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Life’s Lessons Shared With Appalachian State University Graduates During May Commencement

May 14, 2013. Graduates of Appalachian State University heard words of wisdom before embarking on careers in North Carolina, the nation and the world. Ceremonies were held May 10-12 for each of the university’s degree-granting colleges or schools.

College of Health Sciences

commencementDr. Brenda White Wright, who serves on Appalachian’s Board of Trustees, addressed graduates of the College of Health Sciences on May 11. Wright told graduates to “unplug and disconnect” from their technological toys and take time each day for quiet reflection. “Use this time to think, to dream, to vision, to pray, to meditate, to consider possibilities not probabilities for your life,” she said.

Wright, who is a motivational speaker and diversity consultant, also spoke of the importance of developing a plan of action for their personal and professional lives, to exercise physically, mentally and spiritually. “In order to live a balanced life, I believe that those are not optional. For you to effectively deal with life’s constant challenges, physical energy, mental toughness and spiritual reinforcement are required,” she said.

Reich College of Education

Dr. Charles Duke, speaking at the Reich College of Education commencement, had words of advice for future teachers and other education professionals as they begin their careers.

“Although you are graduating today, and you think you know a great deal, what you are going to find out is that you don’t know very much at all,” he said. “You are going to be continuing to learn throughout the rest of your professional lives, and that is going to make you strong. You must seek that learning, you must work for that learning if you are to grow.”

He urged graduates to create the environment that will lead to success. “People take their cues from other people. If you have a positive attitude, if you show that you can lead and can have results, others will begin to notice that and will want to associate with you,” he said. “You will also find that your working environment changes for the better.”

Duke will retire in June after serving 18 years as dean of Appalachian’s Reich College of Education.

Walker College of Business

Frank Stewart, president of Ultra Machine and Fabrication, spoke to graduates of the Walker College of Business about the role of passion in a successful career.

He said passion is “a strong and barely controllable emotion, a strongly felt emotion… Passion flows from purpose and in living your purpose, you live life with passion.” 

His advice to those about to enter the workforce was to find out what they are really passionate about. He said that, as a company CEO, by the time a potential employee comes to his office he or she has been interviewed by human resources and other company personnel. “I know they are competent,” Stewart said. “I am more interested in knowing what you are about, what really lights your fire, what is it that you are going to bring into a business that makes a difference. Businesses are interested in passionate people.”

Stewart is a member of the Walker College of Business Advisory Council.

College of Arts and Sciences

Dr. Henry Perry challenged graduates of the College of Arts and Sciences and University College to find solutions to the problems of global poverty, illiteracy and disease.

“The world needs champions in the cause of public education for the isolated and forgotten children in low income countries,” he said. “Basic education for all young people, especially for girls, is the greatest engine of development.”

Perry is a member of the faculty at John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and founded the NGO Andean Rural Health Care (now Curamericas). He has worked in a variety of underserved areas of the world.

He said that more than 122 million young people in the world are illiterate and that more than 1 billion people love in poverty.

“Given the financial resources and technical knowledge in our world today, this is no longer morally acceptable,” Perry said. “Our failure to recognize our responsibility to our sisters and brothers living in poverty is one of the great moral challenges of our time. The opportunity is yours to envision and to help bring about sooner rather than later a world in which every person everywhere has the opportunity to obtain an education, to become a healthy and productive member of society and to live a life of dignity.”

Hayes School of Music

“Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls,” said retired recording engineer Jack Renner as he shared the words of writer and mythologist Joseph Campbell with graduates of the Hayes School of Music.

Renner used his own career as an example of following one’s bliss. When Renner enrolled in college, he wanted to be a professional musician. The head of the music school, however, urged Renner to obtain a music education degree and a performance minor. His experiences as a school teacher opened the doors to audio recording, something he developed a deep passion for, and as a result a more than 50-year career in the recording industry.

“I believe there are no such things as coincidences,” Renner said of his eventual career. “Things happen for a reason and are a result of positive thoughts. Trust your inner being, follow your bliss, put your positive thoughts out there, follow your chosen paths and hang on. You will be in for a fun ride.”

Renner is retired chairman, CEO and chief recording engineer of Telarc Records.

College of Fine and Applied Arts

When Amy E. Armstrong graduated from college, she had her future figured out, or so she thought. Armstrong spent four years with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources managing a population of endangered birds, hiking through forests and climbing trees as part of her work.

“It seemed like a perfect plan and then I realized sometimes life takes a turn we don’t expect at all,” she told graduates of the College of Fine and Applied Arts.

An accident left her a paraplegic.

Armstrong  found another way to follow her plan of protecting the environment by earning a law degree and joining the South Carolina Environmental Law Project, of which she is now president and executive director.  She represents environmental and citizens groups before state and federal courts and agencies in their efforts to protect and preserve natural resources.

“Life can bring about unexpected challenges, but to be successful in life is to face those challenges, to recognize them as opportunities for growth,” she said. “You should listen to your inner voice when you have those challenges and opportunities and think about what your passions and desires are.”

Cratis D. Williams Graduate School

Jason Stockbridge, president of Appalachian’s Graduate Student Association Senate (GSA), gave closing remarks at the Cratis D. Williams Graduate School ceremony. “No doubt you have experienced some obstacles along your path,” Stockbridge told graduates.

“Along our journey we have taken many roads ‘less traveled’ but we are here now to celebrate our achievement. Now let’s focus on the future and go out and make App State proud,” he said.

Stockbridge earned a master’s degree in higher education.