ECU bids farewell to Class of 2013
Alumna urges grads to ‘keep going’
Dr. Valeria O. Lovelace told the graduates during the 104th spring commencement ceremonies for East Carolina that 40 years ago she was sitting in their place.
“I had butterflies in my stomach as I thought of my future. Now I marvel at the doors that a degree opened for me,” she said.
During the ceremony, Chancellor Steve Ballard conferred 2,710 undergraduate degrees and more than 980 graduate degrees, including 69 from the Brody School of Medicine.
“We are proud of every one of you,” the chancellor said to the sea of purple gowns and black robes before him on the field at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
Lovelace is president and founder of Media Transformations, an educational research and production company. She has worked on children’s programming for “Sesame Street,” “Go, Diego, Go” and “Dora, the Explorer.”
“As Dora, the Explorer would say, ‘You did it!’” Lovelace said. She praised the graduates for the persistence and determination to earn their degrees.
The native of Mount Olive described to the graduates, most of whom grew up watching Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, the role that television played in her life, including her early memories of “Howdy Doody” and “Captain Kangaroo.”
She encouraged the graduates to use their Facebook, Twitter and other social media accounts to join “The Dream Makers’ Team” by keeping a running tally of their acts of kindness, encouraging young students to stay in school and sharing their accomplishments.
Lovelace’s message hit a mark with Pamela Wilson of Elizabeth City, who earned her master’s degree in education, focusing on birth-kindergarten, as a distance education student. “I used to watch ‘Sesame Street’ as a kid, and I liked her comments (on children’s education). That resonated with me.”
Wilson, who is a pre-kindergarten teacher, noted that she is a first-generation college graduate. She earned her undergraduate degree in education from ECU in 2007. And she proudly added that her daughter, Kirstie Mathews, will start ECU in the fall pursuing a nutrition degree, after she completes her course work at the College of the Albemarle.
Recognized during the ceremony were university award winners, including Dr. John Stiller, who received the UNC Board of Governors Award for Excellence in Teaching. Hari Nath, a member of the Board of Governors, said of Stiller, “He is one of those people who was born to teach.”
Also recognized were the five undergraduate students who received the Robert H. Wright Alumni Leadership Award:
- Arun Ajmera of Greenville, who earned dual degrees in biology and chemistry and plans to attend the Brody School of Medicine;
- Mukund Mohan Patel of Greenville, who earned a biology degree and plans to attend the Brody School of Medicine;
- Sarah Morgan Hunter of Henderson, who earned a degree in business administration and plans to attend ECU to earn her MBA;
- Danielle Nicole Martin of Greenville, who earned an interdisciplinary degree in neuroscience and who plans to attend medical school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill;
- Alyssa Diane Robinson of Charlotte, who earned a communications degree and plans to attend graduate school at N.C. State University.
Ajmera is among the first graduates of the Honors College at ECU, which builds on the tradition of academic excellence and innovative programming developed under the Honors Program.
The College was launched in 2010, and five students received their degrees May 10, completing their studies in three years. They are Arun Ajmera, Matthew T. Edwards, Chelsea M. Hughes, Mary S. Sanderson and Laura R. Ross.
ECU grads reflect, look ahead
In the past month, Doll Ferguson has taken five exams, worked 120 clinical hours, written papers and a 15-page journal. Next up is the NCLEX, the national licensure exam to become a registered nurse.
It’s all worth it, she said, because now she’s an East Carolina University graduate. This Pirate nurse will be working in the telemetry/cardiac unit at Alamance Regional Medical Center in Burlington.
“It’s the greatest challenge I’ve faced in my entire life,” said Ferguson of Greensboro. “It has been some long years, but I made it. I definitely wouldn’t have made it without my friends and family, and I had great instructors.”
Her dad, Donald Ferguson, is an alumnus, which influenced her decision to attend ECU, along with the fact that “it has the best nursing school.”“I feel like I’m living a dream,” she said. “I’ve waited for this day to come and I feel like I’m not even here.”
While there’s been little time for a social life in such a rigorous program, Ferguson has provided 200 volunteer service hours and is a member of the nursing honors society and nursing leadership.
Abby Lassiter of Oak Island couldn’t be happier for her daughter, Brittany Sullivan, who earned a master’s in child development and family relations. Sullivan also earned her bachelor’s in elementary education at ECU. Her brother will attend ECU in the fall, and they are the first in the immediate family to attend college. “We’re so incredibly proud,” Lassiter said. “Every goal that she’s set, she’s reached.”
