William Peace University bids goodbye to another class

acurliss@newsobserver.comMay 6, 2012 

The ceremony: 10 a.m. Saturday, on the University Green at William Peace University (formerly known as Peace College), downtown Raleigh.

Number of graduates: 193

Main speaker: Burley Mitchell, former chief justice of the N.C. Supreme Court.

Advice to graduates: Mitchell, who has helped raise millions for the school, applauded the graduates for getting a degree that places them “ahead of a majority of our citizens in the competition for success and achievement.” He urged each to continue to learn throughout life.

“You will never learn too much,” he said.

He offered other recommendations, urging calculated chance-taking and that each student should always follow a solid financial plan, especially given uncertain economic times. “You should be able to see ... the need to be frugal and have a plan for self-sufficiency,” he said. “Don’t be dependent on someone else.”

Changing times: Mitchell also mentioned the changes taking place at Peace with the arrival next year of men for the first time in the daytime classes. Until now, men had been in nighttime professional studies classes only. Peace gave diplomas to its first male graduates last year. A handful of men graduated this year, too.

The decision to go coed has been controversial. “The decision has been made and I would encourage each of you to keep a positive and open mind about it,” said Mitchell, whose wife is an alumnus.

Start looking: The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for North Carolina in the fall of 2008, when this year’s graduates started school, was 6.6 percent, according to federal data. The rate for March of this year was 9.7 percent. That’s down from the peak of 11.4 percent in January and February of 2010.

Name change: With Peace College changing to William Peace University, graduates had the option of choosing either name for their diploma or class ring. In many cases, students have requested two diplomas to have one with each name, according to a university spokesman. The printed program for Saturday’s 140th commencement listed both names across the top: “William Peace University / Peace College,” it reads.

Other honorees: Harvey Schmitt, president and CEO of the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce, and Josephine Beatty Chadwick, a 1943 graduate and former senior class president, who is a longtime supporter of Peace, received honorary degrees Saturday along with Mitchell.

Secret to success: Class valedictorian Lindsey Johnson told the large crowd that she had first attended the University of South Carolina and then N.C. State University. But she found a home and herself at Peace, she said. She said she worked hard for her perfect grades, even shunning some pubs.

“When I could have been, or should have been, at The Oxford or Rumrunners, I was at the library,” she said.

Intimate school: Several students celebrated the small size of Peace. Speaker Taylor Shaw-Adams noted that professors know their students by name and that it’s easy to wake up 10 minutes before class and still get there -- in pajama pants.

Hail to Peace: After officials conferred degrees, and in keeping with long-standing tradition, the graduates circled the main fountain on campus as faculty members watched from balconies nearby. The graduates sang the alma mater and tossed roses into the air.

Then, many waded into the fountain. The biggest splash was from Jessica Dixon, who nearly dove in. Standing in the fountain, she unzipped her gown and took off her dress to reveal a bathing suit.

“I have been planning for this for a long time,” said Dixon, who graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor of arts degree in English/Theatre. “I just wanted to go all out.”

Her mom, Shirley, looked on with a smile.

“After four years, I guess she can do anything she wants,” she said.

Curliss: 919-829-4840

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