Cameron Givens, 2, sported a big smile, but wasn’t talking much after the morning’s summer graduation ceremony Aug. 28 at the University of Mount Olive.

Instead, he let his colorful T-shirt do the talking: “My mommy did it and she did it for me.”

Cameron’s mother, Aleysha Givens of Tabor City, had just received her bachelor’s degree in biology from UMO.

She was among the 143 students to receive degrees — associate, bachelor or masters — during the commencement.

Afterward, the graduates gathered outside Kornegay Arena in the relative coolness of the shade for photos and to celebrate their accomplishment.

Earning her degree was a good feeling, Givens said.

Givens said she already has interviews lined up.

“I am excited,” she said. “I am currently working, but I am looking for something better with my degree.”

As for their plans for the rest of the day, Givens said, “we are going to eat, and then we might go to the beach.”

In his welcome, Edward Croom, UMO president, called the event a “joyful occasion.”

“We are gathered here today to celebrate your wonderful accomplishment of graduation and marking the beginning of a new journey in your life,” Croom said. “You are to know that the entire University of Mount Olive family is rejoicing in the completion of your degree.

“As we celebrated the May graduates in a COVID environment last spring, we realized that some of the lessons we learned may help create a new normal, including our graduation ceremonies. The Scriptures speak of seasons. We enter a new season now and have a great influence on what it becomes.

“Your decisions moving forward will have an impact on many facets of our society. One of the greatest decisions we make in life is the showing of appreciation.”

The university held a candle-lighting ceremony for its freshman and transfer students on Aug. 21, he said.

The lighting of the candle symbolized a new day, a new beginning, as those students began their educational pursuits at the university, Croom said.

“I imagine many of you were involved in that ceremony several years ago,” he said. “If you are an adult and graduate programs graduate, perhaps you had a similar ceremony in the past. Regardless, at some point in time you chose to start your pursuit of a higher degree — you lit your candle.

“Over the past three or four years, whatever it has taken, the faculty has provided fuel for your candle, and now it is time for you to allow it to burn bright. The way you allow it to burn bright, and it gets brighter, you do things for others.”

Serving is one of UMO’s focuses, Croom said.

“So, I encourage you as you move forward to find a way to make your community a better place,” he said. “Find time to lift someone up. We have enough in this world tearing us down. Let’s find time to lift each other up.

“Find someone who just needs a pat on the back, and provide that encouragement. I encourage you to find some way to chase your dream, and sometimes your dreams may look a lot different from where you end up. So, always expect the unexpected. I challenge you to reach new heights, to never stop. And whatever you do never let anyone extinguish your flame. You are in control, so you keep it burning for a long time.”

Croom drew a story in the Gospel of Luke of Jesus traveling to Jerusalem with his disciples. He stopped in a village called Bethany and had dinner with Martha and Mary.

Martha was busy preparing the meal while Mary sat at the feet of Jesus. As a matter of fact, Martha got upset that Mary was not helping her, Croom said.

“There is a very important lesson to be learned from that story,” he said. “There is always a time to sit and listen, a time to learn.

“There is also a time for action, a time to put what you’ve learned into action. Now is that time. I look forward to hearing and reading great things about your work.”

After the conferring of degrees and tassel-turning ceremony, Croom offered his personal congratulations to the freshly minted graduates.

“I suspect that when you started your degree programs, it felt like a long time ago,” he said. “But you stayed with it and now have a well-deserved sense of accomplishment. Be proud of your achievement, just as we are proud of you.”

Croom offered his congratulations to the graduates’ families and friends.

“We all realize that what you have accomplished is because of the love, the support, the understanding and the sacrifice of many others,” he said.

“I am pleased that you chose the University of Mount Olive and will remain forever a part of this special academic community. You have my very best wishes for your continued personal and professional success.”

Earl Worley Jr., UMO board of trustees chairman, brought greetings on behalf of the board.

“We are gathered today on a special day to celebrate the accomplishments of this graduating class, who has worked so hard to earn their degrees,” Worley said. “This is truly a great day in their lives as well as the life of the university.”

Worley said, as a UMO graduate, he appreciates the education he received that prepared him for his career but more importantly prepared him for life.

Worley said it is his hope and prayer that the graduates were leaving UMO well prepared intellectually, morally and spiritually to face the world.

“I trust you will take the wonderful memories of your experience here at the university with you,” he said.

He encouraged the gradates to be grateful to all who are close to them who helped make their journey possible.

Todd Telemeco, UMO vice president for academic affairs, presented the graduating class and led the tassel-turning ceremony.

Gregg Paul Sr., Alumni Association president, welcomed the graduates on being UMO alumni.

He spoke of UMO’s humble beginnings receiving its charter in 1951 and initially being named Mount Allen Junior College in 1952 when it had only $6.17 in the bank. The college, originally near Black Mountain, moved to Mount Olive and was later named Mount Olive College prior to becoming UMO.

However, the school was rich in motivation, dedication and faith, Paul said.

“That determination made the university the success it is today,” he said. “Now, the mission of the Alumni Association, that you are now a part of, is to both keep you active and keep connections with you … make sure you are engaged with the university and to encourage you in your individual pursuits while remembering those cherished memories you had while you were here and make new ones.

“My challenge today is to make sure that you represent those who have also gone before you because we, the university, the staff and others stand ready to help. We have tried to equip you with the resources to assist you with the transition from today to your careers.”

Paul encouraged graduates to be engaged with the Alumni Association and in doing so help it to continue to pave the way for current and future UMO students for years to come.