North Carolina Central University (NCCU) awarded graduate and professional degrees to 371 students on Friday, May 9, in ceremonies at McDougald–McLendon Gymnasium.
Commencement speaker John Ruffin, Ph.D., retired director of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) urged the graduates to become a catalyst for change, and he provided some personal perspective and specific tips on how to do so.
“Decide what you are passionate about, be open-minded and flexible,” he said. “Remember that collaboration and partnership are pivotal if you hope to accomplish anything.”
In 1977, Ruffin said people thought he was making a mistake when he left Harvard University to teach at NCCU.
“I came to NCCU with a question, ‘Could high quality research be conducted at NCCU?’” Ruffin told the waiting graduates that he believed they, too, came to NCCU looking for something. “Did you find it?” he asked “And what will you do with it?”
Ruffin served on the NCCU faculty from 1977 to 1986 as a professor and then chair of the Department of Biology before becoming dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. He was later named special assistant to the chancellor for research until 1990, when he was named associate director for minority programs for the National Institutes of Health.
Ruffin challenged the graduates to become torchbearers who are passionate and committed.
“We need leaders like you to help move the country forward,” he said. “Regardless of your discipline there are places where you can make a difference. Decide today what your contribution will be.”
He later concluded his remarks by reminding the anxious graduates to never forget the role that NCCU played in their success.
“Remember your roots and give back,” he said.
Chancellor Saunders-White recognized two outstanding graduates: William Pagán, who received a juris doctorate, and Michael Butts, who earned a master’s in clinical mental health counseling.
Pagán holds more than 100 patent applications and is considered a master inventor. In 2009 IBM at the Research Triangle Park named him inventor of the year. Pagán completed his law degree through the NCCU School of Law evening program while working full time at Coats and Bennett PLLC as a patent agent.
Michael Butts completed his master’s degree while battling cancer. A father and husband, Chancellor Saunders-White said Butts is the epitome of an NCCU Eagle. On April 16, 2014, Butts lost his battle to cancer. His degree was conferred posthumously and received by his wife, Syreeta.
The undergraduate commencement exercises begin at 8 a.m., tomorrow Saturday, May 10 in O’Kelly–Riddick Stadium.