May 11, 2013
With poet Nikki Giovanni delivering the commencement address to a crowd of more than 4,000 on the University Quadrangle, UNC Asheville held its 85th annual commencement ceremony Saturday morning, celebrating the 730 graduates of the Class of 2013. Those honored included the 466 May graduates, the 243 students who received degrees in December, and 21 August graduates.
Known for her civil rights advocacy, Giovanni chose a surprising analogy for the graduates – young Christopher Columbus. Separating Columbus from controversy over explorers' impact upon the peoples they encountered, Giovanni imagined how his mother might have felt as he prepared to embark. "She brings tears to my eyes when I think about his mother because she knows one thing – if she sends her boy out, the she may never see him again," said Giovanni. "She's like a lot of parents who encourage their children: 'Go to college, go get a degree,' knowing, that if you fulfill that dream, they will not see you again. Or that the 'you' that they see will not be the 'you' that they saw. You will change. But our faith in our children requires that we send you out."
Giovanni then urged graduates to "sail on" like Columbus. "He knew that whatever was there, If he fell off the earth, it was better than turning back and saying 'I can't do it.' I come from a generation that could not say to our grandparents ... 'no, we can't do it, we can't change America, we can't stop the war, we can't make a more just world.'"
Columbus, said Giovanni, "found a new world, and the world was the world of his heart, that there was something to do that had not been done. And I'm saying to you this morning, Class of 2013, you too must sail on. There are issues needing to be resolved. You must sail into that new world. If you fall, if you perish, at least you tried to do something. You must sail on into all of the unknowns and make a better world for every one of us. You can do this ... You must. We count on you."
Giovanni, the author of some 30 books for children and adults and one of America's most widely read poets, is a University Distinguished Professor at Virginia Tech. She was presented with an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree by UNC Asheville Chancellor Anne Ponder.
Ponder also presented an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree to Asheville native Warren Haynes, the singer, guitarist and songwriter who first gained fame as a member of the Allman Brothers. Haynes has used his annual Christmas Jam concert to bring leading artists to Asheville and to raise more than $1 million for Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity.
After degrees were conferred, Ponder concluded by quoting a line from one of Giovanni's poems: "'A poem is pure energy.' That is how we, your family and friends, professors and all of us here at UNC Asheville feel about you, our graduates," said Ponder. "With great expectations, we send you, our newest graduates, out to make tomorrow's world a better place. We are so proud of you."
Student and Faculty Awards
During the ceremony, three graduates received UNC Asheville's highest student awards. Two top faculty teaching awards were also presented.
Linda Cornett, chair and associate professor of political science, received the 2013 Board of Governors Award for Excellence in Teaching. Cornett, a faculty member for 16years, is a specialist in world politics and international affairs. She has coached and traveled abroad with students to participate in Model United Nations competitions, conferences, service learning trips to Latin America and the Middle East.
Irene Rossell, professor of environmental studies received the 2013 UNC Asheville Distinguished Teaching Award. A professor who understands the value of the natural classroom that is the woods, mountains and valleys of Western North Carolina, Rossell gets students outdoors with inventive projects. Her research studies with students include wetland seed banks and plant regeneration, effects of dogwood anthracnose on wildlife food availability and the ecology of box turtles.
Kevin Rumley received the William and Ida Friday Award for Service to the Community. A Purple Heart Iraq War veteran, Rumley says his recovery from PTSD was greatly assisted by the community service work he performed as part of his studies. He won plaudits for his work with YMCA community programs, with fall-prevention screening programs for older adults, and with the Community Health Assessment project of the Department of Health and Human Services. Once told he would never walk again because of his war injuries, Rumley, now fully ambulatory, coaches the Special Olympics and works weekly in the Shiloh Community Garden. After graduation, he is continuing his job as a one-to-one worker helping a disabled child, while putting final touches on his band's new CD and preparing applications for graduate school in public health and social work. Rumley graduates with a Bachelor of Science with distinction in health and wellness promotion, with designation as a University Research Scholar and as a Community Engaged Scholar. He also was co-winner of the Service Learning and Community-Based Scholar of the Year Award.
