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ASU’s Spring Commencement Speeches Focused on Appreciation, Possibilities and Overcoming Obstacles

BOONE, N.C.—Appalachian State University’s six commencement ceremonies began Friday, May 12, with Chancellor Sheri N. Everts praising the “achievements of our students as they leave Appalachian prepared to make real and powerful differences in their communities and beyond.”

Dr. Sheri N. Everts, chancellor of Appalachian State University, speaks at the Hayes School of Music’s commencement ceremony May 12. Photo by Marie Freeman.

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Appalachian shared the commencement ceremonies via Facebook Live May 12 and 13. Watch them again now.

“I find great hope for your community, state, nation and world in the promise you take forward into a future made all the brighter because of you,” she said.

A total of 3,071 undergraduate students and 400 graduate students received degrees.

Alice Roess, who chairs Appalachian’s Board of Trustees, spoke at each commencement ceremony. In her remarks, she quoted military Gens. Douglas MacArthur and Colin Powell. Roess shared MacArthur’s definition of a leader and Powell’s advice to “remain calm and be kind.”

Students were the featured speakers at five of the college ceremonies, which took place May 12 and 13. The speaker at the Hayes School of Music’s commencement was Mary Luehrsen, director of public affairs and government relations the National Association of Music Merchantss (NAMM). She also serves as the executive director of the NAMM Foundation.

The student speakers reflected Appalachian’s diverse student population. They included an immigrant from Kenya who plans to pursue her law degree, a young mother who completed her degree online and a first-generation college student from a high school where less than 14 percent of her class graduated. In their talks, they recounted life experiences, losses and dreams fulfilled. They expressed appreciation for all who inspired and motivated them, quoting everyone from Thoreau to Harry Potter in the process.

Reich College of Education

During Friday’s events, the Reich College of Education ceremony featured two student speakers. Representing graduate students was Tiffiny Francis of Mooresville, who received a Master of Library Science degree. Representing undergraduates was Emily Stratton of Hendersonville, who received a Bachelor of Science degree in early childhood development birth-kindergarten education.

Francis said she did not expect to change jobs three times and give birth to a daughter during her time at Appalachian.

“Through each of these plot twists, my support system extended beyond my family and friends to my professors and classmates,” she said. “Without their support and encouraging words, the ending I envisioned would not have been possible…We are all in this together.”

While at Appalachian, Francis received the Louise Moore Plybon Library Science Scholarship for outstanding promise in the field of library science. She also worked in the Carrabus County Public Library system in addition to helping build a science and technology program for school-aged children.

As for Stratton, she made the dean’s list several times and was a member of the university’s Child Advocacy Club. She lauded the college’s “passionate professors teaching us how to teach.”

The professors “have inspired us,” she said. “Now it is our turn to pass it on.”

A 2017 graduate of Appalachian State University expresses loyalty during one of six commencement ceremonies that took place May 12 and 13 on the university’s campus. Photo by Marie Freeman.

Hayes School of Music

The Hayes School of Music commencement exercise spotlighted Luehrsen, who works to build support among legislators and others for music education. She spearheaded the development of the SupportMusic Coalition, a NAMM Foundation program that unites non-profits, schools and businesses working to ensure music education is supported in communities everywhere and that all children have the opportunity to learn and grow with music.

“You will succeed because of the training you have received,” Luehrsen told the HSOM graduates. “Learning music is rigorous. It is rigorous training for the brain, for the psyche and for the emotions.”

She also said some music graduates may go into other professions, in which case they will have developed traits that today’s employers want, including creativity, teamwork and the desire to improve.

Above all, she said, “you’ve just got to bring it” – which means pursuing excellence relentlessly.

Beaver College of Health Sciences

Ceremonies continued Friday with commencement for the Beaver College of Health Sciences. The two speakers were Zachary Arrington of Vestavia Hills, Alabama, who received a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, and Denise Presnell of Watauga County, who earned a Master of Social Work.

Arrington made the chancellor’s and dean’s list each semester while at Appalachian. He worked in home health, served as a volunteer pharmacy technician at the Hunger and Health Coalition and completed a pediatric critical care internship at Duke University.

