By Jessica Stump
The palpable excitement of Appalachian State University’s Class of 2019 — nearly 4,000 students — was evident throughout Friday and Saturday’s commencement exercises. Graduates — including a student veteran, two App State Online students, a bilingual special education major and an aspiring doctor who is an advocate for rural health care — addressed crowds that in turn shared cheers, tears, hugs and laughter.
During six commencement ceremonies, approximately 525 graduate students and 3,293 undergraduates decked in black and gold regalia crossed the platforms in the university’s Holmes Convocation Center and Rosen Concert Hall to receive their degrees, turning their tassels toward their future.
To the Class of 2019, Chancellor Sheri Everts said, “We celebrate as our students leave Appalachian prepared to make real and powerful differences in their communities and beyond.
“A university campus is an amazing place of confluence where great leaders and ideas emerge for the betterment of society, and Appalachian is a shining example of this work. … Students come to this special place, 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.”
Commencement ceremonies for the Reich College of Education (RCOE), Hayes School of Music (HSOM) and Beaver College of Health Sciences (BCHS) were held Friday, and the ceremonies for the College of Fine and Applied Arts, Walker College of Business (WCOB) and College of Arts and Sciences took place Saturday.
C. Philip Byers ’85, an Appalachian alumnus and member of the University of North Carolina Board of Governors, brought greetings to Appalachian’s graduates on behalf of the UNC Board of Governors, UNC System Interim President William Roper and the UNC System Office staff.
“Graduates, your education at Appalachian State University has provided you the knowledge and skills you will need to achieve the goals and challenges you set forth. As a graduate of this institution, you now wield something even more powerful than the diploma you will receive — and that is the power of your example. You are ambassadors of this institution. Your futures are beckoning you,” Byers said.
Additionally, John M. Blackburn, chair of Appalachian’s Board of Trustees, extended congratulations and best wishes to the 2019 graduates on behalf of the board. “As you begin a new phase in your life, we are confident that you are prepared for whatever challenges lie ahead,” he said.
Jeff Merritt ’89, president of Appalachian’s Alumni Council, also spoke to the graduating class, bringing greetings and congratulations on behalf of more than 128,000 alumni Mountaineers. “You join almost 120 years of Appalachian alumni and are part of a great tradition of Mountaineers who make an impact all over the globe,” he said.
“You will always be a part of Appalachian and you are our most enduring legacy,” Everts said in her closing remarks. “I congratulate each of you on your achievements and celebrate the hope for our community, state, nation and world you take forward into a future made all the brighter because of you.”
Reich College of Education
Friday’s events began with the Reich College of Education (RCOE) commencement ceremony, which featured two student speakers: Carmen Gray, of Columbus, Georgia, and Alex Trejo-Sanchez, who is from Zimapan Hidalgo, Mexico, and grew up in Lincolnton. Trejo-Sanchez earned a dual Bachelor of Science in special education and psychology, and Gary graduated with a Master of Arts in marriage and family therapy.
In his commencement speech, Trejo-Sanchez offered a definition of opportunity taken from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary: “A set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something.”
“We don’t all have equal opportunity. However, we all have the opportunity to be and do better. We all have the opportunity to learn more today than we did yesterday,” he said.
“Sitting before me, I have the next generation of educators who will hopefully go out there and look at each individual student as an opportunity of hope. It is not an exaggeration to say that a great educator can change a student’s life,” he added.
Trejo-Sanchez also delivered comments in Spanish to his parents, who were in the attendance. “Both have given me the best gift they could ever give me: my education,” he said of his parents. “They have pushed me to be the best I could be, encouraged me to aim high, caught me when I fell, and have supported me the entire way.”
Trejo-Sanchez will continue his education at Appalachian, pursuing a master’s degree in special education with a concentration in specific learning disabilities, emotional behavior disorder and autism spectrum disorder.
To her fellow RCOE graduates, Gray said, “Take a moment right now to bask in the fact that you’ve overcome every obstacle that has been put in your way thus far. You should be proud of all you have accomplished.”
“Graduation is only the beginning of our journeys. Now, we must look ahead and see how we can bring our passion and our newly gained knowledge to our respective fields,” she added. “We’ve all chosen paths where our impact can affect the lives of generations to come, so we not only have the opportunity, but also the responsibility to make sure the impact we leave is a positive one.”
