‘Our education should never stop’
Another class of Pirate graduates set sail Friday, Dec. 16 at the 103rd fall commencement. More than 800 baccalaureate, masters and doctoral students took part in the ceremony at Williams Arena in Minges Coliseum. With family and friends cheering them on from the coliseum’s upper seating, they processed onto the covered court at 10 a.m., beaming and waving.
“Today, as we say goodbye, we can look back on these last four years with a smile,” said Senior Class Officer Casey Anthony. “Our education should never stop, even though our formal schooling has.”
Dr. Thomas G. Irons, associate vice chancellor for health sciences and professor of pediatrics at the Brody School of Medicine at ECU, delivered the primary address. He recently received the Award for Excellence in Public Service from the Board of Governors of the 17-campus University of North Carolina system.
“I hope you will choose to be forces for change,” Irons said at commencement, “to work to make a difference, to take your talents and use them in the service of others.”
As a physician, faculty member and private citizen, Irons has focused his time, his medical expertise and his consensus-building skills on addressing the needs of abused children, disabled children, at-risk teens, farm families and the rural uninsured.
The Greenville native offered operating principals for graduates accepting ECU’s mission: To serve. They must not judge others or hide their own troubles, he said. They must be willing to accept pain and failure, and cultivate relationships with friends and family who can support them in tough times.
Graduates must also take risks, Irons said, and learn to forgive both others and themselves.
“I hope every one of you will make a difference, and above all that you will find joy.”
That joy emerged from the undergraduates as each college and school was recognized and its graduates stood for recognition. Nursing students – who hold a reputation as the most spirited at graduation – fired off cans of silly string while yelling and shaking noisemakers.
“Pirate! Nurse!” some chanted from underneath elaborately decorated mortarboards. A few hats would take flight as undergraduate students from all departments turned their tassels, signifying the completion of their degrees.
ECU Chancellor Steve Ballard led the applause of friends, siblings and cousins, grandparents, children, spouses and, finally, parents who “sacrificed, stood by you and now share in your success.”
Faculty Chair Marianna Walker summed up Friday’s transformative event.
“Yesterday, students. Today, graduates. Tomorrow, alumni. And forever Pirates.”
More than 3,300 students are received their degrees this commencement, including approximately 2,220 bachelor degree candidates and 1,110 graduate degree candidates.