WILSON, N.C. — May 13, 2023 — The sun was shining, and there was a palpable excitement in the air as Barton College graduates and their families gathered on center campus for the 121st Commencement Exercises on Saturday, May 14.
Frank E. Emory, Jr., executive vice president and chief administrative officer for Novant Health in Charlotte, was the featured speaker. His inspirational message, titled “The Distance Between Lessons,” focused on five tests that Barton’s graduates will face along their life journeys. In his remarks, he shared, “From kindergarten until now, the cadence was: sit in class for lessons, study, and then take a test. From today forward, life will bestow upon you a test, and it will be your responsibility to derive the lesson from that test. Please be assured that life will administer the same tests over and over until you recognize, learn, and apply the lessons. By now, you have likely discerned that the distance between life’s lessons is, in fact the test.”
The first of five tests Emory specifically identified during his remarks was discernment, asking how skilled the graduates were in selecting their friends. He said, “The character of the people in your circle will be assigned by others to you; those people’s appetite for aspiration will either push you forward or weigh you down; and their influences will push you toward success or drag you toward failure. The lesson, simply put, is the five people closest to you will determine your destiny.”
The second test is drive. Emory asked the graduates how much they wanted to win? “Are you willing not only to work hard, but to stay up late, get up early, and set ambitious goals?” He explained, “Self-reliance is indispensable, with an added bonus that winners may not flock together, but they know and help each other.”
The third test is “Can you understand and model the power of gratitude?” He noted, “The quality of gratitude forces you to understand that whoever you are, and whatever you achieve, is owed at least in part to the efforts, sacrifices, and support of others. Without gratitude you decay into entitlement. Entitled folks repel others; grateful people succeed and draw others in. Grateful people are genuinely happy for the successes of others. The lesson, he reiterated, “Gratitude impels us to strive, see the possibilities in others, and most important, looking for the value that others bring creates in you a healthy respect for and leverage of your own gifts.
The fourth test was to realize that there are few decisions not worth considering carefully. Emory said, “This is especially true of the values you adopt. Can you treat others with respect, even when you disagree with them? Do you profess to follow a faith tradition? If you were indicted for being a member of that faith, would your life yield evidence sufficient to convict you?” The lesson, he said, “Align your life to be consistent with your core beliefs. You will gain strength, you will be a leader others will follow, and you can live with clarity and purpose. Integrity, intellect, and industry will take you further than any other possession or relationship you have.”
Emory said the final test is to use words carefully. “Treat them like they cost money,” he added. “You will think more clearly and be more persuasive. The lesson here is being concise reduces confusion and ensures that you will stop talking before the people around you have stopped listening.” Emory also challenged the Class of 2023 to begin giving back financially to their alma mater [Barton College]. He said, “Start now and build.” He challenged each graduate to give $25 in the coming year, and he promised to match each of the graduates’ $25 gift. Emory’s speech and his challenge were met with enthusiastic applause.
(Mr. Emory’s full speech is available in the recording of this year’s Commencement Exercises at https://vimeo.com/event/677539.)
Two hundred and sixty-one undergraduate and graduate students participated in the annual commencement exercises held on Saturday morning. Dr. Douglas N. Searcy presided over his eighth commencement program as president of Barton College. Dr. Kevin N. Pennington, vice president for academic affairs, presented the graduating class. Eric Sellers, chair of the Barton College Board of Trustees, presented the Board’s Approval of the Graduating Class.
Participating in this year’s Commencement Exercises were students who completed their baccalaureate degree requirements in December 2022 and May 2023, as well as undergraduate candidates who expect to fulfill requirements over the summer. Also participating were graduates of the Master of Business Administration degree in Strategic Leadership, Master of Science degree in Criminal Justice, Master of Science degree in Kinesiology, Master of Science in Nursing degree, and Master of School Administration degree programs.
The three highest honors presented to Barton students: the Hilley Cup, the Coggins Cup, and the Hemby Leadership Cup, were awarded during the program.
The Hilley Cup, presented annually to the graduating senior with the highest cumulative grade point average, was awarded to four students with a 4.0 cumulative GPA, a first in the College’s history. The four award recipients were Rebecca N. Ashton of DeLand, Fla., who graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration and a Master of Business Administration degree in Strategic Leadership; Sarah Kaempfe of Augsburg, Germany, who graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in Sport Management and a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration, Grace Aiko Roper of Wendell, who graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and a Bachelor of Arts degree in History; and Natalie Claire Sawyer of Mebane, who graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Spanish.
The Coggins Cup, presented annually to the student voted best all-around by the Barton faculty and staff, was awarded to Douglas Herman Flora of Virginia Beach, Va., who graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice Sciences and a Master of Science degree in Criminal Justice.
The Hemby Leadership Cup, presented to the graduating senior who, in the estimation of the college community (including students, faculty and staff), has demonstrated outstanding leadership throughout a career at Barton College was awarded this year to Morgan Tripp of New Bern, who graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Theatre.
In celebration of teaching excellence in the classroom and faculty commitment to student success, the Lincoln Financial Excellence in Teaching Fund Faculty Member of the Year awards were presented to Sherry Lee Allen, director of Theatre at Barton in the School of Visual, Performing, and Communication Arts; and Michael K. Brantley, assistant professor of English in the School of Humanities.
Senior class representative Itzelt Molina addressed the 2023 graduating class.
Amy Denton, class of 1994, president of the Barton College Alumni Association and its Alumni Board, brought greetings to graduating seniors on behalf of the Alumni Association on Saturday.
The Baccalaureate Service was held on Friday afternoon, May 12, in Howard Chapel.
Additional Commencement Week activities included the Hooding Ceremony for the Master of Science in Criminal Justice graduates in the School of Sciences and the Master of Science in Kinesiology graduates in the School of Allied Health and Sport Studies and the Hooding Ceremony for the Master of School Administration graduates in the School of Education held on Thursday. The Hooding Ceremony for the Master of Science in Nursing graduates and the Pinning Ceremony for the Bachelor of Science in Nursing graduates in the School of Nursing and the Hooding Ceremony for the Master of Business Administration in Strategic Leadership graduates was held on Friday.