ECU grads celebrate milestones at fall commencement
By Crystal Baity and Kathryn Kennedy
ECU News Services
Though their degrees were conferred on Friday the 13th, East Carolina University’s most recent class of graduates knows they are lucky to be Pirates.
“I’m ready to go; I’m just a free spirit,” said Kelley Logan, a graduate from the College of Health and Human Performance. “But ECU will always have my heart.”
More than 2,300 students received degrees Dec. 13, including approximately 1,600 bachelor degrees and 723 graduate degrees.
College of Nursing graduates Kate Murdock, Brooke Taylor and Reagan Moore held tubes of confetti, cans of silly string and noise poppers as they waited to walk in the processional.
Perched on Murdock’s mortarboard was a tall foam pirate ship that she assembled Thursday night. Blinking lights rimmed the cap’s edges “so my parents can see me,” she said.
“We’re extremely excited to be here,” said Taylor.
“It’s been a wild ride. This past month has been exciting and nerve-wracking, looking for jobs and trying to graduate.”
Graduates received kudos and well wishes from ECU Chancellor Steve Ballard, the UNC Board of Governors, faculty, administrators and their own senior class officer, who said the memories they made together at ECU are what bonds “Pirate Nation.”
“I can’t imagine spending the last few years with any other people,” continued Clark Williams. “Congratulations on your big day.”
The commencement speaker was cardiac psychology expert Sam Sears, director of the health psychology program at ECU and recipient of the O. Max Gardner Award – the UNC-system’s highest faculty honor that recognizes contributions to the welfare of mankind.
Sears asked that as graduates go forward and write their life stories, they also continue telling the story of East Carolina.
“We have to tell the story of East Carolina University. You have to demonstrate the value of East Carolina. It’s your efforts next that tell the real story.”
He said that journey will include personal growth and coping with adversity – something all students learn at ECU.
“You want us to compete against schools with larger academic and athletic endowments? Fine. We will do that and we will win. I like to say ‘when ECU wins in either academics or athletics, the whole state wins.’
“No matter where you go from here, you will always be from East Carolina now.”
The 13th has never been an unlucky day for Jesse Miller, who turned 23 and graduated with a double major in anthropology and religious studies on Friday. His older sister, Jasmine Johnson, also was born on Dec. 13.“We don’t consider it an unlucky day,” she said. Miller, who is from Fayetteville, plans to attend graduate school.
Luckily, the family of Caitlyn Gray of Rodanthe arrived for graduation late Thursday night after having to take an alternate route because of the Bonner Bridge closure on N.C. 12.
“It took them six hours to get here instead of the usual two,” she said.
With her mom’s help, Gray decorated her mortarboard with an anchor, which symbolizes several things: most importantly her brother, a commercial fisherman from Hatteras, who died four years ago; pirates and ECU; and her beach hometown.
Gray is training to be a paramedic and plans to apply to the Brody School of Medicine. “Eventually I want to go back home and open a clinic,” she said.
Her friend and fellow student in the College of Health and Human Performance, Kelley Logan of Chesapeake, Va., had a long drive to participate in ECU’s graduation. She’s been interning this semester at Hilton Head Health in South Carolina. She will begin a master’s program in occupational therapy this fall at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University in Tallahassee, Fla.
At ECU, Logan has been a member of Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity, which has helped with community events like Toys for Tots, Relay for Life and Pennies for Patients.
While Logan thought about the day being the 13th, she wasn’t concerned: “Me graduating is already good luck,” she said.
Kinston resident Travis Norris has watched his luck change.Norris spent 11 years in the architectural industry before losing his job to the economic downturn in 2010. He turned to ECU to make a new start, and now has job waiting for him in New Bern.
Norris graduated with an engineering degree from ECU’s College of Technology and Computer Science. The program meant sacrificing time with his wife and two daughters, but he said the faculty kept him on track.
“Not only have they invested in my future as an engineer through teaching me the fundamentals of engineering, but they have given me advice, counsel and encouragement,” he said.
“They are second to none.”
Melissa Ricker of Goldsboro said she was fortunate to have spent her last clinical rotation for physician assistant studies working in a free American-run clinic in Belize.
“When you see how others in countries like Belize die from common illnesses likes diabetes prematurely, or have to travel hours on a dirt road or hitch hike or take a bus that goes once a month to see the doctor, it’s a reality check that there are more needs than our own country and it’s reassuring the care we are providing here is great,” Ricker said.
Ricker is completing her term as president-elect of the Student American Academy of Physician Assistants. She will become president and simultaneously serve as the student representative on the AAPA board beginning in May.
“Hands down, it’s been the most rewarding experience of PA school,” said Ricker, who is the first from ECU and North Carolina to serve on the national student association. She previously represented the southeast region and its 38 schools on the board.
Also graduating with master’s degrees in physician assistant studies in Ricker’s class were Sean Russell, Joe Bartholomew and Adam Rhodes, also known as BOYBANDemia. While at ECU, they wrote, produced and starred in four health education and prevention videos on smoking, obesity, Basic Life Support/Advanced Cardiac Life Support, and sports injuries featuring parodies by the Backstreet Boys, Flo Rida and Vanilla Ice.
The group will most likely disband due to their locations. Russell will be working in orthopedic trauma in Raleigh, Bartholomew will be working in urgent care in Winston-Salem, and Rhodes will be working in dermatology in Raleigh. The group’s name “bandemia” is a medical term that describes an increased number of white blood cells used to fight infection in the body.
The band released their latest video this week.”ICE ICE DAILY” focuses on the importance of rest, ice, compress, and elevate in common sports injuries; it can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ml2IKZaj754.