|Chancellor Debra Saunders-White|
“This day is the start of our journey together,” North Carolina Central University Chancellor Debra Saunders-White told students at the university’s Fall Convocation on Thursday, Sept. 19. “We commit ourselves to soaring to heights that might frighten others, and we will not apologize for the heights we will reach as a team.”
The annual convocation, held in McDougald–McLendon Gymnasium, officially marks the beginning of the academic year. Saunders-White, who took office in June, had a simple message in her first formal address before the student body: Eagle Excellence requires more than just smarts; it takes grit.
Drawing from research conducted by Dr. Angela Duckworth at the University of Pennsylvania, Saunders-White explained that grit is a personality trait. Duckworth wrote that “the gritty individual approaches achievement as a marathon — his or her advantage is stamina,” Saunders-White said, adding, “Your ability to embrace Eagle Excellence and achieve will be based upon your grit — your ability to stick with things over a very long term until you master them. The grittiest students, not the smartest ones, often do the best.”
Her examples of NCCU grit were highlighted in biology major Charles Okechuckwu and Ph.D. student Morgan Carrington. For four years, Okechuckwu has volunteered with America Reads, NCCU’s signature tutoring program at seven neighboring elementary schools and Head Start programs. He also serves as vice president of the Golden Key Honor Society. Carrington, meanwhile, “packs a powerful punch when it comes to her knowledge and passion for science,” Saunders-White said.” She is currently focused on breast cancer research at the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis.
Saunders-White described NCCU as “a first-choice institution” and “a crown jewel in higher education.” She recounted several points of pride for the university, including a 12th place ranking in U.S. News & World Report’s 2014 list of Historically Black Colleges and Universities and the School of Law’s top four ranking in clinical opportunities. Using President Barack Obama’s proposed ratings system to assess how colleges are doing on the basis of the return of investment they provide, Business Insider Magazine ranked NCCU 15th in the nation based on accessibility, affordability and student outcomes. “NCCU is one of the most affordable and accessible institutions for low-income families in the University of North Carolina system, and one of the most affordable institutions in its peer group and in the United States,” the chancellor said.
She challenged the newest Eagles, the Class of 2017, to soar to “unparalleled heights.” With an average Grade Point Average of 3.1 and average SAT score of 886.8, the class of 946 students is considered the best-prepared class in NCCU history. “You are capable of taking flight.… You are prepared. I have promised each of you that no dream will be deferred at this institution, and with our help; you can and will graduate in four years,” she said. She also advised the other students in attendance that expectations for their achievement were also high. “Our job as administrators, faculty and staff is to support, advise, empower and educate you so that you leave prepared to begin your next chapter in life, fully equipped with a competitive credential that prepares you for success.”
Reminiscent of the days of university founder Dr. James E. Shepard, Saunders-White recounted a speech by Dr. Shepard and retold by Dr. Helen G. Edmonds, former NCCU Distinguished Professor Emerita in the department of history — the story of the Eagle and its significance at NCCU. “The Eagle is no common, ordinary barnyard fowl,” Saunders-White began. “The Eagle’s heritage is one of bravery and boldness, of being first in accomplishment among all others, being of cool judgment and sound intellect, of being proud of one’s university, of being respectful of all persons yet regarding no one as your inferior or superior.”