Spring 2023 Graduates: “Create Your Own Blueprint”

By Jackie Torok / 05/13/2023 Students

EAST GREENSBORO, N.C. (May 13, 2023) – North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University’s most recent graduates have not just been celebrated as new alumni, but as change agents charged with making a positive impact in all their future endeavors.

Related: Spring 2023 Commencement

Nearly 1,500 undergraduate, more than 300 master’s and almost 60 doctoral students – as well as about 50 students from the Joint Programs in Social Work with the University of North Carolina-Greensboro – participated in three separate ceremonies.

Chancellor Harold L. Martin Sr. encouraged every graduate to maintain a passion for work and life.

“Use your skills to serve as a catalyst for change, to improve our society, be innovative and creative and passionate,” he said, “and certainly – per our mission – use your skills to catalyze improvements in our community, impact the human condition and enhance economic competitiveness throughout our communities, throughout our region, throughout our state and throughout the nation.

“But equally as important, if not more so: enjoy your lives and enjoy your careers, for you have earned the right to celebrate in very significant ways.”

Joel Ford ’92, a member of the University of North Carolina System Board of Governors, echoed those sentiments as he presented N.C. A&T’s Meeshay Wheeler-Williams, Ph.D., with a 2023 Excellence in Teaching Award. The award, bestowed by the board, recognizes the extraordinary contributions of faculty members across the UNC System.

Williams-Wheeler is an associate professor and program coordinator of child development and family studies as well as coordinator of the Child Development and Family Studies Program in the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences, housed in the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences (CAES), where she also coordinates the minor in child development and family studies. She is a Certified Family Life Educator and serves as co-advisor of the nationally-approved Family Life Education Certification program – the only one at a state-supported historically Black college or university.

NAACP Image Award-winning actor Morris Chestnut served as keynote speaker for the two baccalaureate student ceremonies Saturday, May 13, in Greensboro Coliseum. The morning ceremony was CAES, College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, Willie A. Deese College of Business and Economics and College of Education graduates, while the afternoon ceremony was for College of Engineering, John R. and Kathy R. Hairston College of Health and Human Sciences and College of Science and Technology (CoST) graduates.

Having enjoyed tremendous success as a film and television star for more than two decades, Chestnut is best known for his memorable performances in “Boyz in the Hood,” “The Brothers,” “The Perfect Holiday,” “Think Like a Man,” “The Best Man” and its successful sequel, “The Best Man Holiday.” A cast member of the current Fox drama, “The Resident” as Dr. Barrett Cain, he earned a 2014 NAACP Image Award in the category of “Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series” for his work in Showtime’s series “Nurse Jackie.”

After greeting all in attendance with a thunderous “Aggie Pride!” Chestnut congratulated the new graduates for joining a network of more than 70,000 A&T alumni who preceded them. He also called for a standing ovation for their family, friends and mentors whose sacrifices made it possible for them to earn their degrees.

Chestnut shared a story from his childhood when he and his brother disobeyed their mother by dismantling their bunk bed, making it impossible for her to enter their small bedroom and for them to escape it.

The experience taught Chestnut three valuable lessons: always listen to your mother, don’t drink a lot of water right before bedtime, and “make sure your door opens both ways so your dreams can get out and your blessings can get in.”

During Chestnut’s time at California State University, Northridge, he developed a personal blueprint – based on the pillars of character and discipline – that still guides his life.

“Talent only gets you in the door. It’s going to be your character that keeps you in the room and gets you invited back,” he said. “Discipline isn’t just about doing what it takes to get what you want. Real discipline is sometimes about letting go of what you love … to gain something that I wanted and needed.”

“North Carolina A&T graduates, I challenge you to create your own blueprint. Create your own reality,” he said. “Insist that the gifts that God gave you be given back to the world.”

Chestnut also reminded graduates to make sure that their character and discipline are such that the university that guided and nurtured them is proud enough to welcome them back.

“You are legends in the making. Legends,” he said. “You are your ancestors’ wildest dreams come true. They dreamed of you. They dreamed of this for you.

“Now if those dreams start to feel as claustrophobic as possibly my childhood bedroom, just stay the course. Stay the course. Keep the faith.”

Robert H. Newman, Ph.D., A&T Nathan F. Simms Distinguished Professor in the Department of Biology, was keynote speaker for the graduate student ceremony Friday afternoon, May 12, in Novant Health Fieldhouse at Greensboro Coliseum.

Since Newman joined the CoST faculty in 2012, many of his undergraduate and graduate students have gone on to pursue Ph.D. degrees and postdoctoral training at some of the nation’s leading institutions. Among the many accolades Newman has garnered for teaching and research are the Provost’s Award for Faculty Excellence in Undergraduate Research Mentoring for the 2022-23 academic year, the UNC Board of Governors’ Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2022, the N.C. A&T Outstanding Young Investigator Award and the Junior Faculty Teaching Excellence Award in 2016.

Newman likened graduates’ experiences to the work of enzymes in molecular biology’s vital processes, noting that as A&T alumni they are now part of the university’s rich legacy of catalysts in development, innovation, education, leadership, art and social justice.

“But as much as I would love to talk with you about enzymes all day, today isn’t about biochemistry – at least, not solely about biochemistry,” he said. “Instead, it’s about you, the most recent graduates of North Carolina A&T State University. Today is the culmination of years of hard work, perseverance and intellectual growth. Today, we celebrate you and your many achievements.”

By earning an advanced degree from A&T, Newman said, these graduates have entered exclusive company and have positioned themselves to be leaders in their respective fields, giving them influence in those fields and throughout society.

“There will almost certainly be times when you must choose between serving your own needs and serving the needs of others, times when you must decide whether you will remain in the shadows or shine as a light in the darkness. In those situations, I hope that you will remember your time at N.C. A&T and choose to catalyze kindness and to catalyze light – because that’s what Aggies Do.”

“Indeed, it has taken deliberate steps to get to this moment, but you have accomplished a major goal. Certainly there are many more to come,” said Martin. “Graduation is a significant and life-changing milestone. Take it in, remember the moments, enjoy this instant in time.

“Congratulations, graduates.”

Media Contact Information: jtorok@ncat.edu

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