Becoming Alums | Eastern North Carolina Now | Pirates turn their tassels, celebrate transformative accomplishment

Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
    Publisher's Note: This post appears here courtesy of ECU News Services. The author of this post is ECU News Services.

East Carolina University celebrated fall commencement with two ceremonies Friday in Minges Coliseum. (Photos by Cliff Hollis and Rhett Butler)

    In a pair of ceremonies Friday, more than 1,800 East Carolina University students became alumni, celebrating commencement with an auditorium full of supporters including family, friends and faculty.

    Chancellor Philip Rogers encouraged ECU's newest graduates to remember the contributions of those supporters and to pass on that support throughout their careers and in their daily lives.

    "On an occasion like this one, it's important to remember you each took many paths to an ECU degree - the path to opportunity," Rogers said. "You all arrived here from different places and with different backgrounds and ambitions, but you all leave this place as Pirates, as one ECU family, and I'm proud that you chose this university to be part of your life's journey."

    In a show of support embodying ECU's motto, "Servire," more than 80 volunteers and more than 125 faculty members participated in the commencement ceremonies.

    Possibly competing for the largest personal cheering section was Christopher Turner of Goldsboro, who earned a bachelor's degree in industrial distribution and logistics and will work in operations for Cheney Brothers, a food distribution company.

    "We're taking up an entire section," said his mother, Amanda. Seventeen family members attended the afternoon ceremony, including Turner's grandparents, parents, aunt, uncle and cousins. "We're just very proud and excited to see him make his way."

    Matt Slate '96, managing director of Bank of America Securities and chairperson of the ECU Foundation Board, delivered the keynote address, telling the graduates that each career, including his own, is unique, and to rely on all of the skills and lessons they've learned at ECU, both inside and outside the classroom.

    "I know each of you is a better problem solver, relationship builder, independent thinker and worker than when you arrived at ECU," he said. "I know many of you have had to to hold down a job while you have attended college. I have had a job since I was 16 years old. That is the grit and tenacity of a Pirate. Don't be afraid to outwork the rest of the room - that's our Pirate chip. Be proud and embrace it."

    Some Pirates will be transitioning directly into new careers, like Sanobria Crowley of Atlanta, Georgia, who earned her Master of Business and is starting a career in nuclear engineering with GE in Wilmington.

    "It's indescribable," she said. "ECU has been great, and I think today's going to be a really fun day. ... I'm just excited for the career opportunities."

    College of Nursing and Honors College graduate Rachel Hansel of Holly Springs will start work in the progressive care unit at Duke Raleigh Hospital.

    "It's my dream for a job, so I'm very excited," she said. When it comes to graduating, she said she's still in denial. "I'm definitely convinced any moment now they're going to tell me that I forgot to do something. But really, gratitude for sure; I'm really thankful."

    Some already have a job and want to advance their careers, like Aaron Hooks of Locust, a distance education student who already had an associate degree when he enrolled in ECU's industrial technology transfer program.

    Earning a degree remotely while working, he said, takes "work-life balance, just being able to manage your time, your family time and focus on work, but also be dedicated to school."

    Others are moving on to further their education, like a group of graduates from the College of Business who met outside Minges Coliseum before the morning ceremony.

    "I feel joy. I feel proud," said Russell Sherrod, who earned his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration in accounting. "I'm a first-generation college student so I stand on the shoulders of giants who really helped me to be here. I just feel honored, and to be here with these guys is just a cool thing."

    Sherrod has lined up an internship with KPMG, a global accounting firm, but is also returning to pursue a graduate degree.

    "We're going to stay here and do some more learning," he said.

    Haley Salmons of New Bern will also be moving on to graduate school. A psychology major with a minor in alcohol and drug studies, she is starting a master's degree in human resource management at Western Carolina University in January.

    "I have transitioned a couple of times with my major and so I am just so happy to finally be done and head on to the next chapter of my life," she said. "I'm so grateful for ECU and all that they have done for me. I got to meet so many good mentors and just really good contacts and resources that I'll have throughout the rest of my professional life and life in general."

    Sydney Hunnell, who was born in Raleigh and raised in Boulder, Colorado, graduated with a degree in communication and a minor in English. She will be attending graduate school at ECU to earn a master's in clinical counseling with plans to continue working as a substance abuse counselor and earn full licensure. "I want to help people just like me," said Hunnell, who is in recovery from a prescription medication addiction.

