While many of the 5,871 students who graduated from N.C. State University Saturday have family ties to the school, few run as deep as Katie Owens, who may be the school’s only fifth-generation graduate.
Owens, who received her undergraduate degree in biology, is the great-great-granddaughter of Charles Burgess Williams. He was in the university’s first class when it opened in 1889 as the N.C. School for Agriculture and Mechanic Arts.
“I don’t know of another family” with as many generations of graduates, said Owens’ grandmother, Margie Lucas, who got her own master’s degree from State in 1982. “We do have an advantage with my grandfather being in the first class.”
With Owens engaged to a fellow Wolfpack graduate, and a younger sister set to graduate next year, “I think the tradition will continue,” Lucas said.
N.C. State’s Class of 2017 packed the PNC Arena on Saturday morning for its spring graduation ceremonies – one of several university commencements Saturday. Across town, Meredith College, St. Augustine’s University and Shaw University also celebrated their latest crop of graduates.
N.C. State’s class speaker was a first-generation graduate from the U.S. Virgin Islands, Yasmine Connor, who received her degree in mechanical engineering and is headed to Detroit to work for General Motors.
“Each of us can look to the past, look to what we have done, and find inspiration into how we will make our contribution,” Connor told her class. “Let us not forget what we have learned and experienced here.”
The most enthusiastic group at Saturday’s ceremony was the College of Veterinary Medicine’s 95 graduates.
Many had elaborately decorated mortarboards, some with strings of lights or even a balloon or flag attached. One of the newly minted veterinarians had a small stuffed dog on her head as she crossed the stage. As their degrees were announced, they waved inflated hand-and-arm gloves.
“I grew up on a farm, so I know what those are used for,” Chancellor Randy Woodson joked.
Remember that you aren’t always able to see your path clearly, but others in your life will see things in you that you don’t see in yourself. Don’t be afraid to explore or believe in those things.
Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane
The commencement speaker, Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane, spoke about her path from pharmacy student to leader of the state’s capital city. She said she was reluctant to run for office, but friends kept encouraging her to try.
On the night she was elected mayor in 2011, McFarlane said she “drove by the place I was going to gather with my friends and saw all the television trucks parked outside, and I had this moment of ‘oh my gosh, what if I win? I can’t do this job.’ ”
She says her friends “saw something in me that I never saw in myself” and told the graduates that they’ll have similar experiences after college.
“Remember that you aren’t always able to see your path clearly, but others in your life will see things in you that you don’t see in yourself,” McFarlane said. “Don’t be afraid to explore or believe in those things. Because sometimes, you need the belief of others to spark that belief in yourself.”
McFarlane also spoke about the close relationship between N.C. State and the city it calls home. “I have talked with other mayors where the town-gown relationship is nonexistent, and they always ask about how we get along and do such a great job,” she said.
She said the university is a big contributor to the local economy.
“We love to see entrepreneurs coming out of N.C. State and want to do what we can to help you find a home here and grow your company,” she said. “Businesses locate here because they know that we have great talent coming out of N.C. State.”
Saturday’s ceremony also had a tragic note. Woodson took time at the beginning of the ceremony to honor Cheyanne Hass, who died Sunday in a car crash – less than a week before she was scheduled to graduate with her classmates.
“Cheyanne was determined to be an agent of change in the world around her,” Woodson said of the 22-year-old senior who studied engineering. “Cheyanne made great use of her many talents, and I know she touched many lives on our campus. Let us fondly remember Cheyanne and the many before her that we’ve lost as members of the Wolfpack family.”