UNCA celebrates 85th annual commencement, 730 students graduate

Press release

From UNCA News Services:

With poet Nikki Giovanni delivering the commencement address to a crowd of more than 4,000 on the University Quadrangle, UNC Asheville held its 85th annual commencement ceremony Saturday morning, celebrating the 730 graduates of the Class of 2013. Those honored included the 466 May graduates, the 243 students who received degrees in December, and 21 August graduates.

Known for her civil rights advocacy, Giovanni chose a surprising analogy for the graduates – young Christopher Columbus. Separating Columbus from controversy over explorers’ impact upon the peoples they encountered, Giovanni imagined how his mother might have felt as he prepared to embark. “She brings tears to my eyes when I think about his mother because she knows one thing – if she sends her boy out, then she may never see him again,” said Giovanni. “She’s like a lot of parents who encourage their children: ‘Go to college, go get a degree,’ knowing, that if you fulfill that dream, they will not see you again. Or that the ‘you’ that they see will not be the ‘you’ that they saw. You will change. But our faith in our children requires that we send you out.”

Giovanni then urged graduates to “sail on” like Columbus. “He knew that whatever was there, if he fell off the earth, it was better than turning back and saying ‘I can’t do it.’ I come from a generation that could not say to our grandparents … ‘no, we can’t do it, we can’t change America, we can’t stop the war, we can’t make a more just world.’”

Columbus, said Giovanni, “found a new world, and the world was the world of his heart, that there was something to do that had not been done. And I’m saying to you this morning, Class of 2013, you too must sail on. There are issues needing to be resolved. You must sail into that new world. If you fall, if you perish, at least you tried to do something. You must sail on into all of the unknowns and make a better world for every one of us. You can do this … You must. We count on you.”

Giovanni, the author of some 30 books for children and adults and one of America’s most widely read poets, is a University Distinguished Professor at Virginia Tech. She was presented with an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree by UNC Asheville Chancellor Anne Ponder.

Ponder also presented an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree to Asheville native Warren Haynes, the singer, guitarist and songwriter who first gained fame as a member of the Allman Brothers. Haynes has used his annual Christmas Jam concert to bring leading artists to Asheville and to raise more than $1 million for Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity.

After degrees were conferred, Ponder concluded by quoting a line from one of Giovanni’s poems: “’A poem is pure energy.’ That is how we, your family and friends, professors and all of us here at UNC Asheville feel about you, our graduates,” said Ponder. “With great expectations, we send you, our newest graduates, out to make tomorrow’s world a better place. We are so proud of you.”

Student and Faculty Awards

During the ceremony, three graduates received UNC Asheville’s highest student awards. Two top faculty teaching awards were also presented.

Linda Cornett, chair and associate professor of political science, received the 2013 Board of Governors Award for Excellence in Teaching. Cornett, a faculty member for 16 years, is a specialist in world politics and international affairs. She has coached and traveled abroad with students to participate in Model United Nations competitions, conferences, service learning trips to Latin America and the Middle East.

Irene Rossell, professor of environmental studies received the 2013 UNC Asheville Distinguished Teaching Award. A professor who understands the value of the natural classroom that is the woods, mountains and valleys of Western North Carolina, Rossell gets students outdoors with inventive projects. Her research studies with students include wetland seed banks and plant regeneration, effects of dogwood anthracnose on wildlife food availability and the ecology of box turtles.

Kevin Rumley received the William and Ida Friday Award for Service to the Community. A Purple Heart Iraq War veteran, Rumley says his recovery from PTSD was greatly assisted by the community service work he performed as part of his studies. He won plaudits for his work with YMCA community programs, with fall-prevention screening programs for older adults, and with the Community Health Assessment project of the Department of Health and Human Services. Once told he would never walk again because of his war injuries, Rumley, now fully ambulatory, coaches the Special Olympics and works weekly in the Shiloh Community Garden. After graduation, he is continuing his job as a one-to-one worker helping a disabled child, while putting final touches on his band’s new CD and preparing applications for graduate school in public health and social work. Rumley graduates with a Bachelor of Science with distinction in health and wellness promotion, with designation as a University Research Scholar and as a Community Engaged Scholar. He also was co-winner of the Service Learning and Community-Based Scholar of the Year Award.

In health and wellness promotion, we’re working one on one, building relationships, engaging different populations out in the community. As veterans who carry the physical scars and also have PTSD – that can be difficult. But I had supportive faculty, so I really embraced it. And it’s done wonders in healing my PTSD and helping me adjust to issues left over from Iraq and the Marines. – Kevin Rumley

Kaley Fry received the A.C. Reynolds Award and the Thomas D. Reynolds Prize for Leadership and Campus Service. Fry was also named Student Leader of the Year for her work in student and community organizations. While maintaining high grades and holding down two part-time jobs, she put in many hours volunteering at Emma Elementary School and the Children First Family Resource Center based there. She coordinated UNC Asheville students’ participation in Asheville Habitat for Humanity Women Build and is now part of the advocacy team at Asheville Habitat. She founded the student group, Feminist Collective, and served in leadership of two other student organizations. A native of Peru adopted by a female American couple, Fry embodies America’s diversity and has a passion for diversity issues. She assisted university staff and student volunteers in planning and implementing diversity training, and she organized a panel about growing up in LGBTQ interracial families at UNC Asheville’s 2013 Queer Conference. She graduates with a Bachelor of Arts degree with distinction in women, gender and sexuality studies, with designation as a Community Engaged Scholar and summa cum laude honors. She aspires to become a professor.

The one thing that’s really important to me is community service and community building. I’ve been able to cultivate that on campus and off campus, and my professors have accommodated me, encouraged me and helped push me. My goal is to go to graduate school and get my Ph.D. because I love school and education and can’t imagine my life without that. I love teaching, helping others and cultivating leadership in others. – Kaley Fry

Avery Artman received the Manly E. Wright Award, which is presented to the student first in scholarship. Artman earned designation as a University Scholar and University Research Scholar while earning a Bachelor of Science degree in December 2012 with distinction in health and wellness promotion, with a minor in sociology. She completed the Honors Program in three and a half years, maintaining a perfect grade point average. Her undergraduate research project, Hands-On Homegrown, was presented at the North Carolina Society for Public Health Education and at the American Public Health Association Conference in San Francisco. Additionally, she was involved with the community organizations ASAP and Asheville-Buncombe Food Policy Council. Her goal is to promote policies that increase access to healthy foods through health communications. She will be entering Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health in the fall.


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