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129th Commencement Awards 725 Undergraduate Degrees

Retired Astronaut and NCCU Trustee Joan Higginbotham addresses graduates.
Opera singer, Hilda Harris is awarded a Doctorate of Humane Letters.

North Carolina Central University (NCCU) awarded approximately 725 diplomas Saturday, May 13, 2017, at its 129th Commencement ceremony at O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium.

Combined with the 490 graduate and professional degrees conferred one day earlier, the Class of 2017 was the largest in university history.

At the undergraduate ceremony, Interim Chancellor Johnson O. Akinleye recognized the accomplishments of graduating senior William McIntosh, a 12-year veteran police officer who participated in NCCU’s Distance Education program with Wake Technical Community College (Wake Tech).

McIntosh earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Criminal Justice while also working as a K-9 officer and teaching physical fitness classes at Wake Tech by using distance-learning and other flexible credit options available through the program, Akinleye said. Additionally, as part of McIntosh’s coursework, he designed a physical fitness standard for law enforcement officers based on the Fitbit health tracker that has since been deployed in a pilot program by the Clayton, N.C., Police Department where he works.

“William’s journey shows that the race is not given to the swift, but to those who endure to the end,” Akinleye said.

Joan Higginbotham, a retired astronaut and member of the NCCU Board of Trustees, spoke to graduates, urging them to “have a career plan, but don’t be afraid to alter that plan if the right opportunities come along.”

Higginbotham, who is now an executive at Mooresville, N.C.-based retailer Lowe’s, said she planned to go to work as an engineer at IBM before she got a surprise offer from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to become a payload specialist in 1984.

Her first application to become an astronaut was unsuccessful, but she later was selected and flew on a Space Shuttle Discovery mission to the International Space Station in 2006, logging over 300 hours in space.

She reminded the graduates not to give up after disappointments, adding that “the highs of success are measured by how you handle the lows of failure.”

Also during the Commencement ceremony, University of North Carolina Board of Governors member Joe Knott presented NCCU Associate Professor Charmaine McKissick-Melton with the board’s Excellence in Teaching Award. McKissick-Melton is an instructor in the Department of Mass Communication.

Opera singer Hilda Harris was awarded a Doctorate of Humane Letters by the university. Harris, an NCCU alumna, broke ground as an African-American opera singer and vocalist with major roles in productions in New York and around the world, often performing parts written for male voices, known as trouser roles.

“When I was studying here (at NCCU) it never occurred to me I could be the first woman of color to preform trouser roles at the Metropolitan Opera,” she said.




Published: Saturday, May 13, 2017
by Senior Writer and Editor, Renee Elder
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