NCCU grads celebrate journeys of all kinds

akenney@newsobserver.comMay 11, 2013 

  • Other area commencements Saturday

    • Meredith College at Dorton Arena, State Fairgrounds, at 7 p.m. Speaker: Anne-Marie Slaughter, international affairs scholar.

    • Shaw University at Dorton Arena, State Fairgrounds, at 11 a.m. Speaker: Dr. Cleveland L. Sellers, Jr., president of Voorhees College, Shaw alumnus and civil rights activist.

    • William Peace University on the University Green at 10 a.m. Speaker: Erskine Bowles, businessman, former UNC president, former White House Chief of Staff

— Thousands of friends and family lined the stands of O’Kelly-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 University’s spring commencement.

Weather breaks

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.

Family milestone

Michael and Linda Scott came from Woodleaf to celebrate their daughter Olivia’s college graduation -- a ceremony neither attended in their own youth. Michael Scott went straight to work for financial reasons while Linda Scott’s 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 master’s degree in library science.

“It’s a feeling you can’t even describe,” said Michael Scott, 55. “Even though I didn’t make it, it’s 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.

“I’m 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 university’s 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 daughter’s 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 speaker’s view

Journalist Ed Gordon gave the commencement address, told graduates that life might not be easy.

“If it were that simple, we’d 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 you’re good, have “high-standard hustle” and “don’t let the haters stop you.”

Degrees earned

The band’s 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 master’s degrees and 162 law degrees, it figured to be the largest graduating class ever at NCCU.

Kenney: 919-460-2608

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