Resilience Realized: A&T Commemorates Spring 2024 Graduates

By Jackie Torok / 05/11/2024 Alumni, Students

EAST GREENSBORO, N.C. (May 11, 2024) – Many, if not most, of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University’s newest graduates began their higher education journeys in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic. Their journeys now are taking them into a world wracked by social injustice and global unrest.

But these Aggies are fully prepared to rise to any challenge they face – and lead others to do the same – having demonstrated historic resilience and achieved personal preeminence under the direction of Chancellor Harold L. Martin Sr., who is retiring from the helm of his alma mater at the conclusion of this academic year.

More than 1,500 undergraduate, more than 200 master’s and almost 60 doctoral students became members of N.C. A&T’s spring Class of 2024 in commencement ceremonies Friday, May 10, in the Steven Tanger Center for the Performing Arts and Saturday, May 11, at Greensboro Coliseum.

That raises to more than 3,000 the number of estimated graduates for the 2023-24 academic year. Spring 2024 graduate numbers will be finalized in August.

“Throughout the years, I’ve been a part of numerous graduate ceremonies, yet this one holds special significance as my final one as chancellor of this esteemed institution,” said Martin. “It has been a privilege. It has been an extraordinary journey. Thank you for the most memorable 15 years of my career. You have inspired me in remarkable ways.

“Thank you so very much for an incredible 15 years.”

At the first undergraduate ceremony, A&T Board of Trustees Chair Kimberly B. Gatling conferred upon Martin the distinguished status of chancellor emeritus with the board’s unanimous approval. Before presenting him with the framed proclamation, she noted his many accomplishments as the university’s 12th chancellor – and first alumnus in the role – as well as the heights A&T achieved during his tenure.

Martin reminded graduates that their journeys, like his own, are not over.

“Graduates, today marks a pivotal moment in your life as you stand on the threshold of endless possibilities. Your hard work, determination and unwavering commitment to excellence have brought you to this exciting moment and milestone,” he said. “Now as you embark on the next chapter of your lives, remember that the knowledge and skills you have acquired here will serve you as the foundation for an incredibly bright future. Embrace the challenges that lie ahead with courage and confidence knowing that you are equipped to overcome obstacles that may come your way.”

Journalist Tamron Hall, executive producer and host of the nationally syndicated “The Tamron Hall Show,” served as keynote speaker for the two baccalaureate student ceremonies Saturday. The morning ceremony was for College of Engineering, John R. and Kathy R. Hairston College of Health and Human Sciences and College of Science and Technology graduates, while the afternoon ceremony was for College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences (CAES), College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, Willie A. Deese College of Business and Economics and College of Education graduates.

During the latter ceremony, University of North Carolina System Board of Governors Secretary Pearl Burris-Floyd presented Devona Dixon, Ph.D., with a 2024 Excellence in Teaching Award. The award, bestowed by the board, recognizes the extraordinary contributions of faculty members across the UNC System.

Dixon is an associate professor in the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences, housed in CAES. Among her many accomplishments, she has led the successful Tenacity Talks lecture series at A&T in partnership with Harlem’s Fashion Row. She also secured awards from clothier The Gap and the nonprofit Icon 360 to support the university’s Fashion Merchandising and Design Program.

Additionally, Dixon is among the A&T faculty members who have received national certification in evidence-based teaching practices by the Association of College and University.

Hall received a B.A. in broadcast journalism from Temple University, where she serves on the board of trustees, and made history in 2014 as the first African American female co-host of NBC’s “TODAY.”

She has earned many accolades, including two Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Informative Talk Show Host, Gracie Awards from the Alliance for Women in Media Foundation in 2020 and 2022, inclusion on the Variety500 list in 2022, and nominations for 13 Daytime Emmy Awards, four NAACP Image Awards, a GLAAD Media Award and an Iris Award.

“I could see you all on a screen in the back. You didn’t know I was watching you walking in,” Hall told the graduates. “And I saw the most beautiful joyous faces in the world. You were all walking in, hugging each other, your families were walking in, even the babies cried ’cause ya’ll look so good!”

