The sun was shining brightly on this extraordinary graduation day. Optimism abounded. I gazed over a white sea of chairs, 10,000 chairs! One of these chairs was mine. Which one, I wondered. Then I spotted Connor Harris, High Point University’s community concierge, who showed me to my seat.

As I was seated (still socially distanced), my thoughts went to a time when Marsha Slane (we all still miss her dearly) and I were having a glass of wine. She had just accepted the position as chair of the HPU Board of Trustees in 2005 as HPU was just a “sleepy little college”! That was the year Nido Qubein, motivational speaker, successful businessman and author, became HPU’s president. Was she ever in for a surprise, and she found out very fast! She loved being on that meteoric upward roller-coaster with President Qubein, who was also her close and cherished friend.

Marsha, along with her husban,d Jack (we miss him too), both dearly loved High Point University, just as they loved High Point. They would be so excited about the transformation of the city of High Point and High Point University’s support, both service and fiscal. President Qubein is a whirlwind of ideas, never-ending.

The announcement of HPU’s School of Dental Medicine and Oral Health to open in 2023 was really exciting. There are only two other schools of dentistry in North Carolina. One is at East Carolina University and the other is at UNC-Chapel Hill.

President Qubein said, “The dental school is proud to have attracted a founding dean from a major university whose experience and reputation will propel this university forward with innovation and significance.”

Dr. Dan Erb, senior vice president of academics, stepped to the podium: “Welcome to another once in a lifetime extraordinary experience. I would like to say personally, two of the key factors this individual is coming to HPU for is because of the culture created here and the can-do attitude. In 2011, I left the School of Medicine at Duke University to come to HPU for those same two reasons. … Our founding dean comes to us from the Adams School of Dentistry UNC-Chapel Hill. Under his leadership UNC School of Dentistry has been ranked as one of the top ten dental programs in the world, not in the United States, but in the world.”

Dr. Scott De Rossi was greeted with great applause: “I am so happy so happy to be here at High Point. Where else would you rather call home? While the campus growth has been impressive, the real story is the collaborative and innovative environment that fosters an entrepreneurial mindset that you see in everyone you meet on this campus. Some universities talk about being aspirational, being bold and fearless. HPU lives it and executes it at the highest level. This is critically important in a changing world.” He then introduced Kevin Cain, former vice dean and chief operating officer for the UNC dental school, who is also joining the HPU dental school! WOW!

Suddenly my mind was quickly back to the present time as the graduation processional began, led by the faculty Mmrshall and mace-bearer, the bagpipe and drum core, the colorful academic banners, school deans, President Qubein and commencement speaker Cynthia “Cynt” Marshall, followed by the professors and graduates. It is definitely pomp and circumstance.

I was especially excited this year because David Hayworth, one of High Point’s most philanthropic citizens was being given an honorary doctorate degree. Earlier I had seen him arrive with Debbie Hayworth and his dedicated friend Ed Price. I had to give him a special hug! Hayworth loves our university, our city. He has touched every sector of our city and planted innumerable seeds to the growth of our university. We are all blessed to have David Hayworth in our lives.

As the processional ended, the National Anthem was sung by the HPU Chamber singers. President Qubein said, “Our speaker is here in person (many universities had virtual graduations and/or speakers) and about to deliver a powerful message a friend of HPU, a parent of an HPU alumnus and a faith-based leader who leads a life not only of success but also of significance.” Among the many morals that HPU had tried to teach the graduates was that there would be obstacles in their lives but that working through these obstacles, there would be abundance, “that is exactly what our speaker experienced” he told them.

It is true Cynt Marshall, HPU’s sports executive in residence and dear friend of President Qubein, is the first Black female CEO in NBA history. She grew up in public housing, first in her family to graduate college. She was one of six children. She was determined. (I want to meet her! She is such an inspiration!)

I have to tell you she was one of the best speakers and one could easily see why she rose up the ladder at AT&T and became CEO. She is also a three-time colon cancer survivor! She began, “I am so honored to be back in the great state of North Carolina standing before you in a sea of purple royalty at the premier life skills university”

I love this story and it shows her intense desire for her education while not losing focus of the goal and she got both! “I remember my college graduation day in Berkeley, California, I was sitting at the ceremony thinking about a call I had to make. During my first week of college my boyfriend, who was one year head of me, called to say he had a surprise for me. He transferred schools to be closer to me. I told him I had a surprise for him.” She said she didn’t have time for him but would call and invite him to her graduation party. When she called, he pretended he didn’t know her, said he was engaged but then showed up at her party. They just celebrated 38 years of marriage!

“You are now playing the game of life. Your playing field is the collection of choices that you can hold each day. Class of 2021, are you ready to take over the world? I believe you are the generation to save us.”

In tradition, the eagle soared over the campus as Marc Foster sang “America the Beautiful.”

If only Marsha Slane could see the “sleepy little college” now! I can’t wait to hear what’s next, President Qubein!