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Approximately 1,800 Students Receive Degrees During Appalachian’s Spring Commencement

By Jane Nicholson

BOONE–Grammy-award winning musician Doc Watson spoke to graduates of the Mariam Cannon Hayes School of Music at Appalachian State University during commencement ceremonies on Saturday, May 18.

Watson, a native of Deep Gap in Watauga County, spoke of the role music had played in his life. Blind since early infancy, Watson was introduced to music by his parents, who played musical instruments and sang.

Watson began playing harmonica at age 6, banjo at age 11 and guitar at age 14.

Making his own way in the world was the driving force behind his success, Watson. When Watson received a check from the state to help support his wife and children, he returned it saying to give the help to someone else. “I knew music was a gamble and I told the state folks that if I needed (the check) I’d call them,” he said. “If I could earn it, why not get out there and do it? That was the motivating factor in paying my dues.”

Watson began performing in coffeehouses and at folk festivals. He was “discovered” during the folk revival of the 1960s by Ralph Rinzler, who was the curator of performing arts at the Smithsonian Institution.

Concerts and record contracts followed, leading to a career that has spanned more than four decades. His awards include numerous Grammy awards, the National Medal of Arts, a National Heritage Fellowship, and honorary doctorate degrees from Appalachian and UNC Chapel Hill.

Watson credited his success to the support he had received from family and friends, most notably from his wife Rosa Lee, his daughter Nancy, and his late son Merle.

Watson said he didn’t regret his loss of sight when an infant. “You can’t always have what you want in this life. Everything that comes down on us comes down for a reason,” he said. “I think my handicap had a good reason…I’ve often said that I might have been planted on Okinawa in World War II, and no telling what would have happened to me, or I might have been an ornery rascal if I had been able to see.”

Watson interspersed his remarks by singing and playing the harmonica, banjo and guitar.

Each of the university’s colleges and schools holds individual ceremonies.

U.S. Congressman Cass Ballenger spoke to graduates of the College of Fine and Applied Arts.

Ballenger, a native of Hickory, was first elected to Congress in 1986. He is a senior member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce and a member of the House International Relations Committee, where he chairs the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee.

Ballenger told graduates that the classroom was not the only source of their education. “This university, this entire community, is a classroom not confined to brick walls.”

He said their education also had occurred on the baseball fields, in student government meetings, and while volunteering and participating in rallies addressing causes that are important to them.

“The things you have learned here, not just the knowledge but the right practices of that knowledge, will surely affect this ever-changing world in a positive way,” he said.

“A commencement is a fresh start, a new beginning, an open door. Today you take the first steps down that new path,” he said. “The road ahead is unknown, but your values, integrity and college experiences will provide great resources to guide you. You entered this university as students, you leave as ambassadors, using what you’ve learned here to do good things and extend goodwill throughout the world.”

The Reich College of Education also held ceremonies on Saturday. A video highlighting student accomplishments was shown.

Ceremonies were held on Sunday, May 19, for graduates of the College of Arts and Sciences, the Walker College of Business and the Cratis Williams Graduate School.

Former diplomat Jack Perry spoke to graduates of the College of Arts and Sciences. N.C. Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue spoke to graduate school graduates and businessman Jeffrey A. Shepard spoke to Walker College of Business graduates.

Approximately 1,800 students participated in commencement exercises, including students completing degree requirements this summer.