For Immediate Release
May 12, 2007
Public Information Office
310 Owen Hall, Campus PO 1820
Asheville, NC 28804-8507
828/251-6526 - FAX: 828/251-6677
UNC Asheville Celebrates 79th Annual Commencement;
More than 4,000 family and friends gathered on UNC Asheville's Quadrangle Saturday morning to celebrate UNC Asheville's 2007 graduating class. Some 582 students were honored during the 79th annual Commencement Ceremony, including 381 spring graduates, 162 winter graduates and 41 summer graduates.
Early in the ceremony, UNC Asheville Chancellor Anne Ponder presented honorary degrees to two arts luminaries, esteemed author Ernest Gaines and renowned artist Donald Sultan.
Gaines has been a professor of English and writer-in-residence at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette since 1984. A prolific writer, he received national attention and an audience of millions when his novel "A Lesson Before Dying" was named the Oprah Book Club Selection in October 1997. "A Lesson Before Dying" was also nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and received numerous awards, including the National Book Critics Award and the Southern Book Award. His novel "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman" was made into a television movie that won five Emmy Awards.
Sultan, a successful New York artist, is a native of Asheville and a graduate of UNC Chapel Hill. A painter, printmaker and sculptor, Sultan is widely known for his bold, large-scale treatments of still-life subjects against a dark background. His extensive body of work has been exhibited in some of the most prestigious galleries and museums around the world, including New York's Museum of Modern Art, Australian National Museum, the Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture Gardens of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.
After receiving their honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degrees, both Gaines and Sultan addressed the graduates.
Gaines detailed his personal journey from the days of enforced segregation in Louisiana to today's diverse and global society. He shared with the graduates how the country has changed since his college days in the 1950s.
"African-American students were fighting for the right to sit at lunch counters, to ride in the front of the bus, to drink at water fountains and to go to decent hotels," Gaines said. "Today, the person sitting beside you in the classroom could be of any race or from any country. The person sitting next to you at a lunch counter or staying in the room next to yours in a hotel could have come from anywhere in the world."
Gaines reminded students that within contemporary multicultural society, there is great value. "Today you can travel around any Southern campus – or any campus in the country – and you can find diversity. And it's all for the better. You have a chance to know your neighbor... Take advantage of it."
Sultan peppered his remarks with allusions to classical and modern art as well as with humor. He urged the graduates to become engaged citizens, saying, "Your life should be spent trying to give something to your culture, your friends, your world. You should spend your time in a battle of generosity."
Sultan's closing remarks garnered chuckles from the crowd. He said, "Today is the day when you're being cracked over the head with a bottle of champagne and launched into the sea. I hope your vessel is well built and covered with tar, with a good wind to your back, or a well-oiled engine to carry you on your way – maybe a hybrid." (Click here for a link to Sultan's speech.)
Chancellor Ponder drew upon the extraordinary careers of Gaines and Sultan as role models for UNC Asheville's newest graduates. She urged the students to face challenges and to seek success.
"You will go forward from this day and from this place, and you will challenge the very ideas and concepts that you learned here. And you will make them your own," Ponder said. "You will succeed on your own terms, through your own wisdom and resilience, regardless of what you choose to do. I am entirely confident that those of us who gather here today to celebrate your commencement with you will not be the last to be inspired by your achievements."
Chancellor Ponder honored three graduates with UNC Asheville's highest student awards.
Liam Luttrell-Rowland, an interdisciplinary studies major from Raleigh, receive the William and Ida Friday Award for Community Service. Luttrell-Rowland was a founding member of the Student Diversity Alliance and an active member of the Black Student Association, Asian Students in Asheville and Hillel, the Jewish student organization. He was a longtime tutor at Asheville Middle School and produced an audio documentary about student views on race and racism.
The A.C. Reynolds Award and the Thomas D. Reynolds Prize for Leadership and Campus Service was presented to literature major John Stephens. This Winston-Salem native has worked tirelessly to promote campus awareness of the effect of HIV/AIDS in Africa. He is the founder of the UNC Asheville chapter of the Student Global AIDS Campaign and coordinator of the International Student Leadership Summit on AIDS. Through his work with the Amani Scholars Foundation of Winston-Salem, Stephens coordinated a summer service trip to Kenya for 50 college students to volunteer with orphans who had lost their parents to AIDS.
William Sterling Farley, a music major from Centennial, Col., was named the recipient of the Manly E. Wright Award, which is presented to the student first in scholarship. Farley had the distinction of being the last student to graduate as well as to receive his diploma on a silver platter. Farley, a magna cum laude graduate with distinction as a University Scholar, is a talented musician, was a member of the Honors Program, and completed the top UNC Asheville Undergraduate Research Project in 2007. Farley, who was selected to receive the award by the faculty, was repeatedly lauded by his professors as one of the "best and brightest" students to graduate from UNC Asheville in the past 25 years.
During the ceremony, Chancellor Ponder also honored the University's faculty and staff with annual top awards.
Robert Straub was named Distinguished Staff Member. A 1991 UNC Asheville graduate, Straub joined the permanent, full-time staff in 1998. As associate director of the Highsmith University Union, Straub coordinates activities in the Union and serves as advisor to the International Student Association and Underdog Productions. He is best known for his deep care and concern for students. One graduating senior said of him, "It is people like Robert Straub who make our University a stimulating, active, enjoyable, diverse and overall amazing environment for both learning and living."
The Distinguished Teacher of the Year Award was presented to J. William Miller, professor of environmental studies. Miller, who joined the faculty in 1989, is a well-respected geologist. He has conducted research on the ballast of a shipwreck suspected to be Blackbeard the Pirates' flagship, the Queen Anne's Revenge. He was the lead scientist on a $412,000 National Science Foundation Grant to establish a Center for Imaging and Nondestructive Chemical Analysis, which opened on campus in 2004. In the classroom, Miller is noted for combining rigorous expectation of his students with a genuine concern for their success and supreme teaching skills.
This year, UNC
Asheville's Commencement included a new tradition: the ringing of
the University Victory Bell. At the opening of the ceremony, the
bell was rung five times in honor of UNC Asheville and its four
UNC Asheville Class of 2007 Facts
Total number of graduates: 582 (includes 4 masters of liberal arts graduates)
Most Popular Majors
Additional Information for Graduates and Their Families
Photographs: Graduates' photographs will be taken as they receive their diplomas by the Georgia-based company Action International Marketing. After Commencement, the photographer will send purchase information to graduates' permanent addresses on file with the University. Please contact the Registrar's Office at 828/251-6503 or email@example.com if your address needs updating.
Diplomas: UNC Asheville's diplomas are 14
inches wide and 11 inches tall. Frames are available in the UNC Asheville
Merianne Epstein, UNC Asheville
Public Information Director
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