Audacity To Aspire | Eastern North Carolina Now

Miller encourages grads to pursue their passions

    Publisher's Note: This post appears here courtesy of ECU News Services. The author of this post is ECU News Services.

Almost 2,000 graduates were recognized at East Carolina University’s fall 2022 commencement ceremony in Minges Coliseum. (ECU photos by Rhett Butler and Cliff Hollis)

    Nearly 2,000 East Carolina University graduates turned their tassels in Minges Coliseum on Friday, celebrating fall commencement 2022 along with their families, friends, and university faculty, staff and administrators.

    Chancellor Philip Rogers recognized the many accomplishments of the graduates and reminded them of their shared bond as newly minted ECU alumni.

    "It's important to remember you each took many different paths to an ECU degree - the path to a bright future filled with opportunity," he 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."

    Rogers introduced keynote speaker Misty Miller, an ECU alumna and senior vice president of organizational development for Boys & Girls Clubs of America, who encouraged the graduates to be flexible, to find and pursue their passions, and to invest in relationships.

    "I've been rewarded for choosing my passion more times than I can count - every time I meet a young person whose life has been shaped by their experience at a Boys & Girls Club, every time I see a club open in a new community where it's desperately needed, and every time I see a young person's eyes light up as they begin to imagine all the places they can go and all the things they can achieve," she said.

    "If you want to arrive at the place where you're meant to be - no matter how long it takes or how far you have to travel - your passion will point the way. Follow it."

    Also addressing the graduates were Ryan Bonnett, Student Government Association president; Dr. Anne Ticknor, faculty chair; Scott Shook, chairman of the ECU Board of Trustees; and Lee Roberts, representing the UNC Board of Governors.

    Bonnett reminded the graduates of their shared experiences at ECU and the importance of what they've learned both inside and outside the classroom.

    "There is an unfathomable amount that you can learn from books and lectures, but there is a lot that you can't," he said. "There is so much more that you can learn outside of the classroom that really makes you who you are. ... The piece of paper and the education we have received at ECU will give you that foot in the door and get you looked at for jobs, but the skills and experiences that you've gained outside the classroom are the ones that will get you the jobs, earn promotions, and make connections in your career."

    Learning goes both ways between faculty and students, Ticknor told the audience.

    "As faculty, a large part of our job is to teach students," she said. "What you may not know is that faculty also learn from you. Our students teach us every day about what matters to them, the values of the next generation, and how to see the world through your eyes. ... You inspire us to be better educators and you motivate us to keep learning."

    Class of 2022

    Peyton Grubbs of Mechanicsville, Virginia, earned his construction management degree and agreed that the faculty's commitment to students is remarkable.

    "You can't beat it. ECU is amazing," said Grubbs, who will start his career as a project engineer with Kjellstrom and Lee in Richmond, Virginia.

    Morris Jones of Wilson, who graduated with a Bachelor of Science at 55, plans to teach physical education and said he connected with his professors.

    "Being an older guy, I was more able to relate to them, and they gave me sound advice on what to expect and how to get through it."

    While ECU prides itself on building North Carolina's workforce, some graduates, like Nichylas Riley of Parkton, will spread farther afield following the commencement festivities. Riley said he's taking his Bachelor of Science in chemistry to California, where he has interviews lined up for jobs and internships as an analytical chemist.

    "Beyond that, I want to be a researcher at a good university or company," he said, so returning to a university setting as faculty or for a doctoral degree could be in the future. The chemistry degree was a challenge, he said, but his professors not only helped him to understand the material, but also prepared him for what lies ahead.

    For Noah Henderson, a College of Business graduate and right tackle on the football team, the work isn't quite done.

    "After graduation, we have the bowl game," he said. "It's the last one, so we have to finish strong."

    As he prepares to enter the NFL draft, he said the people and the family environment at ECU are what he'll miss the most. "It feels like a second home to me," he said. "It's never been easy, but there's never been a better opportunity to get better and to learn. They have all the resources you need, and there's always going to be somebody to help. ... I couldn't ask for a better challenge."

    A trio of friends making last-minute cap and gown adjustments before walking into the ceremony all graduated either magna cum laude or summa cum laude.

    Soon-to-be full-time teacher Erin Baker of Clements, Maryland, will be taking the reins of the second-grade class where she interned at Lakeforest Elementary School in Greenville. She said she feels very prepared with the support she received in the College of Education.

    "I already know the kids and I'm so excited," said Baker, who said she always wanted to be a teacher because she loves kids and helping others. "I always wanted to make an impact. I wanted to be the person I needed when I was in school." A big reader, she said she's looking forward to inspiring and teaching children how to read.

    While at ECU, Baker played club field hockey with Kelly Swanhart of Mount Airy, Maryland, who earned degrees in criminal justice and political science. She and Darby White of Cove City, who earned a degree in public health's pre-health professions concentration, are both going to graduate school. "The community was something I didn't expect to love so much, and it prepared me a lot just finding a support system," White said.

    "I think it was a little harder being from out of state, but once I found the field hockey team and those girls, it was easy," Swanhart said. "If you just get out there and talk to people, you'll make lifelong friends."

    Friends and family

    Proud parents, grandparents and friends filled Minges Coliseum, including those of Robert Malpass of Clinton, who earned his Bachelor of Science in industrial engineering technology and now works for Blue Bay Automation in Nashville, Tennessee. His grandparents, Peggy and Jimmy Provost, drove in from North Carolina's Nashville for the ceremony.

    "He's our first grandchild, and we're just so proud. We would not have missed it," said Peggy Provost. "I remember playing on the floor and rolling around little cars with him."

    Following the ceremony, family members of Haley Williams held up signs with her photo to gather everyone with dad, Napoleon Williams, and mom, Pamela Whitney of Clayton. Williams, who works in business technology, is a three-time ECU graduate, earning her Master of Business Administration following a marketing certification last year and a bachelor's in business administration in 2020.

    "We're just so proud of all the work she's done," Whitney said. "With the exposure she's had at ECU, we know she will go on to do great things."

    Standing in the sun outside Minges Coliseum, Myles Brown and his family took photos to celebrate his master's in kinesiology. Brown said ECU's online program provided the flexibility he needed working full-time as a contract strength and conditioning coach training a battalion of soldiers at Fort Wainwright in Alaska. He has since started a similar position as a human performance specialist training federal law enforcement.

    "We're very, very proud of him and excited for his new endeavor in Washington, D.C., because he's closer now," said mom Monique Brown of Wake Forest, who added that her son earned A's in all his graduate school classes.

    As the university's newest graduates enter the workforce or continue their educations, Miller asked them to remember what sets ECU apart.

    "It's so much more than an institution of higher education," she said. "It is a beacon of hope for an entire region. This is a place that elevates equity and accessibility, a university that tells a young girl from the mountains of North Carolina that she can be anything and then gives her the knowledge, the skills and the confidence to do it.

    "This place is special. Remember, wherever life takes you from this day forward, you'll always be a Pirate."
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