Arrington said he and his classmates were “primed to make history” in their careers not only in their professions but also, for example, by volunteering at a youth center for students with disabilities or leading the “most fantastic” water aerobics class for seniors.

“There is no group with more potential to change the world than us,” he said. “Working in health professions is a privilege…I challenge you to do what is right.”

Presnell, who earned her Bachelor of Social Work from Appalachian in 1993, has been a social worker in Watauga County Schools for the past 24 years. Over the course of her career, Presnell said, Dr. Kellie Reed Ashcraft, a professor in Appalachian’s Department of Social Work, would ask Presnell when she was coming back to Appalachian to get her master’s degree.

“I began to think that might be possible for me,” said Presnell, who is married and has two children. “Sometimes, we are carried through by another’s belief in us when we may not realize our own potential. I challenge you to be that for everyone you come in contact with.”

This moment of triumph says it all for Appalachian’s 2017 graduates, who received their diplomas during commencement ceremonies held May 12 and 13 on campus. Photo by Marie Freeman.

College of Fine and Applied Arts

The events on Saturday, May 13, began with commencement for the College of Fine and Applied Arts. One of the three speakers was Jenna Friday of Hubert, who received a Bachelor of Science in communication. Another was Zachary Sprau of Boone, who received a Master of Science in appropriate technology.

As a high school mom, Friday had to delay her education but promised her grandfather in 2007 that “even if it took 10 years, I would finish college.” In just under 10 years, she completed her degree online.

Her mantra: “It doesn’t matter how slowly you go, as long as you don’t stop.”

While at Appalachian, Sprau received the Cratis D. Williams Graduate School Chancellors Fellowship and worked as a graduate research assistant at the Solar Lab. He spoke to his classmates about friendship and stressed the importance of finding and maintaining friends outside of social media.

“Friendship, like life, is a work in progress,” he said.

Also speaking at the commencement for the College of Fine and Applied Arts was Lt. Col. William Burley, a professor of military science and leadership of the Reserve Officer Training Corps at Appalachian. He said that Appalachian’s graduating students of military science and leadership “will leave Appalachian to lead America’s sons and daughters in ambiguous and dangerous situations: liberating the oppressed, creating calm from chaos and standing as the voice for societies that have no voice.” He challenged those graduating to “lead with courage, integrity, selfless service, humility and continue to bring honor to this great university.”

Walker College of Business

The Walker College of Business’ two speakers were Samantha Bender of Philadelphia, who earned a BSBA in marketing, and Dylan Galloway of Madison, who earned both an MBA and a Master of Public Administration degree.

While at Appalachian, Bender accomplished a lot, creating everything from a “Positive Post-it Day” to landing a Holland Fellowship for Business Study in Asia. She said she came to Appalachian poor and from a high school where less than 14 percent of her class graduated.

She called studying at Appalachian “a worthy investment” because of professors who often offered what no textbook could and because of classmates who motivated her to be better.

“Thank you all for elevating me beyond my wildest expectations,” she said.

Galloway has already secured a job, serving as the business services coordinator for the Northwest Workforce Development Board of the Piedmont Triad Regional Council.

In his graduation remarks, Galloway recalled what his 11th grade math teacher told him after he received a “terrible” SAT score in math.

“I was told I was only going to be as good as my SAT score,” he said. “I made a promise to prove her wrong. Both (my degrees) have a great deal of math.”

College of Arts and Sciences

Galloway recounted the same story as a speaker during commencement for the College of Arts and Sciences. Naula Ndugga of Chapel Hill also spoke at the College of Arts and Science event.

Ndugga, who came to the United States 10 years ago with her family from Kenya, received a Bachelor of Science degree in political science. While at Appalachian, she was a member of numerous honors societies and committees. She plans to head to Washington, D.C., for internships and to prepare for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). She urged her fellow graduates to rely on their pasts to guide their future pursuits.

“Every step in my journey has built me to where I am now,” she said.

Dylan Galloway of Madison, who earned both an MBA and a Master of Public Administration degree from Appalachian State University, spoke at two commencement ceremonies May 13 on campus. Photo by Marie Freeman.