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Here come the grads — dreams and mortarboards soar at Triangle college commencements

The mortarboards of William Peace University

See some of the different messages graduates of William Peace University put on their mortarboards during university's commencement ceremony in Raleigh NC Saturday, May 5, 2018.
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See some of the different messages graduates of William Peace University put on their mortarboards during university's commencement ceremony in Raleigh NC Saturday, May 5, 2018.

It's that time of year again, when mortarboards soar, proud parents blink back tears of joy and thousands of new college graduates across the Triangle celebrate commencement ceremonies.

William Peace University was on the front end of a graduation lineup that will play out over the next couple of weeks in this area.

Family and friends sat under the tall magnolias standing above the William Peace University brick walkways on the warm and humid Saturday morning, fanning themselves with programs that listed the names of the 250 new graduates and speakers.

Ameera Khattab, the 2018 student government president and a new graduate with a biology degree and big plans, urged her fellow students to not only dream big but to turn their dreams into action.

On a day when much of the admiration was focused on the new graduates, Khattab expressed her respect for her mother and all she had overcome and accomplished after coming to the United States when she was younger, speaking only Arabic and French but determined to build a better life for herself and her children.

"We must make the intangible tangible," Khattab said.

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Rebecca Tshibambi celebrates during the William Peace University commencement on the university's main lawn in Raleigh on Saturday, May 5, 2018. Ethan Hyman ehyman@newsobserver.com

Jamie Valvano, daughter of the late N.C. State University basketball coach Jim Valvano, was the keynote speaker, and many of her themes were similar to Khattab's.

Valvano spoke of her father's journey from New York, where his large Italian family often divided up with the women in the kitchen, cooking and socializing, and the men in another room in front of a TV with rabbit ears (there were no big-screen TVs back then) yelling and screaming at it as some sports event played.

When he was in high school, Jim Valvano dreamed of becoming a basketball coach and added that to a list of lifetime goals he wrote on an index card that went folded into his pocket.

Jamie Valvano recollected her father's national championship season and how his superstitious nature often relegated her, her mom and sister to the hallways outside the arenas when the going got tough because when they did that once, the Wolfpack won.

She also spoke of her pride in her father as he never backed down, even when cancer had ravaged his body. In 2005, when she was 33, Jamie Valvano had her own experience with cancer.

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Jamie Valvano speaks to graduates during the William Peace University commencement. Ethan Hyman ehyman@newsobserver.com

There was one moment, she said, when she was ready to give up. Her head was buried in her hands, her children were young, and her mom watched her as she wept.

The words her father spoke at the ESPY awards rose up inside her, not only giving her hope but also a new direction that keeps her speaking today for the V Foundation.

"It may not save my life, it may save my children’s lives, it may save someone you love," Jim Valvano said in an ESPY speech that lives on many years after his 1993 death.

Jamie Valvano encouraged the Peace graduates to share their knowledge and gifts with other people and to believe.

"Miracles," Valvano said, " can happen when you refuse to give up."

After the ceremony, the Peace graduates surrounded a fountain just beyond the stage, continuing a tradition of the many graduates who had come before them.

They threw roses in the pooled water, and several stepped into it.

Madison Tucker, a graduate from South Hill, Va., who played softball at Peace, had been planning her fountain experience since her freshman year.

"I'm very into tradition," Tucker said.

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Graduates Madison Tucker, left, and Julia Pemberton get into the fountain to celebrate after the William Peace University commencement on the university's main lawn in Raleigh. Ethan Hyman ehyman@newsobserver.com

Gary Dyer, who received a degree in communications and history, was more focused on next steps.

"What do I do next?" asked Dyer, who hails from Miami and High Point. "I'm focused on finding a place in the world where I can enjoy what I've studied and apply what I've studied."

Other commencement ceremonies in the Triangle include:

Campbell University

When: May 12, 9 a.m., John W. Pope Convocation Center

Duke University

When: May 13, 9:30 a.m., Brooks Field at Wallace Wade Stadium

Speaker: Apple CEO Tim Cook

Durham Technical Community College

When: May 21, 7 p.m., Durham Performing Arts Center (DPAC)

Meredith College

When: May 12, 7 p.m., Dorton Arena

Speaker: Adrienne Cole, president and CEO of Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce

N.C. Central University

When: May 12, 8 a.m., O'Kelly-Riddick Stadium

Speaker: Chaz Beasley, member of the N.C. General Assembly

N.C. State University

When: May 12, 9 a.m., PNC Arena

Speaker: Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children's Defense Fund

Shaw University

When: May 12, 10 a.m., Raleigh Convention Center

Speaker: Bakari Sellers, a CNN political commentator, attorney and former S.C. lawmaker

St. Augustine's University

When: May 12, 9 a.m., St. Augustine University quadrangle

Speaker: William H. Wright II, a financial services executive

UNC-Chapel Hill

When: May 13, 9 a.m., Kenan Stadium

Speaker: Rye Barcott, a UNC-CH graduate and social entrepreneur

Wake Technical Community College

When: May 5

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