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Appalachian graduates urged to serve others and embrace opportunities

BOONE—Appalachian State University’s December graduates were called the institution’s most enduring legacy by Chancellor Sheri N. Everts, who presided over her first commencement Dec. 13 as the university’s chief executive officer. Nearly 1,400 graduate and undergraduate students received degrees during the ceremonies.

View larger imageChancellor Sheri N. Everts presided over her first commencement Dec. 13 as Appalachian State University’s chief executive officer. (Photo by Marie Freeman)View larger imageOlumide O. Awelewa spoke during Appalachian State University’s December commencement of the “giants” who had helped him pursue his graduate degree.View larger imageAppalachian State University graduate Ethan Brown’s mortar board gives a clue to his future plans. The chemistry major is the chief winemaker at his family’s Olde Mill Winery and Vineyards in Mount Airy. Brown did his departmental honors research in fermentation science. He plans to pursue a Ph.D. at Virginia Tech’s Department of Food Science and Technology with a focus in flavor and aroma chemistry. (Photo by Marie Freeman)

“Today we celebrate the achievements of our students as they leave Appalachian prepared to make real and powerful differences in their communities and beyond,” Everts said.

Everts spoke of the transformative power of the university experience and the preparations graduates had received as they embark on their chosen path.

“A university campus is an amazing place of confluence where great leaders and ideas emerge for the betterment of society,” she said. “The effect of our work is exponential. Students come to Appalachian and continue to develop and grow into amazing individuals who go on to touch hundreds and thousands of lives through their professions, civic engagement and service.”

She thanked graduates for being part of the Appalachian community. “Please know you will always be a part of this great university and you are our most enduring legacy. I congratulate you on your achievement and find great hope for our community, state, nation and the world in the promise you take forward into a future made all the brighter because of you.”

Elementary education graduate Shannon E. Richardson addressed graduates of the Reich College of Education and the College of Arts and Sciences during ceremonies held at 10 a.m. in the Holmes Convocation Center.

Richardson spoke of people’s ability to change lives, one person at a time. “As we graduate today, my challenge to you is look for just one life each day that you can impact, one life that you can serve, one heart you can reach,” she said. “We each have a destiny or purpose in life,” Richardson said. “Let us each pursue excellence in our chosen profession. Let us focus on making a difference in someone’s life. Let us seek to serve others.”

Master of Arts in geography graduate and former Marine Michael S. Flanagan urged graduates attending the 10 a.m. ceremony to embrace life’s “wonderful, unplanned opportunities.”

Just weeks before he was to move from Baltimore to California for a new job opportunity, Flanagan changed his plans and enrolled as a graduate student at Appalachian.

“I have learned that life is full of wonderful, unplanned opportunities provided you are open to seeing them,” he said. “Unfortunately, it can be easy to miss these opportunities, given our human tendency to focus on planning for the future and living in the past rather than being present in the moment. Life may come up with experiences far beyond what you can now imagine and the course you chart now may take many unexpected turns. If you can remember to relish the moment, cherish today and be present, these unforeseen changes will be wonderful.”

Diane C. Creamer, who received a bachelor’s degree in recreation management, spoke during the 2 p.m. ceremony to graduates of the College of Fine and Applied Arts, College of Health Sciences, Hayes School of Music and the Walker College of Business.

Creamer shared memories from her time at Appalachian, the most important of which was the friendships she made with students and faculty. She also spoke of common concerns facing graduates.

“This is not a time for us to doubt ourselves,” she said. “This is the time to dream. Our opportunities are endless and vast and they may be overwhelming, but it’s time for us to dream of our ideals and to chase them.” Creamer said graduates had gained the knowledge, experience and memories that will guide them through the years to come and will provide the opportunity to succeed no matter the challenge.

“Now is the time to push away that fear of the unknown and make that unknown our playground,” she said. “Let us take our memories and our support from Appalachian into the world, knowing that the world is at our fingertips and it’s finally time for us to chase (our) dream.”

Olumide O. Awelewa, a Nigerian native and international student from London, spoke of the “giants” who had helped him pursue his graduate degree.

When he came to Appalachian, with only $5 in his pocket and the American consultant in London requesting evidence of funds equal to $30,000 to grant a student visa, Awelewa said “providence ensued. Through the generosity of more giants the impossible became possible and though the guiding hands and hearts and minds of more giants, purpose ensued.”

Awelewa studied biomechanics while at Appalachian after earning an undergraduate degree from Grand Valley State University in Michigan. A faculty mentor there recommended Awelewa to Appalachian’s program and connected him to other giants at the university across academic and student support programs.

“Their collective hands bore me up in my time of need financially, emotionally and academically. These giants are the manifestations of the blessing of my parents that goes ‘if you call one person, 20 people will answer’,” he said.

“As we leave here today to live out that first day of our dreams, I encourage you to guard your heart, for out of it flows the issues of life. What you think with your heart dictates what you see with your eyes, what you say with your mouth, and where you go with your feet.”

Awelewa earned a master’s degree in exercise science.

More than 500 viewers watched the December ceremonies online from the United Kingdom, Germany, Kenya and Brazil.