Gray shared that her journey for social justice began at an early age, when her dad introduced her to the characters of Marvel’s X-Men, Avengers and Justice League. “These characters were the definition of equity in action,” she said.
Gray said, “It is our responsibility to use that education to build bridges across cultural barriers, so our services are accessible to as many people as possible.”
In the fall, Gray will attend Kansas State University, where she will pursue a Ph.D. in couple and family therapy.
Hayes School of Music
Dr. Angela Myles Beeching, a music career coach and the author of “Beyond Talent: Creating a Successful Career in Music,” was the featured speaker at the commencement ceremony for the Hayes School of Music (HSOM). She has conducted career development workshops for students and faculty in the HSOM, a project supported by the Appalachian State University Parents Fund.
Beeching spoke to HSOM graduates about challenges specific to musicians. “For sure, each of you is going to encounter challenges, the inevitable bumps along the road; those moments, those days, those months when you ask yourself, ‘What am I doing with my life?’” she said.
Beeching advised HSOM graduates that, in order to avoid roadblocks in their future, they should never lose sight of their sense of purpose — “your mission in life is like a treasure … It fuels your interactions with others, it can fuel your work and your entire life,” she said.
“You’ve gained the tools for changing the world. So don’t ever let anyone tell you that what you do doesn’t matter. The world needs your talent, your energy, your efforts, your all. So bring it on,” she concluded.
A Fulbright Scholar, Beeching holds a doctorate in cello performance from Stony Brook University and maintains a thriving consulting practice, helping individuals, ensembles and organizations facilitate change. She is the former director of career and entrepreneurship programs at the Manhattan School of Music, Indiana University and New England Conservatory of Music.
Beaver College of Health Sciences
Friday’s festivities concluded with the commencement ceremony for the Beaver College of Health Sciences (BCHS).
Kristin Marie Agee ’17, of Belmont — one of two student speakers in the ceremony — holds a B.S. in communication sciences and disorders from Appalachian. She graduated Friday with an M.S. in speech-language pathology.
“This is a special time for the Beaver College of Health Sciences. Less than a decade ago, this college did not exist,” Agee said. “Today, over 3,500 students are being trained by distinguished faculty and staff to meet the healthcare needs of the state and region in the new Leon Levine Hall of Health Sciences and right here in the Holmes Convocation Center. The investment this university is making in our futures is as clear as our call to serve.”
Agee is a recipient of the Hillery H. Rink Jr. Scottish Rite Graduate Scholarship for Speech-Language Pathology and played an instrumental role in planning the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders’ first hooding ceremony for the speech-language pathology graduates. She plans to complete her clinical fellowship year in a medical-based setting.
Vanna Lorraine Labi, who was born in the mountains of the Philippines and raised in the mountains of Candler, was the second student speaker for the BCHS. She graduated with a B.S. in public health with a minor in general studies.
As a transfer student, Labi said she never expected to become invested in both the BCHS and the Appalachian Community. “The Beaver College of Health Sciences, without a doubt, is so special,” she said.
“While I am grateful to have somehow landed in one of only ten accredited undergraduate public health programs in the nation, I am most grateful for the people that this college placed in my path. … you will find students who celebrate each other’s wins and encourage one another through losses. … You will find faculty who, despite their overwhelming whiteboards filled with tasks, take the time to mentor students or simply act as a sounding board for ideas.”
Following graduation, Labi will attend the University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Global Public Health to earn a Master of Public Health. Afterward, she plans to pursue a medical degree to serve as a physician and public health advocate in rural Appalachia.
College of Fine and Applied Arts
Commencement ceremonies on Saturday began with the College of Fine and Applied Arts. The student speakers for the college were Roy Dale Cox, of Birmingham, Alabama, and Chris Stevens, of Davison, Michigan.
Cox, who graduated with a B.A. in theatre arts with a concentration in performance and a B.A. in political science, highlighted that he and many of his fellow graduates “chose to be uncommon.”
“We are bold. We had the courage to pursue a major that fit us, like art, military science and leadership or sustainable technology and the built environment. … we challenged ourselves and unapologetically chose to pursue our passion … and captured the mere essence of things between our dreams and reality,” he explained.
“As I stand here and look at the graduating Class of 2019, I see leaders, innovators, award winners, and change agents who are and will be shaping and molding how we interact in the world,” Cox said. “As our generation write the narrative of the future, we will definitely need to project our uncommon collective voices.”
