ECU’s spring graduates turn their tassels

Friends and family gathered Friday in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium to celebrate East Carolina University’s spring Class of 2023.

The class had 4,946 graduates. Of those, 3,556 were undergraduates, 1,013 earned master’s degrees, 220 were certificate recipients and 157 earned doctoral degrees. The graduates represented 39 states and 94 of North Carolina’s 100 counties.

“The journey to this day required a great deal of personal sacrifice,” ECU Chancellor Philip Rogers told the graduates. “But you have persevered. You are strong and you are resilient. And you graduate at a moment in time when you are desperately needed, when your skills, your talents, your knowledge and your leadership are required in order for this world to thrive.”

Rogers introduced Ryan Bonnett, Student Government Association president; Dr. Anne Ticknor, chair of the faculty; Scott Shook, chair of the ECU Board of Trustees; and David Powers of the UNC Board of Governors, who each congratulated the Class of 2023. Powers also recognized Dr. Elizabeth Ables, this year’s recipient of the UNC Board of Governors Award for Excellence in Teaching.

In preparing his keynote remarks, Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski III, president emeritus of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), spoke with six graduates, asking them what their classmates might like to hear during the commencement ceremony.

Based on their input, he encouraged the graduates to rely on what they’ve learned about resilience during college and a pandemic; not to let anyone else define who they are; to reach out to others, get help when they need it, and ask good questions; to believe in themselves; to be flexible and adaptable; and to have no doubt that it will be okay.

Hrabowski served as UMBC’s president for 30 years. He is also the inaugural American Council on Education Centennial Fellow. His research, publications and life’s work have focused on science and math education, with special emphasis on underrepresented minority participation and performance, Rogers said.

Hrabowski also shared some of his own story, including how his grandmother would bake a blueberry pie just for him when his family visited.

“I would eat that blueberry pie all by myself and savor every morsel,” he said. “This day represents dreams fulfilled, not just for you, but also for your families. Savor it! This is your blueberry pie moment. Taste it! Enjoy!”

Commencement is the beginning of the next stage of life, Hrabowski said, encouraging the graduates to never stop learning.

Dr. Karla Jones, chair of the ECU Alumni Association, recognized the recipients of the Robert H. Wright Leadership Award — Ono Abulimen, Matt Blount, Teresa Hupp, Calli Jon Massengil and Wrenn McCrae Whitfield.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, Bonnett and Dr. Brandon Frye, vice chancellor for student affairs, oversaw the traditional turning of the tassels, and Zyion Stephens led the singing of ECU’s alma mater.


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