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Families cheered, phones recorded videos and photos, students beamed and the storms held off as Barton College held its 117th commencement exercises Saturday morning on center campus.
The Rev. Canon Nontombi Naomi Tutu, missioner for racial and economic equity at the Cathedral of All Souls in Asheville, was the featured speaker.
Two hundred and forty-six undergraduate and graduate students received diplomas Saturday, including students who completed degree requirements in December and May, as well as undergraduate candidates who will fulfill academic requirements over the summer. Also included in the ceremony were graduates of the Master of Business Administration degree and strategic leadership, Master of Science in nursing degree and Master of School Administration degree programs.
“Beth and I began in the fall of 2015 with you — we were freshmen. To some degree, this is our senior year,” said Douglas N. Searcy, Barton College president. “We have enjoyed walking this path with you and we have seen you grow and change in so many ways. You are more knowledgeable, more mature, more prepared to face the world, and we are so excited to see you flourish in the days ahead.”
Searcy asked graduates to do a few simple things as they left the Barton campus.
“Continue to set high expectations for yourself and for your future,” Searcy said. “Do not accept the status quo. Carry with you a deep sense of hope and a belief that anything is possible through community, through relationships, through faith, through hard work and effort. And above all, have a vision — a vision for what you want to accomplish and that you work every day to make that vision a reality.”
Several awards were presented to both faculty and graduates.
Lincoln Financial Excellence in Teaching Fund Faculty Members of the Year awards were presented to Gerard Lange, professor of art in the School of Visual, Performing and Communication Arts and director of the Whitehurst Family Honors Program; and Shawn McCauley, assistant professor of English in the School of Humanities and director of general education.
The Hilley Cup, presented annually to the graduating senior with the highest cumulative grade point average, was awarded to Brandy Reneé Godwin of Zebulon, who graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in political science.
The Coggins Cup, presented annually to the student voted best all-around by the Barton faculty and staff, was awarded to Stephen Ezekiel Foy of Richlands, who graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in theatre and a Bachelor of Science degree in mass communications.
The Hemby Leadership Cup, presented to the graduating senior who, in the estimation of the college community including students, faculty and staff, has demonstrated outstanding leadership throughout a career at Barton College was awarded this year to two students: Riley Marie Bane of Wilson, who graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in K-12 special education; and Asia Jeanie Robinson of Rocky Mount, who graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration.
Senior class president Sarah Elizabeth Humphries of Elizabeth City addressed the graduates after the awarding of diplomas. She described her need to be perfect in everything she worked on at Barton College, a need that began her freshman year.
“As I was struggling to do all the things I’d signed up for, I discovered I was a failing perfectionist,” said Humphries, who graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in biology. “And while there’s nothing wrong with being a perfectionist, I was letting it defeat me.”
“So I’m here today to tell you all that you don’t need to be perfect,” continued Humphries. “What we need to be are lifelong learners, healers, friends, teachers, advocates and motivators. Most importantly, you need to be yourself. Don’t devalue yourself by being who you think everyone else may define as a perfect person. This, in turn, would restrict you from loving yourself — from loving your mind, your heart and your soul. Don’t be who the world wants you to be. Be who the world needs you to be.”
Barton College alumni board President Tracy Mitchell spoke to the graduates who would soon be leaving the campus.
“We will be able to reflect back on these past few years as chapters in our Barton stories,” said Mitchell, who has now completed her three-year term as alumni association president and Board of Trustees member. “Just like any good book, these chapters will reflect humor, good times, struggles, friendships made, determination and success. Today, you may be completing a pivotal chapter, but there are so many more waiting to be written. So as you close the chapter on your senior year, my hope is that the final sentence reads ‘to be continued,’ as there are so many more memories ahead of you as Barton College alumni.”