Sullivan hopes to teach at ECU, and taught an online class last semester. Her research thesis involved comparing how teachers interact and have relationships with English language learners and non-English language learners. She traveled to elementary schools in Greene, Wilson and Carteret counties and enjoyed being in the classroom.
Her boyfriend, Zach Hewett of Shallotte, received a master’s of business administration and is looking for a job. His mother, Cindy Hewett, is an ECU alumna, along with her grandmother, who attended then East Carolina Teacher’s College. Zach’s father is also an ECU alumnus.
“It’s been very emotional,” said Jeanette Pleasants of Bunn, who was there for her daughter Brittany Pleasants, who received a bachelor’s in business education. “She’s come a long way.”
Graduate school bound
The Department of Geology, one of the smallest at ECU, was represented with graduates at the very front and at the back of the College of Arts and Sciences line that snaked below the stadium seats in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
Bringing up the rear was Anne Ditlevson, 28, and Stephanie Balbuena, 21, both of Greenville. After two years of being a barista, Ditlevson decided to go back to school.
“ECU was the most professional school,” she said. “Anytime I emailed or called, they got back to me immediately. That meant a lot.”
Discovering and majoring in geology has been a great surprise, she said. “Geology is like a mystery. You’re solving something every single day. I feel like a rock detective.”
Spring semester, Ditlevson and Balbuena were part of an environmental forensics class looking for petroleum and oil-based compounds in the Tar River. “We didn’t find it, which is a good thing,” Ditlevson said. But they did find vanilla, caffeine, and an organic compound used in anesthetics.
Ditlevson has been accepted to graduate school in education and wants to be a science teacher. Her husband, an art teacher, has been accepted in the master’s in school administration program, so they’ll both be at ECU.
Balbuena will take a year off and go to Italy to work before applying to master’s programs in paleoclimatology.
First in line was Lindsay Pugh of Burke, Va., who received a bachelor’s in geology and comes from a family of Pirates. She fell in love with the campus and decided to attend ECU too. “I’m like the 10th person from my family to come here,” she said. “My parents and aunt both attended here.”
She is looking for work and investigating graduate programs.
Rebekah Ferguson, who graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s in speech and hearing science, celebrated with fellow student Stacey Bastin of Swansboro.
The pair had gotten to the stadium before 8 a.m. to be first in line for allied health sciences graduates. Ferguson is going to graduate school for audiology at the University of Pittsburgh. Bastin will attend graduate school in speech pathology at Western Carolina University. She hopes to eventually work with aphasic patients.
“My grandfather had Parkinson’s and that sort of started me down this path,” said Bastin, who is the first in her immediate family to attend college.
Class of 1963
At the start of the commencement, 17 alumni from the class of 1963 were recognized. Among them were Jerry Cummings and his wife, Diana Foster Cummings, of Graham. Diana was class treasurer and a member of Sigma Sigma Sigma, the first ECU sorority to have a house. Theirs was the first class to graduate in the stadium, which was really only a football field back then, the Cummings said.
It’s been at least 10 years since they’ve been to campus, although Jerry grew up nearby in Tarboro. “We see a few things we recognize, but much has changed,” Jerry said.
“I keep up with the Sigmas, and they still shine,” Diana said. “We’re proud of our campus and we’ve watched it grow from a distance.”
They also are the proud grandparents of a 1-year-old granddaughter, Reese Elizabeth, who they would like to see wear purple and gold one day.
“I walked down the aisle for ECU graduation in a black gown, and one week later walked down the aisle in a white gown to marry Jerry,” who was wearing his dress Marine Corps white uniform, she said. The couple lived in Quantico, Va., and at Camp Lejeune before Jerry left active duty. He spent 28 years in the reserves.
Diana worked 39 years for the Social Security Administration. Jerry worked for three different textile companies, first as an engineer then as a manager, before taking on a third career of building houses. Now retired, they enjoy singing in their local choral group and are active in their church.
“I got a great education here,” said Buddy Wyatt of Surry, Va., the 1963 class vice president who received a math and science degree. He is a retired nuclear engineer and manager who worked in shipbuilding in Newport News and for the U.S. Navy. “I met a lot of great people, and I’ve lost a lot of friends who went here.”