RALEIGH — Three Triangle-area universities held commencements on early Saturday, awarding hundreds of diplomas to graduates.
The PNC Arena often is filled with crowds wearing red since it’s the N.C. State University Wolfpack home basketball court and the home ice for the Carolina Hurricanes.
On Saturday morning, as the aroma of cinnamon buns, stadium coffee and concession-stand popcorn wafted in the air, the sea of red filling the arena seats celebrated academic achievements, not athletics.
Thousands gathered to cheer the newest class of NCSU graduates. As the morning wore on to almost lunchtime, the crowd grew louder and prouder as a cast of speakers encouraged them to set out in the world with a “Wolfpack swagger” that embodied a mission of public service, a desire to change the world for the better and a notion they could come home again to what Chancellor Randy Woodson referred to as “The People’s University.”
By the numbers: Woodson conferred 5,211 degrees – 89 associate’s, 3,531 bachelor’s, 1,333 master’s, 177 doctoral and 81 doctor of veterinary medicine degrees.
Commencement speaker: David S. Ferriero, archivist of the United States and one of the honorary degree recipients, mined the history books for quotes from Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd U.S. president, Jim Valvano, the beloved Wolfpack coach who died of cancer in 1993, Steve Jobs, the visionary co-founder of Apple, and Moses. In his eight minutes at the podium, Ferriero aimed to follow Roosevelt’s advice: “Be sincere, be brief, be seated.”
Before taking his seat, he encouraged the graduates to live their lives with a sense of urgency and hearts that “prove wise.”
Straight A’s: The 2014 class had 134 students who got their own special ovation for earning perfect 4.0 grade-point averages.
Best mortarboards: N.C. State might house a design school, but the doctoral candidates in veterinary medicine sported the best decorated mortarboards. The 67 students marched across the stage under caps covered with an unusual menagerie of model farm animals, stuffed kitties and one colorful peacock with a showy tail.
Anything we want: N.C. State was founded 127 years ago as a land-grant college with historical strengths in engineering, agriculture, life sciences, textiles and design. But the students from the College of Humanities and Social Sciences rose with the loudest roar when Dean Jeffrey Braden asked them to stand for the conferral of their degrees.
“What was that?” Braden said when the group rose toward the back of the arena, prompting an encore roar.
In a state where the governor lashed out last year at the “educational elite” and criticized providing state subsidies for liberal arts courses that he contended would not lead to jobs, the humanities and social science students were optimistic about what lies ahead for them.
The students, Braden said, as he presented them to the provost for conferral of their degrees, could answer the question “So what do you do with a degree in humanities and social sciences?” with the following answer: “Anything I want.”
Standing ‘O’: Though there were many cheers and much loud applause throughout the ceremony, the entire arena crowd rose for an extended ovation to honor the NCSU ROTC courses and not only become college graduates, but also new commissioned officers in the U.S. military.
Two Kates and two jobs: Kate Braswell, 21, and Kate Northington, 21, left the PNC arena with degrees and jobs that begin in several weeks. Both were polymer chemistry majors, and both scored jobs in the biotech industry. “We were lucky,” they said.
Chest-bump the chancellor: Nasser Koucheki, the student speaker and son of two Iranian immigrants, moved to Raleigh as a 9-year-old. In an attempt to fit into the culture foreign to him, Koucheki learned quickly that he was in ACC country and could join in many conversations if he started following a sports team. At 9 years old, he was a fan of the color red and thought the Wolfpack mascot “was pretty cool.” So NCSU became his team and his college, and now it’s his alma mater. While pursuing a degree in biological sciences, Koucheki worked in the Urban Ministries Open Door Clinic in downtown Raleigh. He was a sports medicine student aide in the Wolfpack training rooms and he designed Wolfpack-themed shirts to benefit the Boys & Girls Club. He can howl like a wolf and he, among all the guests and speakers on the podium, was the only one who greeted the chancellor with a chest-bump.
“That is one big wolf,” Woodson said after the student speech.