By Mark Wineka
SALISBURY — As with any commencement, Catawba College graduates Saturday received solid advice.
Board of Trustees Chairman Paul Fisher told them to carry two words with them the rest of their lives — thank you.
“And they will serve you well,” Fisher said.
Commencement speaker D.G. Martin encouraged the graduates to be good to their school as alumni: “When you help lift it up, it lifts you up as well,” he said.
Catawba College President Joe Oxendine said the real tests for the graduates begin now that the minor tests in things such as math and biology are over.
“From now until you retire from your life’s work, and thereafter, you are going to be tested on how effectively you put into practice those lessons that you have learned in your academic studies,” Oxendine said.
Student Government President Kendra Joyner reminded her fellow graduates that in a lifetime filled with labels, they were finally shedding the one identifying them as “college student” and taking on the one that says “ ‘adult,’ — whatever that means.”
Being college students allowed them “to explore who we are,” make mistakes and “change our minds as much as we changed our majors,” Joyner said. It was a label that came with celebrations, all-night studies, bed bugs (that got a laugh), friends and growth.
“Let’s take all this place has given us and move forward,” said Joyner, who will be attending Yale Divinity School in the fall.
Catawba College had two commencement ceremonies Saturday at Keppel Auditorium, with large crowds at each one. The morning commencement included 194 day students, a geographically diverse group from 20 states and five countries. They ranged in age from 21 to 43, though the median age was 23.
The afternoon commencement encompassed students in the School of Evening and Graduate Studies. All of these 102 students were from North Carolina, ranging in age from 22 to 63, with a median age of 38.
The day had its special moments and important awards. It marked the last graduation ceremony for two of college’s best known and longest-serving professors.
Dr. Bethany Sinnott, professor of English and noted Shakespearean scholar, is retiring after 42 years with Catawba.
Dr. Sanford Silverburg, professor of political science and noted authority on Israel and the Middle East, is stepping down after 40 years on the Catawba faculty.
Both Sinnott and Silverburg received long ovations from the morning audience.
Another retiring faculty member who could not attend was Dr. George Drum, a professor of biology and chemistry who had been at Catawba College for 23 years. He retired in December.
The Whitener Awards, the most prestigious given to graduating seniors, went to Joyner, a religion and philosophy major from Rock Springs, Wyo., and Mark Ketterer, a mathematics major and soccer team captain from Hamilton, N.J.
The Whitener medals honor a male and female in the graduating class who embody qualities of good character, leadership and scholarship. Both recipients were highly active in the school and community.
In the afternoon session, the Barbara Andrews Award went to Charles Lester Campbell of Concord.
The award, named for the first director of the School of Evening and Graduate Studies, goes to the person who embodies the attributes of character, leadership and scholarship. The selection is made by the Catawba College faculty from the six graduating seniors in the program with the highest grade-point averages.
On Saturday, Campbell received a business administration degree. He has served as director of network services for TIAA-CREF for the past year and is a former executive for Bank of America.
He also has held positions with Piedmont Technology Group, Arthur Anderson & Company, and Moore & Van Allen. Campbell and his wife, Becky, have three children, ages 12, 14 and 16.
Those receiveing master of education degrees in the afternoon included Rebecca Y. Byerly, Elizabeth Jessup Callicutt, Tammy Lee Currie, Gina Austin Durham, Stephanie Carol Flammang, Sara Ann Kull, Lauren Freeman Lambeth, Pamela Jean Long, Julie Crista Seuberling, April Barger Spry and Leigh Griffin Yelton.
A highly sentimental moment came Saturday morning when 87-year-old Martha Rhea Hartley Platt of Salisbury was the first person to walk across the stage when degrees were given out.
Platt received her bachelor’s degree from Catawba College in 1959 but missed the chance to participate in the graduation. She remedied her one long regret Saturday and officially accepted her diploma at the graduation ceremony.
Waiting outside before leading the processional in, Platt said she woke up at 3 a.m. and couldn’t go back to sleep.
“I haven’t been this thrilled and excited for a long time,” she said.
Hannah Thomas of Robbins walked into the auditorium Saturday with a cardboard sign that said, “Will Work for Food,” betraying the uncertainty many of the Catawba graduates are feeling as they enter the workforce.
Thomas is looking for a teaching position in physical education and has applied for jobs in each of North Carolina’s 100 counties. Her brother handed her the sign before she went in.
Thomas, whose mother is a Catawba graduate, said she made great friends at the school and would encourage any high school senior to consider it as an educational option. The school is small enough that she knew virtually every senior accepting his or her diploma Saturday, Thomas said.
Elizabeth Smith came to Catawba College from Cleveland, Ohio, to be part of a Division II golf team. She also had no regrets and hopes to become a teaching professional while going to graduate school in sports management at either Cleveland State or Kent State.
Smith said she loved the travel with the golf team and thinks she has become a better golfer with the help of Coach Sam Gealy.
Catawba College also is a choice sometimes for students who grew up in Rowan County. Elizabeth Sloop, a West Rowan High graduate, received her Catawba College diploma Saturday in elementary education.
A Martha West Teaching Fellow, Sloop did her student teaching at Millbridge Elementary and, in the short term, will be a substitute teacher at Overton Elementary until the end of the school year.
Catawba College gave Sloop a chance to travel to places such as New York, Washington, Savannah and Atlanta. But staying based in Rowan County the past four years had its advantages, too.
“I was able to live at home and save a lot of money that way,” Sloop said, adding it also allowed her to remain active in her church and community.
Martin, the commencement speaker, said he noticed some familiar themes when he looked back to see advice other Catawba graduating classes had received.
It included encouragement to follow your own path; be loyal and positive; be a person of hope, faith and love; and be proud.
Martin advised the 2011 graduates to take their parents out to lunch soon — “and I want you to pay, your relationship with them has changed.”
But beyond that, Martin advised the graduates to take a pen and notebook to the lunch and ask their parents to share the most important lessons they have learned.
Pay attention, Martin said, it will be more useful than any advice they’ve ever received from a commencement speaker.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.
By Mark Wineka