The ceremony: Meredith College graduation, 10 a.m. Sunday, Dorton Arena, Raleigh
Number of graduates: 496
Main speaker: Vice AdmiralSally Brice-O'Hara, vice commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard
What she said: Brice-O'Hara based her speech on the four campus themes: Thinking critically, fostering sustainability, leading ethically and creating change. She lightened up the material, however, by illustrating the themes through the Dr. Seuss book "Horton Hears a Who."
In the book, the elephant Horton becomes caretaker of a world he discovers on a speck of dust, over the protests of his fellow animals, who doubt the world's existence. In the end, the dust world's mayor summons his people to make a sound loud enough for the other animals to hear.
"Like the elephant and the mayor, you are well prepared to be responsible, engaged citizens of the world," Brice-O'Hara said, "and you will rise to meet any occasion presented to you with great success."
Words to live by: Brice-O'Hara also offered her own post-college necessities: realistic expectations, continuous self-improvement, perseverance and hard work.
She acknowledged that students entering the workforce in a down economy may need to find ways to benefit from less-than-ideal jobs, recalling her own time managing a restaurant when she first graduated.
"Don't waste any opportunity to develop good work habits and build skills and credentials," she said.
She also urged graduates to take care of themselves, their families and their work - in that order.
"If this sequence becomes inverted or scrambled, you will not be happy or successful," she said.
End of an era: Maureen Hartford, the first female leader of the women's college, presided over her 12th and final graduation as Meredith's president. She was praised for her many accomplishments, including an increased focus on business partnerships, study abroad and undergraduate research.
She closed the ceremony with an Irish blessing, according to her own tradition, and said she chose her favorite one for her last class, her voice breaking slightly as she read the last line: "May the Lord hold you in the palm of his hand."
Rain and mortar boards: Rain forced the ceremony indoors instead of at the college's outdoor amphitheater, much to the disappointment of graduates. Still, the atmosphere was jubilant, with the drone of name-reading punctuated by screams and fist-pumps.
Meredith graduates also followed the tradition of decorating their mortar boards, so that parents and other guests could spend idle moments perusing a sea of hats that were sequined, fur-edged, tie-dyed and festooned with messages such as "DONE" and "SEE YA MC."
The only one: Chelsea Stith of Raleigh was the only graduate to receive a Bachelor of Arts degree in music Sunday - and hence was tapped to lead the singing of the school's anthem.
"I'm a little more jittery than most people," she said as she waited outside for the ceremony to start.
She was less jittery about her future. Stith, 21, will go to Appalachian State in the fall to study music therapy.
Missing crook: Meredith graduates enjoyed some quirky rituals leading up to the ceremony, including one in which the seniors hid a wooden crook that was given to Meredith students in the early 1900s. They hid it so well that the juniors never found it despite a weeklong search. That's a double win for the graduating seniors, who found the crook the year before.