In health and wellness promotion, we're working one on one, building relationships, engaging different populations out in the community. As veterans who carry the physical scars and also have PTSD – that can be difficult. But I had supportive faculty, so I really embraced it. And it's done wonders in healing my PTSD and helping me adjust to issues left over from Iraq and the Marines. – Kevin Rumley
Kaley Fry received the A.C. Reynolds Award and the Thomas D. Reynolds Prize for Leadership and Campus Service. Fry was also named Student Leader of the Year for her work in student and community organizations. While maintaining high grades and holding down two part-time jobs, she put in many hours volunteering at Emma Elementary School and the Children First Family Resource Center based there. She coordinated UNC Asheville students' participation in Asheville Habitat for Humanity Women Build and is now part of the advocacy team at Asheville Habitat. She founded the student group, Feminist Collective, and served in leadership of two other student organizations. A native of Peru adopted by a female American couple, Fry embodies America's diversity and has a passion for diversity issues. She assisted university staff and student volunteers in planning and implementing diversity training, and she organized a panel about growing up in LGBTQ interracial families at UNC Asheville's 2013 Queer Conference. She graduates with a Bachelor of Arts degree with distinction in women, gender and sexuality studies, with designation as a Community Engaged Scholar and summa cum laude honors. She aspires to become a professor.
The one thing that's really important to me is community service and community building. I've been able to cultivate that on campus and off campus, and my professors have accommodated me, encouraged me and helped push me. My goal is to go to graduate school and get my Ph.D. because I love school and education and can't imagine my life without that. I love teaching, helping others and cultivating leadership in others. – Kaley Fry
Avery Artman received the Manly E. Wright Award, which is presented to the student first in scholarship. Artman earned designation as a University Scholar and University Research Scholar while earning a Bachelor of Science degree in December 2012 with distinction in health and wellness promotion, with a minor in sociology. She completed the Honors Program in three and a half years, maintaining a perfect grade point average. She presented a co-authored paper "Using Written Reflection to Promote Positive Body Image in College Women" at the American Public Health Association Conference, and she presented her undergraduate research project, "Hands-On Homegrown," at the NC SOPHE Conference and the UNC Asheville Undergraduate Research Symposium. Additionally, she was involved with the community organizations ASAP and Asheville-Buncombe Food Policy Council. Her goal is to promote policies that increase access to healthy foods through health communications. She will be entering Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health in the fall.
Profiles of Noteworthy May 2013 Graduates
Micah Prendergast of Black Mountain came to UNC Asheville for a second degree, hoping to jump-start a career in research after first earning a bachelor's degree in philosophy at UNC-Chapel Hill. He has succeeded by leaps and bounds, securing summer internships at the NASA Langley Research Center where he helps to develop small drones capable of vertical take-off and landing that will be used to simulate the air traffic of the future. Next, he will enter the bioengineering Ph.D. program at the University of Colorado Boulder, where he will work on endoscopic robotics in the advanced medical technology lab. At UNC Asheville, he earned a Bachelor of Science with distinction in engineering and summa cum laude honors.
Now that I'm doing engineering, it's still really helpful to me to have studied philosophy and other subjects and to have developed those critical thinking and reasoning skills early on. That's a good thing about the liberal arts program at UNC Asheville – I'm impressed by my engineering classmates' knowledge of many of the social issues that were new to me when I was at Chapel Hill. They get the best of both worlds. – Micah Prendergast
Grace Blaylock of Blue Ridge, Va., came to UNC Asheville as the first step in pursuing her childhood dream of becoming a physician. And she starred on the basketball court as well as in the classroom, leading the Bulldogs in minutes played, 3-pointers, assists and steals during her senior year. She was named to the Big South Conference All-Academic Team. Blaylock graduates with a Bachelor of Science with distinction in health and wellness promotion and magna cum laude honors.
