“The main thing is to always keep the main thing the main thing,” Derrick “Flyty” Jacobs told Wingate graduates this morning during the University’s undergraduate commencement, held under the oaks on the University’s Academic Quad. He and his wife, Jacinda, well-known radio, TV and event hosts in the Charlotte area, operated as a tag team behind the podium, dishing out encouragement and advice to 374 graduates, more than a quarter of whom are armed with degrees in either psychology or biology (50 of each). Other popular majors for the class of 2023 are management and exercise science (32 each); and sport management and nursing (25 each); followed closely by criminal justice (23).
The ceremony was the second Wingate commencement in two days, as roughly 160 students were awarded graduate degrees Friday morning.
“Whenever you put God first, life will fall in line,” Jacobs said.
Addressing what they imagined were graduates’ unspoken worries as they prepared to turn the tassel, the Jacobses shared several key truths, beginning with the fact that even though the students are graduating, they don’t have to have everything figured out but can have confidence that their next step is within reach.
Second, the couple told them to work hard, realizing that nothing in life comes easy. “You worked hard to get here,” Derrick Jacobs said. “It wasn’t an easy walk. You worked your behind off to make it to the finish line. Well, the end of the finish line is the starting point for the next race. But you have to continue to put in the work.”
He told graduates not to give up when they are turned down for a job or face a similar setback.
“Life is about facing disappointment, but not staying there,” he said. “It’s about getting back up, just like in any boxing match. If you can go through it, you can grow through it.”
Jacinda Jacobs challenged graduates to make the most of each moment and to wrap their lives in serving and giving. She urged them to avoid being distracted or comparing themselves to others, assuring them that they can discover their own passions and are already “qualified to walk in their own unique purpose.”
Andersen Williams, a member of the class of 2023, says Wingate helped him find his passion. An Atlanta native and music performance major who worked as a student assistant to Wingate’s technical director, Williams is heading to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte as assistant technical director of athletics. The winner of the University’s annual music award, Williams said he most appreciates his alma mater for encouraging him to try new things.
“Everybody that I have been introduced to here, their attitude is ‘Let’s try it,’” he said. “Nobody has really ever told me no as far as what I can and can’t do. They’re willing to allow students to explore their passions.”
That “try new things” attitude was especially prevalent after Covid hit during the spring semester of his freshman year. “As a music major, our job is to entertain people,” Williams said. “How do we do that from home, online?”
He said the music department adjusted by having students work in small ensembles and spaced out. By his junior year, the Wind Ensemble was finally able to play as a group. “It took a lot of adjusting,” he said, “but we made it work.”
Along the way, Williams said, he forged relationships that he never expected and enjoyed plenty of opportunities to share his musical talents, including playing saxophone during Friday’s Baccalaureate. As icing on the cake, the Wind Ensemble played a piece that Williams composed as part of its final concert of the year.
Fellow graduate Taylor Redd, a commuter from Charlotte, found her purpose at Wingate and is headed to law school. She began her journey as a biology major thinking she would pursue a career in the medical field, but after a semester she shifted to psychology. Redd was able to do research alongside Dr. Terese Lund on how gender shapes the student experience at Wingate. She presented her findings at the WellSpring Symposium last month and said the research experience helped her zero in on a career goal: policymaking and legislation related to gender equity and women’s rights.
“I am super-grateful for the support of the entire psychology department,” Redd said. “Dr. Lund has been a part of my journey since my very first semester, helping me turn my passion into a future career path. She is incredibly inspiring, and it’s been a great opportunity to be mentored by her and work with her.”
Research with a faculty member was also a part of Kelly-Ann Gooden’s Wingate experience. A transfer student, Gooden earned her associate degree from Central Piedmont Community College. As part of her Honors College capstone project, she worked with Dr. Kristin Stowe to explore the economic factors that influence international students to relocate to the United States, a perfect topic for her as a Jamaica-born finance major.
Beyond financial incentives, she said students should be drawn to Wingate because of the support they will find here.
“When I think of Wingate University, I think of family and home,” Gooden said. “Every faculty and staff member, they are genuine and genuinely interested in investing in your success. There is a chain of resources available. You are never without help.”
Gooden relied on her resident assistant for support when she moved into JM Smith residence hall and had such a good experience that she became an RA herself the next year.
Inspired by a brand new course offered this spring by Dr. Steven Hyland, Gooden says she will seek a job in sustainable finance.
Awards presented during ceremony
Six undergraduates received special awards at commencement as follows: Ethan Hathcock, the Budd E. and Ethel K. Smith Award for making an outstanding contribution through leadership of fellow students; Liberty Yoder, the C.C. Burris Award, which honors the graduating senior woman who best represents scholarship, leadership and service; Garrett Elder, the A.F. Hendricks Award, which honors the graduating senior man who best represents scholarship, leadership and service; Mallory Challis, the Fred H. Allen Award for outstanding Christian leadership and service; Tatjana Mense, the Jerry & Alice Surratt Award for significant contributions in the area of international education; and Emiyah Watkins, the Martin Luther King Jr. award for exemplifying the life of Dr. King.
Twelve more graduates earned the H.K. Helms Award for maintaining a perfect 4.0 GPA: Rachel Chew, Reese Cochran, Lauren Hall, Elizabeth Mae Hinson, Brienna Hudnall, Savannah Lampley, Jessica Medina, Daniel Mizera, Tyler Moore, Nicholas Stelmack, Haven Tomel and Dennis Trukawka.
The University also awarded honorary doctorate degrees to two members of its Board of Trustees, Wayne Cooper and Ron Hinson.
Cooper is an expert in international business with more than four decades of experience in the field. He has served as Honorary Consul of Mexico since 1981. His career continues to inspire business people and entrepreneurs worldwide.
A local entrepreneur who sees his journey as “proof that America’s free enterprise system works,” Hinson started his company in 1984. Hinson Electric now serves clients across the Carolinas and provides jobs for more than 60 full-time employees.
Most importantly, both Cooper and Hinson have generously shared their knowledge, expertise and financial support with the larger community, earning them each the Doctor of Humane Letters.
Also at today’s commencement, Dr. Candace Lapan, assistant professor of psychology, and Dr. Dan McLaughlin, associate professor of sports sciences and health and physical education, were honored. McLaughlin earned the Charles and Hazel Corts Award; Lapan, the Debra M. O’Neal Award, which is reserved for a professor who has been a member of the faculty for eight years or less. Both awards recognize excellence in teaching.