After graduating, Cox plans to work with his agent to continue auditioning for acting opportunities on the stage and screen to further his career as an actor.
Stevens, who studied physics at Michigan State University, served five years active duty in the United States Navy before enrolling in Appalachian’s appropriate technology graduate program.
“Serving in the Navy allowed me to grow in ways that would not have been possible otherwise,” he said. “The chance to experience other cultures is something that many of you have had here at Appalachian, where the slogan, ‘Global Learning: A World of Opportunity,’ is more than just a saying, but reflects a deep commitment to multicultural understandings.”
He said Appalachian has afforded him “great educational opportunities while fostering a great sense of community” for which he “will forever be grateful.”
Stevens, who graduated with a Master of Science in technology with a concentration in appropriate technology, said he will continue working at Carolina Solar Services, helping oversee its operations department.
Walker College of Business
The commencement ceremony for the Walker College of Business (WCOB) took place on Saturday afternoon. WCOB graduates Michelle Jeanniton-Garrett, a New York native who moved to Indian Trail in 2006, and Todd Parsons ’08, of Cornelius, shared lessons learned through their Appalachian Experience.
Jeanniton-Garrett, who graduated with a BSBA in management, said, after enrolling in the App State Online program, she realized it was her responsibility to find who she was, what she wanted to do with her life and make her dreams become reality.
She offered her fellow WCOB graduates this advice: “Each of us is on our own path, and some of us get to our destinations more quickly. Your story is yours and yours alone. Have compassion for yourself and others, because your story, your testimony and your transformation will inspire others. Remember, this is just the beginning of our story.”
After graduating, Jeanniton-Garrett will continue her education at Appalachian by pursing a Master of Business Administration (MBA).
Parsons, who holds a dual BSBA in economics and marketing from Appalachian’s WCOB, graduated with an MBA, which he completed through App State Online.
As a two-time graduate of the university, Parsons said, “I know what it means to be a Mountaineer. As Mountaineers, we have a reputation of being resilient and driven.”
While at Appalachian, Parsons said his “mindset was changed from being required to learn to being empowered by knowledge.” And he challenged the WCOB graduating class to “be cautious of ideas that reinforce your own beliefs.”
He ended his talk by stating that the most important lesson he has learned, and one he wishes to impart to other graduates, is to prioritize the Appalachian network of classmates, faculty and staff.
“As Appalachian alumni, you have an automatic connection to some of the most successful business professionals in the industry,” he said. “And from my experience, there also some of the most generous with their time, so make sure you take advantage of it. We are lucky to call ourselves Mountaineers.”
Parsons plans to continue to grow his career at Ingersoll Rand, where he worked full time while completing his graduate degree.
College of Arts and Sciences
The final ceremony of spring commencement celebrated the graduates from Appalachian’s College of Arts and Sciences. The featured speakers for this occasion were Samantha J. Malone, of Cary, who graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in biology with a minor in chemistry, and Toronto J. Thomas ’17, of Atlanta, Georgia, who earned an MPA with a concentration in public management. Thomas also holds a B.S. in health promotions from Appalachian.
To her fellow graduates, Malone posed this challenge: “Wherever you go, whatever you do, I want you to find a way to be of service to your community.”
“Our university strives not only to educate its students in preparation for future success but to create globally minded and engaged citizens prepared to be of service to others,” she said. “If you can find a way to incorporate acts of service in your day-to-day life, I guarantee that the gift will be returned to you in full, as you grow into the kind of person who is kind, generous and thoughtful.”
Malone plans to apply to medical school after graduating, pursuing either a Doctor of Medicine or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine. Eventually, she hopes to return to Appalachia as a primary care physician and work with medically underserved communities.
Thomas, who was a four-year letterman for Appalachian’s football team and a graduate assistant for the sports administration team, said the first time he visited Appalachian’s campus, “it immediately felt like home.”
“No matter where you go,” Thomas said to his graduating classmates, “you will always be associated with Appalachian State University. And this means that you will forever be a reflection of what you learned here, not only in the classrooms but in day-to-day life.
“You should approach the world, and your next adventure by working hard, treating people right and doing the right thing, because here at Appalachian State, there is no other way,” he said.
After graduating, Thomas plans to stay on the East Coast and pursue a career in sports administration.