Hall talked about one of her recent show episodes where she discovered she had an ancestor named Tobias from Cumberland County, North Carolina. Tobias, upon being freed from slavery, moved to Texas and changed his last name to represent the person he really was.

“And it made me think of what I wanted to talk with you about today: Your brand. Your name. What it represents for you,” she said.

Hall said she prepared for delivering her remarks by praying for the graduates, their families, their professors and everyone in attendance, including herself.

“I believe greatly in the ability of faith and the things that faith can bring,” she said. “You stepped out on faith and applied to come to this university. You stepped out on faith in the middle of a global pandemic to keep going.”

Hall said she watched a local news report that featured one of A&T’s graduates that showed photos of her wearing a mask in class. It was evidence that nothing went as expected for the Class of 2024.

“All of a sudden, the world changed. And you proved to be more resilient than you ever imagined,” said Hall. “But you also started building a brand.”

“This is your time to show your brand. What is your brand? What do you stand on?” she said. “You are at a pivotal point of establishing your brand. What is your brand? What are you willing right now to say out loud you want?”

Hall said she has a philosophy of betting on herself. She adopted and embraced it after she was publicly fired from a prominent professional role.

“I emerged with God on my side and I emerged with this attitude of betting on myself,” she said. “I extend this attitude to you. Betting on yourself does not mean betting against anyone else. Betting on yourself means, right now, being able to say out loud what you want.”

“I applaud you great human beings! Go out and get it! Go out and run it! Go out and earn it! Go out and show them what Aggie Pride is all about!”

Stephanie G. Adams ‘88, Ph.D., fifth dean of the University of Texas at Dallas Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science, served as keynote speaker for the graduate student ceremony Friday.

“Please allow me just a minute to take all of this in. I was going to pull out my phone and take a selfie, but that just did not seem dignified enough for the occasion, but I have just a second,” said Adams. “Because you see, three decades ago, I quietly whispered a little prayer to the universe – not really a prayer, maybe just a thought or a wish – that one day I might return to my alma mater as a commencement speaker. Today is my confirmation that dreams do come true.”

Adams is an honors graduate of A&T where she received her B.S. in mechanical engineering. She earned an ME in systems engineering in 1991 from the University of Virginia and a Ph.D. in interdisciplinary engineering in 1998 from Texas A&M University. She is past president and Fellow of the American Society of Engineering Education and member of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers Board of Directors, in addition to holding membership in other professional organizations.

In 2003, Adams received the CAREER award from the Engineering Education and Centers Division of the National Science Foundation as a leader in the advancement and inclusion of all in STEM education, in addition to many other professional honors.

“To our graduates, the first thing I encourage you to do when you leave today is to thank those who have supported, encouraged, nurtured, mentored, guided and protected you during this part of your life’s journey,” she said.

Adams recounted her challenges with standardized testing, pausing her higher education journey twice and coping with colleagues who thought she could not achieve tenure in her first faculty position.

“So how is it I am standing on this or any other stage receiving this type of recognition when so many doubted my ability? I am here today because of my resilience,” she said. “To the 2024 graduates, regardless of the path that you have traveled or the challenges that you have faced, your presence here today is a testament to your resilience.

“You’ve achieved this milestone not only because of your intellectual talent but because in the face of life’s challenges, you stayed determined. You showed faith in yourself. You exercised self-discipline. And perhaps you made some personal sacrifices all while completing the requirements for the degree you are earning today.”

Holding a degree from A&T offers exclusive advantages, Adams said. She directed graduates to use them by making a positive difference in the lives of others.

“Don’t spend too much time thinking about your own importance. Having the degree doesn’t make you special, but what you do with it most certainly will,” she said. “You can provide opportunities for those on the margins or those who may not be included or chosen for reasons beyond their control. Because after all, that’s what Aggies Do.”

Media Contact Information: jtorok@ncat.edu

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