NCCU Alumnus Brandon McEachern Reminds Graduates to Soar High

Posted December 10, 2022, 4:53PM

An estimated 662 North Carolina Central University (NCCU) graduates received their degrees as the university held its 140th Commencement Exercises inside McDougald-McLendon Arena on Dec. 10, 2022.

The winter degree recipients included 433 undergraduates, 218 graduates, 10 juris doctors and one Ph.D. who participated in separate ceremonies at 9 a.m. and 2 p.m., respectively. Of the undergraduates, 572, or 86 percent, were from North Carolina in a class that included students from as far away as Beijing, China, and as near as neighboring state South Carolina.

The keynote address was delivered at both ceremonies by Brandon McEachern ’05, founder and CEO of Broccoli City Festival and Think Broccoli LLC, a social enterprise organization that focuses on building thriving urban communities that sustain future generations.

While imparting several pieces of advice, he told the graduates Eagles don’t flock but instead soar high.

“Number one, keep God first,” McEachern said. “Number two, have a strong mentality. Number three, dream big. You may have to work somewhere that you don’t want, you may have to do some things that you feel are beneath you … but hold on, stay steadfast and believe in yourself and know that it’s all coming your way.”

McEachern cautioned the graduates to choose their words carefully, focus on themselves and create a solid plan for execution.

“When you know where you want to go, you know where you don’t need to be,” he said. “Be of value and surround yourself with positive people.”

During the undergraduate ceremony, NCCU Chancellor Johnson O. Akinleye recognized Patricia Whitfield, who initially enrolled at NCCU in the fall of 1979 but withdrew during her senior year to care for her adoptive parents who had become ill. After her parents passed away in 1993, Whitfield obtained a job at O’Berry Neurological Center in Goldsboro, where she worked for 15 years before experiencing health challenges, including diabetes, kidney failure and pancreatitis. She underwent kidney and pancreas transplant surgery in February 2020; yet despite her travails, she always aspired to finish her degree.

In 2021, Whitfield returned to her studies at NCCU and fulfilled her 40-year journey to become an alumna of the university through the EndZone Initiative, an interdisciplinary degree program for individuals with college credits who haven’t yet earned their degree.

Akinleye closed the undergraduate ceremony by telling the graduates to let the lessons they learned from their NCCU experience guide them when life stretches them to what may seem to be unreasonable limits.

“Remember that you are Eagles,” Akinleye said. “Spread your wings and soar high above the clouds. You have what it takes to make it wherever you may go in whatever you may encounter. You are tenacious, you are flexible and you are capable. You have been prepared in a one-of-a-kind environment, so champion your futures.”

During the graduate and professional ceremony, Akinleye recognized Eduardo Castaneda, who in 1998 emigrated to the United States from an impoverished region of Guatemala with his mother and brother, settling first in Los Angeles and later in the Appalachian region of North Carolina.

An inspiring physician, Castaneda attended community college before transferring to the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill, from which he earned a bachelor’s degree in biology in 2012. Castaneda did not do well enough academically in the program to position himself as an ideal candidate for medical school, so at the recommendation of a friend, he enrolled in NCCU’s Clinical Research Sciences Certificate Program, which he says forever changed his life. To date, Akinleye said, Castaneda has been accepted into four medical schools.

As part of the ceremony, Cincinnati, Ohio, native, Dana Gant was awarded the Doctor of Philosophy degree in Integrated Biosciences, becoming the seventh person to receive this degree from NCCU. Gant is a triple Eagle, having also earned bachelor and master degrees in biology from the institution.

Of the estimated 433 bachelor’s degrees awarded, 294 were Bachelor of Science degrees; 59 were Bachelor of Arts degrees; 44 were Bachelor of Business Administration degrees; 3 were Bachelor of Music degrees; 18 were Bachelor of Science in Nursing degrees; and 15 were Bachelor of Science in Social Work degrees.

Of the estimated 229 graduate and professional degrees awarded, approximately 10 were juris doctors and an estimated 218 master’s degrees were awarded in areas of arts, teaching, business administration, education, information science, library science, music, public administration, school administration, science and social work.

Photos from the ceremony are available here.

A rebroadcast of NCCU’s undergraduate ceremony is available on the university’s YouTube channel here, followed by the graduate and professional ceremony here.

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