amanda Marie Alling of Waxhaw won the Budd E. and Ethel K. Smith Award for making an outstanding contribution through leadership of fellow students. Alling majored in communication studies with an emphasis in public relations and minored in broadcast journalism, international studies and Spanish. A member of Chi Omega, she held numerous student government offices, including SGA president.

The C.C. Burris Award, given to the graduating woman who represents the ideals of scholarship, leadership and service, went to Emily LouAnne Pruitt, a chemistry major from Horse Shoe, N.C., who has performed collaborative research with Wingate’s School of Pharmacy. Pruitt was part of the University Honors Program and minored in math. She is headed to the University of Washington.

Isaac Yeboah Aning, originally from Ghana but now living in Graham, N.C., won the A.F. Hendricks Award, given to the graduating man who represents the ideals of scholarship, leadership and service. A biology major with a chemistry minor, Aning was Wingate’s 2017 Homecoming King. Described as an “enthusiastic, passionate learner” whose motto at Wingate was simply “love everyone,” Aning has been accepted into an accelerated BSN program at Western Carolina University and plans to become an obstetric midwife.

Abigail Lois Valenta won the Fred H. Allen Award for exhibiting outstanding Christian leadership and involvement in significant Christian service projects. A psychology major from Weddington, Valenta served on the Sigma Sigma Sigma Executive Board and is a member of Young Life.

The Jerry and Alice Surratt Award, which goes to the senior who has made the most significant contributions in the area of international education through scholarship and service, went to Preston Lee Flowers, a political science major who studied abroad in Italy, took a choir trip to Austria and the Czech Republic and traveled to Germany as part of W’International. Faculty members said Flowers was a classroom leader who came to Wingate ready to debate international issues.

The following students were given the H.K. Helms Award for achieving the highest scholastic average: Ty Alan Andrus of Winston-Salem; Grace Elizabeth Gregory of Cornelius; Valerie Griesche of Ingolstadt, Germany; Sierra Belle Kincaid of Hickory; Meagan Alexandra Martucci of Huntersville; and Gordon S. Sprague IV of Monroe.

Jacob Wobig, an assistant political science professor who also serves as advisor to Wingate’s Model UN team, won the Debra M. O’Neal Award of Excellence in Teaching. The award is presented to a faculty member who has served with distinction in the classroom and who has been on the faculty for eight years or less. Nominators said Wobig is a professor who has “high expectations for students and treats them with respect.” He was further descried as “professional, passionate and funny.”

The Charles and Hazel Corts Award for Excellence in Teaching went to James Coon, an associate professor in the Communication Department who Brown said “works loyally on numerous faculty committees.” Students said Coon “embodies all the qualities of an amazing professor” and that he “goes out of his way to make people feel important.”

May 12, 2018