ECSU holds commencement for largest class on record

Kesha Williams
May 10, 2011

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Elizabeth City State University held its 152nd  Commencement on Saturday, May 7, at Roebuck Stadium. The Class of 2011 was the largest ever, with 331 graduates.

Dexter L. Peele of Lewiston, N.C., a biology major with a 4.0 grade point average, was the Bearer of the Mace. The honor is reserved for a senior who has earned all of his or her credits at ECSU and graduates with the highest grade point average. The Mace, representing the ceremonial symbol of authority, was designed by ECSU Art Professor Alexis Joyner, chair of the Art Department.

According to the Registrar's Office, the class of 331 seniors was the largest on record to graduate at one time from ECSU. Damika Howard, president of the Student Government Association, applauded her peers on their special day. The students, she said, witnessed changes that will become cherished memories. From the implementation of a new dress code policy to establishing an ECSU Day in Elizabeth City, the changes impacted the class and the university.

"We've seen a lot during our time at ECSU. We won the Home Depot contest [among HBCUs] that will allow us to build a new baseball field. Our first airplane arrived, Air Viking One, for the Aviation Science program. Miss ECSU [Alana Simmons] won the Food Lion Miss CIAA contest," Howard said. "Our SGA had a platform of going 'green,' and we received grants that helped increase the number of recycle bins on campus. We implemented the bike rental program.  We had a residence hall challenge to see who could conserve the most energy."

"We successfully used our platform, TEAM -- Together Everyone Achieves More. By working together, we accomplished much in 2010-2011. We've set the precedent for the new Vikings who will come in."

The commencement ceremony included seven graduating ROTC cadets taking the Oath of Office administered by outgoing Lt. Col. Troy D. Barnes. Barnes has completed a three-year assignment as the unit's commanding officer. The seven young men will enter the U.S. Army as second lieutenants.

The other special recognition included an award presented to Dr. Jose S. Gil, ECSU's recipient of the UNC Board of Governors Award for Excellence in Teaching. It is the highest teaching honor bestowed by the university and the UNC system.

Former NASA astronaut Joan Higginbotham was the commencement speaker. Higginbotham reflected on the efforts that led to her success. She recalled her early aspirations to become an engineer. After graduating from college and taking a job with NASA as a payload electrical engineer, she learned of the possibility of becoming an astronaut. However, she was discouraged when her first application for the astronaut training program was rejected by a selection committee.

Learning that an additional degree would increase her chances of being selected, Higginbotham worked hard and earned that degree. She later was selected into the astronaut program after a second application and interview. Higginbotham told the ECSU commencement audience that her story is proof that recent college graduates may not realize the spectrum of opportunities that exist.

"You've heard that the sky is the limit? Well I can tell you, it's not the limit-- because I've gone beyond it."

Higginbotham told the students today's job market includes some new opportunities. Some will be jobs the graduates had never considered but are promising opportunities. She advised them to reconsider their original route to success when a good opportunity comes along that is suited for them. In some cases they might have to increase their skill base, relocate or adjust their approach to the work force. Like her, the graduates could land a job that takes them far beyond their dreams.