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Earning a college degree includes the obligation to help others, speaker tells graduates

commencement_t.jpgBOONE—Education has the power to influence people and help them realize their dreams, N.C. State Superintendent of Public Instruction June St. Clair Atkinson told Appalachian State University graduates during commencement on Sunday.

“My fourth grade teacher instilled in me the importance of dreaming, the importance of considering the possibilities, the importance of imagining what can be if we work toward fulfilling our goals,” Atkinson said.

commencement_t2.jpgKeep dreaming, strive to influence people in a positive way and make a difference, June St. Clair Atkinson told Appalachian State University graduates during commencement ceremonies held Sunday in the Holmes Convocation Center. Atkinson is N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction. (Appalachian photo by University Photographer Mike Rominger)

A former school teacher herself, Atkinson told of a college professor who indirectly challenged her to realize her dream of earning a college diploma. The professor told Atkinson that she would not succeed in college because she had graduated from a small, rural high school. She turned what could have been a negative experience into a positive one.

“That one statement angered me so much that I worked twice as hard to make sure that I made good grades,” she said.

Atkinson not only earned an undergraduate degree from Radford University. She continued her education, earning a master’s degree from Virginia Tech and a doctorate in educational leadership from N.C. State University.

“The message (from that experience) is that unless you are on a deserted island, you will be influencing people every day. Make it a positive influence,” she said.

Atkinson said that as an educator, she has a passion for every student who graduates from high school and college. “I ask you to influence every child or young person you see to stay in school and graduate from high school. All of our students must graduate from high school to be globally competitive for work and further education and life in the 21st century.”

Atkinson said North Carolina and the nation must improve high school graduation rates. In North Carolina, for instance, only 69 percent of students who entered high school in 2003 graduated in 2007.

“Many of you will be teaching and working in our schools, but the truth of the matter is educators alone cannot do this important work of making sure that all of our students graduate,” she said. “We have the obligation as graduates and as citizens to help young people develop their dreams, because the raw truth is many of our children have little hope. We have to give them hope and help them to develop their dreams.”

Approximately 240 graduate and 800 undergraduates received degrees during ceremonies in the Holmes Convocation Center.