05/10/09 — Mount Olive College students graduate Saturday

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Mount Olive College students graduate Saturday

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on May 10, 2009 2:00 AM

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Mount Olive College President Dr. J. William Byrd speaks to the graduating class at Mount Olive College during commencement exercises in Kornegay Arena on Saturday.

Saturday was a day of farewells and new beginnings for the 324 students who received their diplomas at Mount Olive College's 55th spring graduation exercise.

A bright, sunny day and the rest of their lives waited for the new Trojan alumni beyond the doors of the Kornegay Arena, where family and friends cheered, clapped and took photos as the Class of 2009 walked one by one across the stage to accept their degrees.

The students joined the ranks of the more than 500 scholars who previously graduated during the August and December 2008 ceremonies, all together comprising the largest graduating class in the college's history.

Featured speaker state Sen. Don Davis briefly touched on the difficult challenges facing this particular class of new graduates, including the record high unemployment rate and economic downturn, but said he felt the moment was one best filled with advice for the future.

"I'm reminded of my two young boys. As any parent, I want the best for them, and likewise, the best for you," Davis said.

The senator advised the graduates to focus on their passions of living, making a difference and managing the pains that come with life.

"The world needs you to embrace this deep passion. How will you contribute? What will be your imprint? Make sure it reflects who you are, and who you aspire to become," he said.

The ceremony was also significant for the college itself, and a personal milestone for college President Dr. J. William Byrd, who will be leaving in July the office he has held for 14 years. .

"Today is a day for smiles and feeling good. But it is also a day for taking stock. And in this regard, you and I are sharing an experience today," he told the graduates.

"We differ in that it has taken me 14 years to earn closure on my task, and you have completed yours in a much briefer time, hopefully. It may have seemed much longer at times," he said, drawing appreciate laughs from the cap-and-gown crowd.

Dr. Philip Paul Kertstetter, president and chief executive officer of Kansas Wesleyan University in Salina, Kan. will begin serving as Mount Olive's president in July.

The students and their loved ones celebrated the day with a morning worship service and luncheon at the student center before moving to the arena for the afternoon ceremony.

The college honored five students and one faculty member at the commencement ceremony.

Class president Victoria Taylor of Castle Hayne was one of two students to receive the 2009 Martin Award, presented to graduating seniors with the highest academic average among their classmates, and who have completed the full four years' course of study required for a bachelor of science degree. The award includes a $1,000 cash prize. Ms. Taylor earned her bachelor's degree in accounting and graduated with a 4.0 grade-point average after completing 148 semester credits. She graduated summa cum laude.

Carlos "Josh" Marquez of Faison also received the 2009 Martin Award, marking the first time the honor has been conferred on two students in the same year. Marquez graduated summa cum laude with a perfect 4.0 GPA upon completing 129 semester credits at the college. Marquez earned a bachelor of science in computer information systems and a minor in mathematics.

Laura K. Thompson of Kinston received the distinguished Dr. Thomas R. Morris Award for Academic Excellence, a $3,000 cash award presented each year to a graduate dedicated to serious academic pursuit and love and breadth of learning. Ms. Thompson, an honors student, graduated magna cum laude with a 3.96 GPA and a bachelor of arts degree in religion. She also received the Ellen Walker Hurd Award and is a Nido Qubein Scholar.

Gwendolyn K. Babson was honored with the 2009 King Award, presented annually to a nontraditional student who has completed a program at one of the college's six locations. Ms. Babson earned a bachelor of science degree in health care management and is a registered nurse at New Hanover Regional Medical Center. She lives in Winnabow and plans to attend law school at North Carolina Central University this fall. The award includes a $1,000 prize.

Dr. Jerry Sheppard of Goldsboro, an associate professor of history and education at the college, received the 2009 Morris Award for Teaching. Sheppard received his Ph.D. in American history from Texas Tech University and serves as freshman advisor and freshman seminar coordinator.

While the students will move on to new challenges in their lives, they will take with them the heritage and lessons instilled during their time at the college, Byrd said.

"We are glad that you chose Mount Olive College. You are forever a part of the fabric of this place, sharing a destiny with all of your fellow alumni and other graduates who will follow you," he said.

It is a destiny Byrd himself will continue to shape, but in a new role. The former physics professor is set to become Mount Olive College's first chancellor following his retirement, and he will serve as an advisor to the college from his home in New Bern.

Music for the ceremony was provided by the MOC Concert Choir, directed by Dr. Gregg Cannady and the MOC Honors Commencement Band, directed by Dr. Sherri-Marcia Damon.

The senior class of 2009 presented to the college a clock designed by Ty Pennington. The class gift will be displayed in Raper Hall on the college campus.