Commencement sets the stage for newest ECU grads
East Carolina University celebrated the Class of 2022 in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in its first full-scale spring commencement ceremony since 2019.
The ceremony recognized the accomplishments of more than 4,600 spring and summer graduates, who were led onto the field by Harry Mills, a member of the Class of 1972 who was unable to attend his commencement 50 years ago, and his son Jason, who graduated in 2000.
An estimated 20,000 friends and family filled the stands as the graduates filed onto the field, where they were welcomed by Chancellor Philip Rogers.
“Today’s ceremony — this time of togetherness and this time of celebration — is especially good for the Pirate soul,” Rogers said. “You’ve stayed strong and stayed committed throughout this unique journey and you’re now crossing the finish line at a moment when this world needs you the most. In many ways today simply marks a new beginning on your Pirate journey into the future, and ECU is deeply proud of you and your many accomplishments.”
Group by group, he thanked the friends, parents, grandparents and other supporters of the Class of 2022.
Amaya Wall of Clayton, who graduated with a Bachelor of Science in physical education, said she had family members in attendance from Clayton as well as Fort Myers, Florida, and she has enjoyed showing them around Greenville and telling them about the tools and services that helped her succeed.
She said she is thankful for “all the resources that (ECU is) able to use, like us going out to schools to be able to student teach and get hands-on experience. That’s how I love to learn. So it got me into the door to be able to see what it’s going to be like after college.”
Wall did her student teaching at Wintergreen Primary and is looking for a teaching job at the beach or in Wake County, she said.
On the east side of the stadium, Candace Jacobs of Kernersville waited to walk in to celebrate her master’s of library science degree. She hopes to start as a university archivist at her undergraduate alma mater near her town soon.
Standing beside Jacobs was Nick Williamson of Pinehurst, who earned a master’s in biomedical sciences. His grandmother and aunt are also ECU graduates. Williamson will stay at ECU to pursue a doctorate, where his research will focus on how muscles recover from injury or disease. Most of his classes were online but returned in person this academic year.
“I’m really excited especially since I didn’t have this for my bachelor’s degree,” said Williamson, who earned an undergraduate degree in 2020 when in-person ceremonies were canceled because of the pandemic. “This is my first graduation ceremony since high school.”
Adapt and overcome
Student Government President Chandler Ward commended his fellow students for their ability to adapt to the the challenges of the past few years.
“I know the journey of college is often a team effort with support from friends, faculty and family that have made sacrifices to facilitate opportunities for your success, but for one quick moment, I want you to be selfish,” he said. “Think about the sacrifices you made to be here, the battles you fought that no one else even knew about. … Find confidence in your successful navigation of all of the highs and lows of these past four years.”
Suzanne Vaughn of Cary got choked up talking about the journey of her daughter Rachel, who graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Music.
“It’s been a wonderful experience, where she has learned so much about herself and confidence and really grown into her own person and a wonderful, talented, smart lady, and we’re very proud.
Leadership was the greatest takeaway for ReQuan Sessoms, a business administration major from Ahoskie who has landed a job with Workforce in Richmond, Virginia.
“I’m feeling great, great, great,” he said. “My four years have finally come to an end. I’ve enjoyed it. My time at ECU has been wonderful, but you have to move on and do other things now.”
Before the ceremony, soon-to-be graduates in the College of Health and Human Performance lined up at Gate 4 to wait for the processional to begin.
“It hasn’t hit me yet. I’m excited. It’s a little strange I guess,” said Mackenzy Vancil of Charlotte, who is graduating with a degree in sports studies in the Department of Kinesiology. “ECU has definitely given me the most opportunities that I could have been given — if not more. “The professors have been great.”
Getting to their seats by 7 a.m., the Paredes family of Charlotte was waiting at the front in the home side stands to celebrate Adalyz Paredes, the first in her family to receive a bachelor’s degree. She is graduating cum laude in public health with a concentration in community health, a five-time dean’s list recipient and G.O.L.D. Leaders graduate among many other honors. While in school, she tutored and operated her own lash business.
“As her parents, we could not be more proud of her,” said her mom, Ada. “We didn’t make it through school, and it was our responsibility and our job to make sure she went to school. She worked very hard for this.”
Ada, husband Raul and their younger daughter, Alexa, along with Adalyz’ godmother and other family members were so excited they could hardly sleep Thursday night. The sisters were texting at 3 a.m.
“I love her and I’m proud of her, and she’s the reason why I keep pushing myself to be a better person,” said Alexa, who will soon graduate from high school.
Dr. Purí Martínez, chair of the Faculty Senate, encouraged the graduates to pursue their dreams and serve their communities.
“As you go out into the world, do not lose your Pirate spirit of adventure,” she said. “Try new activities. See new places. Make an effort to get to know people outside your usual professional and social circles, to find out about the lives they lead. Remain faithful to the ECU motto, ‘servire.’ Serve your community. I guarantee that by doing so you will be enriched as a human being.”
ECU Board of Trustees Chairman Scott Shook asked the Class of 2022 to stay connected to the university and give back to those who come behind. “Once you’re a Pirate, you’re always a Pirate,” he said.
Sonja Nichols, who represented the UNC Board of Governors, recognized the faculty and staff of ECU — “the people who define the college experience, who bring a world’s worth of knowledge and scholarship to this beautiful place called eastern North Carolina.”
Nichols presented the Board of Governors Award for Excellence in Teaching to Dr. Teresa Ryan of the Department of Engineering.
Brittany Farland, who was among the first graduates to arrive, credited her professors with contributing to a fulfilling college experience. At 7:30 a.m., she was already getting pictures in front of the Pirate statue outside the stadium, striking various poses for each push of the camera button.
“I’m excited,” said Farland, who received her Bachelor of Science in birth-kindergarten teacher education.
The distance education student from Duplin County said she could not be more pleased with her experience at ECU.
“It was great, easygoing, and the teachers were perfect,” she said.
Keynote speaker Matt Crisp, a two-time ECU alumnus, told the graduates to be lifelong learners, to find their purpose and to work hard.
“Pirates know how to put in work, so let me encourage you to do that from day one, and you will quickly stand out by comparison, and opportunities will come your way earlier than you might have expected,” he said.
Some people are talented, Crisp said, and some work hard. But “those that combine both traits, talent plus work ethic, those are the truly special ones that produce extraordinary things in life. And that is exactly what I see before me today: more than 4,000 incredibly talented, innovative and hungry Pirates, ready to do whatever it takes to leave a mark on their professions, communities and the world we all live in.”
Joey Romagnoli of Frederick, Maryland, is ready to get to it. “I’m super excited,” he said. “I’m ready to get up and go.” Romagnoli, who earned his Bachelor of Science in construction management, said there have been a lot of late nights and early mornings, but his time at ECU has been “four years of happiness.”
An Army medic before coming to ECU, Reuben Kennedy of Pinehurst shared Romagnoli’s sentiment. “I’m feeling good. I’m ready to get to work,” he said. The nursing major said ECU has provided “great leadership and personal development. I was able to fine-tune all of my skills and then apply them to the art of nursing.”
Richard Spain, chair of the ECU Alumni Association Board of Directors, presented the Robert H. Wright Alumni Leadership Award to five students who demonstrated rare achievement in scholarship, leadership and service. This year’s recipients were Thekra Hindi of Charlotte, Evan Martschenko of Cary, Naimi Pothiwala of Raleigh, Elliot Paul of Greenville and Shaelyn Raleigh of Raleigh.
Rogers reminded the audience that the connection among Pirates is what makes ECU special.
“You all arrived here from different places and with different backgrounds and ambitions,” he said. “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.”