May 16, 2009
More than 4,000 family and friends gathered on UNC Asheville's Quadrangle Saturday morning to celebrate UNC Asheville's 2009 graduating class. Some 612 students were honored during the 81st annual Commencement Ceremony, including 365 spring graduates, 221 winter graduates and 26 summer graduates. They were all treated to an impromptu performance by honorary degree recipient Doc Watson as well as an inspiring commencement address by Thomas L. Purce.
Among the students were the first three graduates of the joint UNC Asheville – N.C. State University bachelor of science degree in engineering with a concentration in mechatronics. The students took engineering classes on campus taught by NCSU faculty, along with the regular UNC Asheville coursework. The program was created in response to the express needs of the manufacturing community in Western North Carolina and is one of a very few programs in the country that has a concentration on mechatronics, which incorporates mechanical and electrical engineering. Twins Alan and Daniel Griffee of Weaverville have landed jobs locally, while Esraa Halim will return to Egypt this summer to visit family and consider graduate school.
Early in the commencement ceremony, UNC Asheville Chancellor Anne Ponder awarded honorary degrees to Evergreen College President Thomas L. Purce and legendary musician Arthel "Doc" Watson.
Purce has served as president of Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., a nationally recognized public liberal arts institution, for nine years. Purce has also held top-ranking administrative roles at Washington State University and Idaho State University and was the first black elected official in Idaho, serving as city councilman and then mayor of Pocatello.
Watson, a Western North Carolina native, is a legendary guitar player, songwriter, and singer of bluegrass, folk and country music. Blind since the age of one, Watson became an avid musician. He got his big career break at the Newport Folk Festival in 1963, and recorded his first solo album the following year. Watson has since won seven Grammy Awards, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, the National Medal of the Arts and was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame.
After receiving his honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree, Purce addressed the graduates, urging the students to take a lifelong commitment to education and community service.
"It is not the intention of this university to graduate citizens into the world who think that their only reason for getting an education is to increase their personal income… Personal income is important but so is creating a world community that recognizes the intrinsic importance of every human being on the globe" Purce said.
"As you chart the course of your life, keep your eye on a fixed point," he continued. "Like the navigators of old, find your north star. The knowledge and the values that follow from your strong liberal arts education will be your star."
Asheville native Nicholas Ladd received the William and Ida Friday Award for Community Service. Ladd, who served as student body president this year, was a tireless advocate for students and their access to affordable education. He was also a leading voice on campus for sustainability, especially in reducing the carbon footprint of the residence halls. Over the years, Ladd participated in "alternative" spring breaks, giving his week off to do service projects in Asheville, New Orleans and Huntsville, Ala. A double major in environmental studies and philosophy, Ladd will head to medical school this fall so that he can continue his service to others.
The A.C. Reynolds Award and the Thomas D. Reynolds Prize for Leadership and Campus Service was presented to senior health and wellness promotion major Jewell Gist. Most notably, the Asheville native was instrumental in the opening of the University's new Intercultural Center this spring, which is home to student organizations as well as the offices of Multicultural Student Programs and the Center for Diversity Education. She also worked on pre-orientation programming for new students and coordinating heritage month activities to honor multicultural students.
Megan Miller, a classics major from Tryon, N.C., was named the recipient of the Manly E. Wright Award, which is presented to the student first in scholarship. During her time as a student, Miller conducted research on paleography, earning $6,000 in grants and invitations to present her findings at national conference. Recently, she received the Nina Simone Senior Scholarship Award and was awarded a Fulbright Award to continue her studies in Great Britain, where she has been accepted at Oxford University. While at Oxford, she will be supported by the 2009 Lionel Pearson Fellowship from the American Philological Society. A first generation college student, Miller bested four finalists from Ivy League schools for the $27,000 Pearson scholarship.
During the ceremony, Chancellor Ponder also honored the University's faculty and staff with annual top awards.
John Meyers was named Distinguished Staff Member. Meyers, who serves as the instructional technology consultant in the Center for Teaching and Learning, was instrumental in moving the University to a more flexible and cost-effective online course support tool. He is known campuswide for his enthusiasm and patience in teaching difficult technical concepts to both faculty and staff.
The Distinguished Teacher of the Year Award was presented to Tim Forrest, professor of biology. Forrest, who joined the faculty in 1996, holds a doctorate in entomology from Florida State University. In the classroom, Forrest is noted as being demanding but fair, passionate about his subject, and ready to make the extra effort to help students succeed. One student noted that Forrest is "always available to help, always responsive to my interests, always unflinchingly honest about the quality of my work, he has shown me an example of the working diligence and passionate spirit of a gifted scientist, which is what I aspire to be." During the summers, Forrest coordinates an educational "Bug Camp" for middle school students who are underrepresented in the sciences.
Prior to the close of the ceremony, Chancellor Ponder announced two new UNC Asheville traditions. At the beginning of Commencement, graduates were greeted by an Alumni Bell, a gift of alumni and friends of the University. The large, cast bell will be rung at Convocations and Commencements as well as other official occasions of celebration and remembrance. The University flag was also raised for the first time. The student-designed flag will fly with the American and North Carolina flags on the Quad.
Chancellor Ponder closed the ceremony with a reminder to the graduates.
"Graduates, as you leave here today and go into the world, I know that you will remember fondly your Alma Mater," she said. "May you be assured in the knowledge that the University of North Carolina at Asheville is behind you all the way."
UNC Asheville Class of 2009 Facts
Total number of graduates: 612
365 spring graduates
221 winter graduates
26 summer graduates
Youngest graduate: 20
Oldest graduate: 64
Percent from Buncombe County: 36.8%
Percent from Western North Carolina: 51.0%
Percent from the Piedmont: 28.4%
Percent from Eastern North Carolina: 5.9%
Percent from out-of-state: 14.7%
Number of states represented, excluding North Carolina: 27
Number of countries represented, excluding the U.S.: 3
Most Popular Majors (based on primary major)
Environmental Studies and Sociology: 6.8%
Literature & Language: 6.5%
Art, Health & Wellness Promotion, Mass Communication: 5.6 %
Additional Information for Graduates and Their Families
Photographs: Graduates' photographs will be taken as they receive their diplomas by the Georgia-based company Action International Marketing. After Commencement, the photographer will send purchase information to graduates' permanent addresses on file with the University or click on www.mygradphotos.com to view and order photographs.
Video: DVD copies of the Spring 2009 Commencement will be available after May 26. Please email your name and address to firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve a copy. Please indicate whether you would prefer to have your DVD mailed to you, or if you will be picking it up at the CITS desk, Ramsey Library Room 002 (you will receive your copy sooner by picking up than by mail). DVDs are $5.00 per copy.
Diplomas: Graduates receive their actual diplomas at the ceremony. UNC Asheville's diplomas are 14 inches wide and 11 inches tall. Frames are available in the UNC Asheville Bookstore.
Honorary Degrees: Les Purce and Doc Watson are among a distinguished list of artists, business and civic leaders, educators and philanthropists who have received an honorary degree from UNC Asheville. Click here for a complete history.
Click here for additional images of UNC Asheville's 81st Commencement Ceremony.
Click here for a podcast of Dr. Purce's Commencement Address.