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Catawba graduates look to future

By Kathy Chaffin
Salisbury Post
Leslie Hellard Robertson of Salisbury says she can’t believe her time at Catawba College is over.
“It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long,” she said while waiting to receive her bachelor of science degree in business administration at the first of two commencement ceremonies Saturday. “But here we are.”
Robertson, a 2004 graduate of West Rowan High School, was among 286 students receiving degrees from Catawba. She’s doing an internship at Food Lion but hasn’t decided what kind of job she wants to pursue.
Brett Alan Wilhelm of Cleveland, the son of Salisbury Police Chief Mark Wilhelm, said he was ready to get the ceremony over with. He was waiting to receive a bachelor of arts degree in sociology and hopes to follow in his parents’ footsteps and work in law enforcement.
Wilhelm’s mother, Tonya, worked previously for the Salisbury Police Department and is now a police planner for the Kannapolis Police Department.
Law enforcement is an important part of Wilhelm’s family. “It’s always been there,” he said, “and I don’t know what I would do without it. I’ve always liked hearing the stories and seeing the pictures.
“It’s also pretty cool to know what’s going on.”
Brett Wilhelm is the third member of his family to graduate from Catawba College. His mother and sister, Ashley, both graduated in 2005.
Ashley is now in graduate school at Wake Forest University, where she is studying molecular cellular patho biology.
Kurtis James Green of San Diego, Calif., was waiting to receive his bachelor of science degree in business. Green, who hopes to find a job in Charlotte working in finance for a bank, said he will miss “all the friends I’ve made and the community of faculty and staff.”
Going to Catawba “was a great experience,” Green said. “I went five years so I really got to take it in.”
While the graduates were lining up for the 10 a.m. processional, their family members were filling the seats in Keppel Auditorium.
Family and friends of Jacqueline Ryan White filled several seats on the front right side of the balcony to watch her receive a bachelor of science in accounting. Her parents, Casey and Tim White, said they were very proud of Jacqueline, the oldest of their children.
“She’s a very mature young lady,” Casey White said. “This is just a milestone in our lives.”
Tim White said, “We’re glad she’s graduating. She’s done a real good job.”
Among the family and friends sitting with them were Casey’s mother, Shirley Lanning; Casey’s friend, Cathy Burgess; Jacqueline’s boyfriend, Brett Mulkey; and his parents, Sonya and Thad Mulkey.
Sitting behind them was the Elmore family of Greenville, N.C., waiting to see their son, Joseph Charles Elmore, receive his bachelor of arts in communication.
His parents, Jennifer and John Elmore, were there with their other son, Jack, a pharmaceutical representative in Raleigh, and their two daughters, Jenny, who works in special events for the city of Falls Church, Va., and Janey, who received a North Carolina Teaching Fellows scholarship to begin her freshman year this fall at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Jennifer Elmore said she was a little sad about Joe’s graduation. “We’ve loved all four years he’s been here,” she said, adding that they had attended every home and away football game to see him play as offensive tackle.
“We love Salisbury,” Jennifer Elmore added. “It’s such a wonderful place and so welcoming. It’s only three hours from home, so we’ve come back and forth.”
Mixed with her sadness, she said, was excitement about where Joe will end up. He’s currently interviewing for various communication jobs.
While in school, Joe Elmore also served as a Young Life volunteer, mentoring high school students weekly. “He believes in community giving,” his mother said.
A total of 186 students were awarded bachelor of arts, bachelor of fine arts and bachelor of science degrees in the morning commencement ceremony. Another 100 in the School of Evening and Graduate Study ó which is only open to working adults age 21 and over ó were awarded bachelor of business administration, bachelor of art education and master of education degrees in the 2 p.m. commencement.
Catawba President Robert E. Knott, who is retiring at the end of this month, awarded the degrees.
Tom Smith, chairman of the Catawba Board of Trustees, gave a tribute to Knott. During his six years as president, Smith said the college had earned its reaccreditation; surpassed its endowment campaign by $35 million one year ahead of schedule; attracted students with higher SAT scores and grade point averages; increased its student retention to 72 percent; completed numerous construction and renovation/addition projects; and made great strides in infrastructure improvements including adding wireless Internet service.
While the board regrets losing such a great leader, Smith said trustees are happy that Knott will be able to spend more time with family and to do some traveling.
Knott, who previously served as college provost from 1982 to 1989, said, “Catawba College is a very special place with many wonderful people of which you are a part. We will have many fond memories of our days here.”
Awards presented during the commencement ceremony were: The O.B. Michael Distinguished Alumnus Award to Joseph S. Ferebee, a graduate of the Class of 1942, and a baseball legend for his winning Pfeiffer College and Rowan County American Legion teams; and The Whitener Medals to graduating seniors Meagen Kittle of Winchester, Ontario, Canada, and Ryan G. Dayvault of Kannapolis.
The ceremony also included a time of remembrance for Dr. Bruce F. Griffith, a graduate of the Class of 1962 and history professor at the college, who died on Feb. 12.
Contact Kathy Chaffin at 704-797-4249 or kchaffin@salisburypost.com.

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