Governor tells grads to have focus, persistence
SALISBURY — As he held up a pair of red boxing gloves, Gov. Pat McCrory encouraged the Catawba College Class of 2013 to “keep swinging” no matter what they face.
McCrory gave the keynote speech during the Saturday morning graduation ceremony at Catawba, where he received a diploma himself in 1978.
McCrory said the graduates not only have been trained for careers in fields like education and biology, they also have developed their “intellectual character.”
But he said there are still many important lessons to come.
“Since I left Catawba as a student, I’ve learned the value of focus and persistence,” McCrory said.
Focusing means not only keeping your priorities in order, he said, but also refusing to be distracted by “side and peripheral issues.” McCrory said he has found this to be especially important in politics.
It’s also important to keep moving forward, he said, and to have persistence in the face of obstacles.
“Do not be afraid to fail, try again, but do it more strategically and work harder,” he said. “I wouldn’t be here before you as the 74th governor of North Carolina if I hadn’t been focused, and if I hadn’t been willing to try again.”
That’s where the two red boxing gloves come in.
Former heavyweight champion George Foreman gave those gloves to McCrory after he lost the gubernatorial race in 2008.
“Losing an election, whether it be for student body president or for governor of North Carolina, bruises your ego,” McCrory said. “But losing in my adopted hometown of Charlotte really tore at my heart.”
Charlotte had elected him as mayor seven times before then.
He and Foreman met and talked about the loss, and soon afterward, he received the gloves in the mail.
On the right glove was written, “Patrick, with this hand I missed a lot, but I kept swinging. Your friend, George Foreman.”
The left glove read, “I had to reach out and forgive Africa. They pulled against me in 1974. For you, the best is yet to come.”
That inscription was a reference to Foreman’s loss to Muhammad Ali in Zaire, when the African audience booed Foreman.
After reeling from that defeat, the boxer recovered, started training again and reclaimed the title of heavyweight champion in 1994.
George Foreman also went on to make a grill, McCrory noted — with a chuckle — for the younger members of the audience.
It was during McCrory’s second bid for governor that he won the office in 2012.
“I hang these gloves now in the governor’s office, where they will be returned tomorrow,” McCrory said. “They’re always in front of me to make sure that I keep swinging.”
McCrory could not attend the afternoon ceremony for graduates of the School of Evening and Graduate Studies, but he passed along a congratulatory message.
Jeremy Gardner, a political science graduate at Catawba College, said he met McCrory four times before he was governor but was still excited to see him speak Saturday.
“It was just so fitting to me to see a man that started here and reached his aspirations,” Gardner said. “He gave a great speech ... He tries to be a Catawba alumni, not a politician, when he comes here. That’s one thing I truly enjoy about him.”
Gardner said his graduation is “bittersweet,” because he loves Catawba.
“With it being such a small school, my professsors know who I am,” he said. “That one-on-one interaction, even to this day and this morning, from my professors is what I’m going to miss the most, because most of them are my mentors.”
But Gardner is also excited to start his new job as an administrative assistant for KKA Architecture in Salisbury.
Ashley Gardner, Jeremy’s twin sister, said she’s very proud of her brother.
“My mind is blown,” she said. “I can’t believe it’s been four years and he’s done.”
In total, 279 Catawba students were awarded bachelor’s degrees and eight were awarded master’s degrees on Saturday.
Families from all over the state, the country and even the world came to Salisbury to celebrate their loved ones’ achievements.
Leah Constan-Tatos walked across the stage in front of family members from Boston and from her hometown of Johannesburg, South Africa.
“We’re really thrilled,” said her mother, Sheelagh. “She’s been very, very happy here, and she’s done exceptionally well.”
Sheelagh Constan-Tatos said she and her daughter “Skyped nearly every day.”
She said the family flew 16 hours to New York before taking another airplane to arrive in North Carolina, but “it was worth it.”
Constan-Tatos said it meant a lot to her that her family was there Saturday. She came to Catawba to participate on its swim team and study accounting, and she will soon begin studies at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind.
“I’m looking forward to this new chapter, but I’m going to miss it here as well,” she said. “I love the one-on-one with the faculty, and I’ve gotten to interact with a lot of different students because it’s such a small school. I think that’s what I love about it.”
During the graduation ceremony, Provost Dr. W. Richard Stephens Jr. recognized retiring members of the faculty, Dr. James M. Beard, Dr. John B. Green Jr. and Dr. Cynthia B. Osterhus.
President Brien Lewis then presented the O.B. Michael Distinguished Alumnus Award to Dr. William Guy Rich (class of 1961). In addition, he presented the Whitener Medals to graduates Chelsea Michele Starr and Blake Richey Rushing.
Before the ceremony ended, graduate Arsherres Marie Jenkins sang the Whitney Houston classic, “I Will Always Love You,” dedicating it to everyone at Catawba. Her powerful performance earned a standing ovation.
In his charge to the Class of 2013, Lewis quoted both Steve Jobs and “Jedi Master Yoda.”
“Always in motion is the future,” he said, imitating the Star Wars character, to cheers and laughter.
He said the graduating generation is one that is always in motion — “a generation who will shape the future, not be shaped by it.”
Lewis said he could — and should — charge the graduates to pursue a life of purpose, faith and service, to pursue excellence and to approach life with persistence and goodwill.
But he found wisdom in the following words that Jobs, the late Apple CEO, spoke at another commencement speech in 2005:
“Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
“Catawba will watch and support you as you follow your hearts and your intuition,” Lewis said, “and we will celebrate with you as you reach your highest potential.”
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.