On being a UNC Asheville student-athlete: It put some time restraints on things, but I also knew that I had a good support system through the faculty. I thought it would be challenging, but I knew it would be doable. The coaches always worked things around our class schedules – they know that school comes first. – Grace Blaylock
Graelin Chidsey transferred to UNC Asheville from N.C. State University's engineering program with plans to become a teacher and refocus on her love of literature. While majoring in literature and language, she minored in humanities and earned two teaching licensures, for grades 6-9 language arts and 9-12 English. As she was completing her student teaching at AC Reynolds Middle School this spring, she was asked to take over the class full-time when another teacher went on leave. This August, she will begin teaching eighth-grade humanities at her middle school alma mater, Paisley International Baccalaureate Magnet School in Winston-Salem. She earned a Bachelor of Arts with departmental distinction and cum laude honors.
My UNC Asheville classes included French studies and African art and literature. It is a world-focus model – you learn how people function in society. So I have a solid humanities foundation and I feel really prepared to design and teach the course at Paisley ... it's a great opportunity. – Graelin Chidsey
Sarah Rothman began applying her new media skills professionally while still a student. She was hired to produce animation using motion graphics and video for a Japanese corporation to use in marketing a new product. She has formed her own multimedia company, Rozfire Productions, with services including video, animation, web design and motion graphics. Rothman, a California native who then moved to Fayetteville, N.C., pursued the animation and interactive design tracks in the New Media Department, while working part-time doing videography and production for the university. She graduates with a Bachelor of Arts with distinction in multimedia arts and sciences and magna cum laude honors.
Seeing that animation, the web and video were all combined in one major was one reason I chose the school even though I had been accepted into a few others. Working in video production for the university and experiencing the full process – planning, shooting, editing, graphics and exporting – that's been a great experience. And my study abroad time in Japan has helped me in recognizing the Japanese business culture and handling its quirks. – Sarah Rothman
Steven Gerontakis is the very rare undergraduate who has already earned a book contract with the prestigious Oxford University Press. He and co-author Tracey Rizzo, associate professor of history at UNC Asheville, expect to complete their book, Body and Gender in the Age of Empire, in the fall. Gerontakis also will present his research on a different topic – how the Greek-American community responded to the Ku Klux Klan's anti-Hellenic campaign of the 1920s – at the national conference of the American Historical Association. He is planning to pursue graduate studies at UNC Asheville, with the ultimate aim of becoming a professor. He graduates with a Bachelor of Arts with distinction in history, designation as a University Research Scholar and with summa cum laude honors.
Our book reveals how modern gender and race identities emerged from and were determined by the experience of imperialism. When you examine history, you can see how strongly contemporary culture and attitudes are still influenced by past eras in ways most people don't realize. – Steven Gerontakis
Diane Metzger is headed for graduate school at the Joseph Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver, where she was awarded the dean's scholarship. With her dual major in French and interdisciplinary studies, and her minor in Asian Studies, she takes a global view and is working toward a career in the nonprofit sphere promoting human rights, education and development for women worldwide. She graduates with a Bachelor of Arts with distinction in both of her major areas and cum laude honors.
My most memorable experience was studying abroad in Angers, France, improving my language skills, being immersed in French society and gaining a deeper understanding of the historical and current issues there. I was fortunate that the French presidential elections coincided with my stay. – Diane Metzger
Class of 2013 Facts
Total number of graduates: 730
Spring graduates: 466
Winter graduates: 243
Summer graduates: 21
Youngest graduate: 20
Oldest graduate: 72
Percent from Buncombe County: 29%
Percent from Western North Carolina: 48%
Percent from the Piedmont: 34%
Percent from Eastern North Carolina: 5%
Percent from out-of-state: 13%
Number of states, excluding North Carolina: 23
Number of countries, excluding the U.S.: 6
Most Popular Majors (based on primary major)
Literature and Language: 7%
Interdisciplinary Studies: 6%
Environmental Studies: 6%