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Public service, preparation, humility, and living a life of purpose are keys to success, say graduation speakers

u_hiring_t.jpgBOONE—Commencement at Appalachian State University was a day to honor graduates who have completed their dream of earning a college degree. And it was a day to honor parents, family and faculty members who have supported and guided them along the way.

Kim Price.jpgKim PriceJames Jordan.jpgJames JordanGill Beck.jpgGill BeckHugh Hugh “Crae” Morton III

Each of the university’s degree-granting colleges or schools holds an individual ceremony.
More than 1,800 students received diplomas during ceremonies held May 9 and 10. Images from the event will be posted at

Kim Price, president and CEO of Citizens South Bank in Gastonia, spoke to graduates of the Walker College of Business during ceremonies May 9 in the Holmes Convocation Center. Price is a 1977 alumnus of the business college.

“Each of you knows how hard the other has worked to get here today. But have you stopped to think of what that means to all those around you,” he said. “Your family worked, wished, hoped, prayed and supported you from the very moment you were born. You honor your parents today by having fulfilled one of the important dreams they have had for you all of your life.”

Price also spoke of the role faculty members played in each student’s academic career. “You honor your professors by virtue of your graduation today. Think how proud they feel for having contributed to your success. You have contributed to their life’s work and made it more meaningful.”

Price cautioned graduates not to turn pride in their accomplishment to arrogance as they progress through their careers. “Confidence curtailed with humility is one of the most powerful and attractive qualities of humankind,” he said. “Confidence unbridled becomes arrogance. And arrogance is one of the most unattractive qualities I know. Find that delicate balance.”

Graduates of the Reich College of Education and Cratis D. Williams Graduate School viewed a video highlighting graduates of their respective colleges.

Speaking at commencement ceremonies May 10 were Gill Beck to graduates of the College of Arts and Sciences, James Jordan to graduates of the Hayes School of Music, and Hugh “Crae” Morton III to graduates of the College of Fine and Applied Arts.

Beck is a brigadier general in the U.S. Army Reserve and chief of the civil division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of North Carolina in Greensboro. He is a 1978 graduate of  Appalachian.

“What do you do with this great gift, this privilege you have, this education you have received here? Will you make a difference in the world?” Beck asked.

Beck told of his grandmother, who when she was a young teenager, moved from the Watauga County community of Mabel so that she could further her education at Appalachian. He also spoke of his mother’s persistence in earning a degree from Appalachian, taking six years to complete that goal as she took time off from her studies to give birth to her children. And he spoke of Appalachian alumnus Capt. Ritchie Cliff who was killed in action 2008 in Afghanistan.

“What is the Appalachian story you are going to write?” he asked graduates. He suggested part of their story would be written through their service to their communities, state and nation.

“Service will help you through continued learning. It will help you be more adaptive for the future and it will promote your professional development,” he said. “It will promote leadership. It will make you better citizens and strengthen your family. Service allows us to focus outward and not inward.”

Jordan is an associate professor of conducting at Rider University. He also is conductor of The Westminster Williamson Voices at Rider University’s Westminster Choir College.
He said musicians are acrobats of the soul with the ability “to motivate, inspire and in many cases, changes lives.”

Jordan, author of the book “The Musician’s Soul,” reminded students to take time everyday to do something for themselves so that they don’t forget who they are. “The reason people will come and play for you is for one very special reason – it is because of you,” he said. “They come because there is something they sense in their very soul that they need to live daily. It is your very spirit that gives them the want to be in your presence.”

Jordan said those who had chosen a music career to make a living might be disappointed. Being a musician is about “teaching and performing music, not about making a living. It’s about living our life with purpose,” he said.

“I hope passionately that you will be charged this day to take your role as acrobats of the soul very seriously,” he said. “Affirm yourselves and most importantly, affirm the students who need you. Teach and perform always out of love. And know deeply that your music can change lives, give you a reason for living and give you returns unending.”

Morton, president of Grandfather Mountain, speculated that some graduates might believe luck played a role in earning a college degree, but the real reason for their success might be the result of diligence.

“You all had choices. You chose to pay attention in high school, you chose to come to Appalachian, you chose to work hard, and here you are today earning your degree,” he said. “How much luck was involved in that?”

Morton said college graduates knew other students who had grown up in their neighborhood and had similar experiences as they did. “Some are getting their degrees, others have started their careers and family early, some made other choices. But here you are today.”

Morton quoted from Thomas Jefferson who said, “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.” Morton then asked, “Did random chance give you that diploma that you are about to get? I don’t think so.”

Morton said there were many conflicting ideologies about luck, preparation and fate, and that while some graduates in today’s economy think that luck will play a key role in getting a job, it was the work and preparation they had accomplished while in college that prepared them for continued academic studies or success in their chosen career.

“Are you going to continue to be lucky, are you going to put yourself in the position for luck to happen or will you simply be smart enough to see an opportunity in front of you and seize it,” he said.