The prediction for graduation day was rain, rain, rain. There had been contingency plans. Those were not needed. The sun was shining brightly upon the largest graduating class in the history of High Point University. As HPU President Nido Qubein stepped to the podium, he said, “Look at this! It’s a Hollywood set. This is beautiful!”
And it was a beautiful day with barely a cloud in the sky to celebrate the largest graduating class in the history of HPU, more than 1,400 receiving degrees. The lawn at Roberts Hall was filled to standing room only with over 14,000 jubilant parents and friends. One couldn’t ask for a more perfect day.
I love the pomp and circumstance of the processional led by the faculty marshall and mace bearer followed by kilted bagpipe and drum core, Qubein and commencement speaker Bonnie McElveen-Hunter, the faculty and the graduates.
Qubein always comes up with surprises and did it again. Just as the National Anthem was beautifully sung by the Chamber Singers, five planes from the Bandit Flight Team flew in precision over the campus as a patriotic salute to the graduates. It was quite a sight against that bright blue sky.
The graduation ceremony is the culmination of days of events for the graduates. One of the most anticipated and talked about “talks” is Qubein’s noted “Onward with Faithful Courage” the day before. It is so popular that even dignitaries such as Nancy Pelosi and her husband, Paul, whose grandson, Ryan Kenneally, graduated this year, spent three days in High Point attending all the activities. Actor Dean Cain ‘s son, Christopher Dean Cain, also was a 2023 graduate. William Kennard, chair of the board of AT&T, is not only HPU’s Global Leader in Residence, having been a former FCC chairman and ambassador to the European Union, but he is the father of a 2023 HPU graduate, Robert.
During that speech Qubein said, “Parents, thank you for entrusting us with your children. Through the past four years we have been partners.”
Qubein looked out across the vast crowd and said, “Who would have ever guessed that High Point University would attract the best students in America from coast to coast, from border to border, who would bring families like yours who support us day in and day out and help us build a fabulous institution as a God family and country institution!” Perhaps like in “Field of Dreams,” “If you build it, they will come.” Not only were there more than 14,000 in attendance but the graduation was livestreamed on the internet.
Class President Shreya Rana said she remembered her first day and never knew that on that day she would “begin to feel confident, question myself out of my comfort zone and find my best friend all before noon!” She added, “HPU is a place where nothing feels impossible because we have learned so much and acquired the tools that will make any dream possible because we all know it is not enough to dream it. We must do it.”
Angela Bauer, senior vice president of academic affairs, then read a resolution honoring commencement speaker McElveen-Hunter with an honorary degree of business leadership. Her accolades are immense. Briefly, she is the founder and CEO of Pace Communications, the largest independently owned custom content agency in the nation, the first woman appointed as the chairman of the American Red Cross, where she still serves, a renowned philanthropist and former U.S. ambassador to Finland, and the list goes on.
After receiving the honor, McElveen-Hunter, who has been friends with Qubein a long time, said, “When God wants to change a family, an institution, or a village his strategy is always the same; he puts a special person in a strategic place who can make a difference, one fateful, risk-taking visionary willing to think outside the box. I think you all will agree and join me in thanking President Nido Qubein.” She continued and recognized another noted High Pointer, “a heroic American,” former chair of the HPU Board of Trustees, Bob Brown, who “worked with Martin Luther King on desegregation, was a trusted advisor to Nelson Mandela and even paid for to educate Mandela’s children in America.”
She quoted Brown’s words when she met him at a conference 30 years ago: “People are often unreasonable, illogical and self-centered. Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies. Succeed anyway. If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you. Be honest and frank anyway. If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous. Be happy anyway. The good you do today people often forget tomorrow. Do good anyway. Give the world the best you have. It may never be enough. Give the world the best you have anyway. You see, in the final analysis it’s between you and your God. It was never between you and them anyway.”
She told the story of how Brown would bring bouquets of flowers to her mother, who lived with her after a stroke. McElveen-Hunter said, “People will often forget what you said but they won’t forget how you made them feel. Bob Brown made me and my mother feel loved.”
She spoke about her mother, “She was the mirror who taught us to look for the good in others and to see God’s hand in everything. She instilled in us the power of personal courage, setting goals and achieving them, necessity of service and the sanctity of family. She had many pearls of wisdom, including: Time is precious. Use it wisely. Mediocrity is the greatest sin. Work is the greatest privilege. Failure is a comma, never a period. And ‘can’t’ is a word that does not exist.” She ended, “May God bless you and may God bless America.”
As Marc Foster beautifully sang God Bless America, Clark the eagle soared over the graduating class. The HPU Class of 2023 will also soar to change the world!
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