In the highly educated mob outside PNC Arena, Anita Adams posed for a picture in front of the North Carolina State symbol plastered on the building. She smiled, then held up the Wolfpack symbol with her hands. She held it, and held it, for what seemed like a long time.
“Oh, it’s a video,” her dad Raymond Adams said. Her smile widened. “I can’t believe you’re doing this to me,” said the psychology and English double major, graduating with a perfect 4.0 grade-point average.
N.C. State’s class of 2016 closed one collective chapter Saturday morning, to begin thousands of others. The graduates more than filled the floor of arena, and their family and friends in the upper levels would have made for a sizable Carolina Hurricanes crowd.
This is one of the first classes leaving school and entering an economy looking back at the recession. The Economic Policy Institute puts the unemployment rate for recent graduates at half what it was in 2010. Many graduates have landed their first jobs and, for some, their dream jobs. Allison Shores spent three years on the cheerleading team on her way to earning a marketing degree. She’s now off to Atlanta for a job in sports marketing.
“It’s what I’ve always wanted to do,” Shores said.
By the numbers
N.C. State awarded 5,598 degrees Saturday, 64 associate’s, 3,779 bachelor’s, 1,467 master’s, 190 doctoral and 98 veterinary medicine doctorates. The university had 162 valedictorians, each graduating with a 4.0 grade-point average.
Keeping it in the air
Four-star Adm. Michelle Howard, the second-highest-ranking officer in the Navy, delivered Saturday’s commencement address. Though her specialty is the sea, she spent her time talking about the air, namely how to keep planes, hopes and dreams from crash landing.
Playing on the stories of Wilbur and Orville Wright, she urged graduates to keep moving and stay busy. “Wilbur explained their success by saying, ‘The airplane stays up, because it doesn’t have time to fall,’” Howard said. “In one sentence he defined the principles of lift and success: All you have to do is get off the ground and stay there. Successful people do not give themselves time to fall. They keep moving forward; they persevere.”
Pigs do fly
Everyone should want to party with the N.C. State College of Veterinary Medicine. The 98 future vets sported the most elaborate mortarboards in the university, sometimes a pastoral scene of miniature animals, sometimes a big fluffy chicken glued on top.
The standout was Sarah Dunnigan, who used suture thread and glue to fasten a winged pig to her hat. The motorized wings flapped as she crossed the stage to applause to receive her degree. “I love pigs,” Dunnigan said.
Each vet graduate also sported and waved inflated pink palpation gloves. “I graduated from the agricultural school, so I actually know what those gloves are used for,” N.C. State Chancellor Randy Woodson said.
Ahead of his class
On his way to receiving his undergraduate history degree, 58-year-old Bill Taht said he was older than many of his professors. While working as a Durham librarian, Taht spent 11 years, at two classes a semester, earning his degree. He graduated summa cum laude with a 3.89 GPA.
“I worked for 20 years as a systems programmer, 18 of them waiting to get laid off,” Taht said. “Eventually I was and I saw an opportunity to pursue a degree, so I did.”
He said the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks led him to study history. He’s not sure he found an answer, but he said the journey was enlightening.
“I had a lot of help and encouragement from my wife,” Taht said. “It was a bit of a struggle at times, but I’m left with a great sense of self-accomplishment.”
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Other Saturday commencements
William Peace University
Number of graduates: More than 200.
Speaker: Lynn K. Erdman, chief executive officer for the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses, a nonprofit organization in Washington.
Number of graduates: About 490.
Speaker: Ellen Stofan, NASA chief scientist and principal adviser to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.
When: 9 a.m.
Where: Kenan Stadium, Chapel Hill.
Number of graduates: 6,029.
Speaker: Anne-Marie Slaughter, foreign policy expert, public commentator and author of the 2015 book “Unfinished Business.”
When: 10 a.m.
Where: Memorial Auditorium, Raleigh.
Number of graduates: 225.
Speaker: Fred Whitfield, Charlotte Hornets president and chief operating officer.
N.C. Central University, 8 a.m. at O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium, Durham.
St. Augustine’s University, 9 a.m., University Quadrangle on campus, Raleigh.