    "It took me 5 1/2 years to get this degree. I had to drop out twice to get my mental health right, which is so important," Hunnell said. "It's so important to take care of yourself, and to take care of your mind especially."

    You all arrived here from different places and with different backgrounds and ambitions, but you all leave this place as Pirates, as one ECU family, and I'm proud that you chose this university to be part of your life's journey.

    - Chancellor Philip Rogers

    Hunnell's dream is to open a rehabilitation clinic on the North Carolina coast to increase access to services. "I want to help people who become addicted to prescription drugs because it's an ongoing epidemic, and it's a growing epidemic in the country that people don't talk about enough," she said. "I'm trying to raise awareness and end the stigma."

    Natalie Williford of Fayetteville, who earned a bachelor's in communication with a concentration in public relations, also is an advocate for mental health.

    She switched majors three times while battling depression but was able to get help through ECU's counseling center, she said. "Genuinely, Dr. Oakley saved me," Williford said, referring to the Brody School of Medicine's Dr. Stanley Oakley. "I'm very grateful for the benefits we can get through ECU. I don't think a lot of people understand you can get help."

    Williford's best friend, Bridget Dunstan, earned a bachelor's degree in communication with a concentration in marketing. She worked with ECU's sports marketing department as a student. She will attend graduate school at UNC-Charlotte to pursue a master's in kinesiology. "I'm excited and ready," Dunstan said. "It's been a long four years, but it's been a lot a fun. It's bittersweet."

    Chandler Ward, president of the Student Government Association, greeted the graduates on behalf of the SGA and expressed his pride in the Class of 2021.

    "As we all know, our parents and teachers walked to class every day, uphill both ways, and in the snow," he said. "But us? We dealt with the death of Kobe Bryant, 3-inch murder hornets and a global pandemic all in the same year while trying to pass a virtual class with a professor that still had a flip phone."

    By persevering and making it to commencement day, he said, the graduates showcased a trait that will serve them well - adaptability.

    Maui Doculan, who graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in art education, said pursuing an arts major through the pandemic was a challenge.

    "I'm really glad to be here because it was really hard to go from in-person ... to remote instruction," she said. "It was a difficult transition."

    Jesse Bailey of Belvoir, Matthew Jones of Macclesfield and Dylan Downey of Goldsboro - all business majors - stood in front of Minges Coliseum as Jesse's mom, Wanda Yates Bailey of Hickory, took their picture.

    Jesse graduated with a Master of Science in accounting after earning his bachelor's in business administration last year, when he participated in ECU's virtual commencement ceremony. "It's exciting because at least we're here, because last year we were home," he said.

    Jones and Downey echoed Bailey's thoughts. "I'm glad we could have a ceremony," said Jones, who will be working as the golf lead for Dick's Sporting Goods in Greenville. "I'm really looking forward to the future." Downey, who graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in business administration, will be an underwriter with Atlantic Casualty in Goldsboro.

    The day was emotional and exciting for Wanda, whose son's accomplishments made her very proud, because while she has an associate degree and a great job, she didn't complete a bachelor's or master's degree. "It's very special," she said. "He will be the first one in my immediate family." Her younger son, Mason, is a junior engineering major at ECU.

    Following the morning commencement ceremony, Boris Tiandem stood as his sister, Princess, was photographed with other family members outside the coliseum. Her mother waved a horse tail with a beautifully beaded handle that belonged to his grandmother, signifying peace and marking the moment with a tradition from the Charlotte family's native Cameroon.

    "It's a full circle moment for the family," Tiandem said. "It's a day filled with love and happiness."

    Princess earned her bachelor's degree in political science and is preparing for law school. She has had a full-time job through college, working in business and entrepreneurship. "For me, I'm the older brother, and she finished before me," said Boris, who took two semesters off before returning to classes at N.C. A&T this fall. "She really has motivated me to go ahead and finish."

    Slate, who earned his undergraduate degree in biology, credited his experiences at ECU and his Pirate connections for fostering his career opportunities, and he encouraged Friday's graduates to pay it forward and strive to make a positive difference in others' lives.

    "You can achieve whatever you aspire to do from today forward because your foundation includes ECU," he said. "Will you have to work hard? Absolutely. But today marks the start of building your next chapter."
Go Back

Leave a Guest Comment

Your Name or Alias
Your Email Address ( your email address will not be published)
Enter Your Comment ( no code or urls allowed, text only please )

Shining Gold East Carolina University, School News, The Region, Neighboring Counties Storefront Decorating Competition Winners Announced


Back to Top