DURHAM — Thousands of friends and family lined the stands of OKelly-Riddick Stadium on Saturday morning, squinting down and pressing up against the handrails as they looked for their black-robed graduate at North Carolina Central Universitys spring commencement.
Low clouds filtered the morning light, the skies turning as hundreds of graduates filed onto the field.
The eldest took up position on the artificial turf field itself, but most of the murmuring, excited crowd squeezed onto long metal bleachers. In the stands, Libby Hubbard Jacobs was ready for her one and only to graduate -- just as long as the clouds keep their rain in them, she half-joked.
Those worries evaporated just as the ceremony got underway, the sun burning through even as the first speakers took the maroon-draped stage.
Michael and Linda Scott came from Woodleaf to celebrate their daughter Olivias college graduation -- a ceremony neither attended in their own youth. Michael Scott went straight to work for financial reasons while Linda Scotts college career was derailed by degenerating eyesight.
Olivia Monique Scott, now 23, faced her own medical challenge: Doctors said she likely had brain damage and would never learn again after a grand mal seizure in second grade.
But the devil is a liar, Linda Scott, 53, said proudly. Her youngest daughter now will pursue a masters degree in library science.
Its a feeling you cant even describe, said Michael Scott, 55. Even though I didnt make it, its good to see our daughter made it.
Words at play
Verbal flourishes underscored the momentous occasion. Saturday morning was not just sublime, but also superfine, thrilling, exhilarating, breathtaking, Charles Becton, the interim chancellor, boomed in a welcoming address. Graduates, let out a shout! Turn this stadium out!
Franklin McCain, a member of the UNC Board of Governors, exhorted the crowd to show a little verve, even threatening to deliver a group eulogy instead of graduation greetings.
Im not convinced that you are alive, he said. This is not radio, this is not television -- this is live, so you can talk back!
In the crowd, graduates cheered and flapped their hands, symbolizing the universitys eagle mascot. On stage, senior class president Ryan Stowe reminded them of their mantra: I challenge you to continue to uphold the motto of truth and service throughout your lifetime.
Proud to finish
Graduate Shawn Muslim was attending her first ceremony of the weekend. The mother of 10 was set to attend her daughters graduation from Meredith College Saturday night.
The chancellor noted her story in a speech, calling it an education 30 years in the making. Muslim will study nanotechnology this summer and return for an Environmental, Earth and Geospatial Sciences graduate program.
The speakers view
Journalist Ed Gordon gave the commencement address, told graduates that life might not be easy.
If it were that simple, wed go to Google Maps, find that golden road and follow it to the top, said Gordon, who has worked at NPR, CBS, NBC and BET.
Yet it is only dreams that can fuel success, he continued. Dream like Oprah, he said, or dream like rapper Kanye West does -- well, maybe.
Most importantly, he told the robed masses, know when youre good, have high-standard hustle and dont let the haters stop you.
The bands performance of the gospel hymn His Eye is On the Sparrow brought the graduates to their feet, carried by a sweeping vocal performance and the knowledge that their time had come.
In all, the university estimated that it would confer diplomas to 712 undergraduates.
Combined with 246 masters degrees and 162 law degrees, it figured to be the largest graduating class ever at NCCU.