More than 1200 graduate and undergraduate candidates for graduation were able to give their mothers a big present the day before Mothers Day, when on Saturday May 8, they accepted their degrees before a huge crowd of more than 12,000.
Nearly 500 December 2009 graduates participated in the morning ceremony. Their ceremony in December was canceled because of a snowstorm. North Carolina State Representative Larry Womble gave the keynote address. Both he and Representative Earline Parmon, also a WSSU graduate, were conferred with honorary doctorate degrees for their many years of service.
In the afternoon session, nearly 900 graduates received their diplomas, the largest class in the school’s history. Dr. Donald M. Stewart, who served as president of Spelman College for 10 years, served as the keynote speaker. Stewart and WSSU graduate Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, named one of the NBA’s Top 50 players of all time, received honorary degrees.
Nearly 900 undergraduate and graduate students participated. Here are some of their stories.
Public Administration major Derwin Montgomery made national headlines in fall 2009 when he won, by a large margin, the vote in Winston-Salem’s East Ward race to become one of the youngest members of the Winston-Salem City Council in recent memory.
A native of Hopkins, SC, Montgomery plans to attend Wake Forest University entering their dual degree program between the Law School and the Divinity School. Currently he is 1st Vice President of the North Carolina NAACP’s Youth & College Division and East Ward City Councilman. He was recognized for his community involvement by the City of Winston-Salem in January of 2009 when he was one of the recipients of the inaugural Martin Luther King, Jr. Young Dreamers Award. Montgomery aspires to be a U.S. Senator.
The Mother and Son
When Victor Banks moved back to Winston-Salem several years ago to help care for his ailing father, who knew he would eventually be attending college with his mother. After losing her husband to a lengthy illness, Sondra Banks began to look at other areas of her life to help recover from her tragic loss and focus on new horizons. Sondra, a full-time WSSU administrative assistant in the School of Education and Human Performance, decided to expand from taking one course per semester to attending school full-time. Working and taking classes helped Sondra to fill the void in her life. Eventually, she found herself enrolled in a course with her son.
“We were in the same class together one time, an economics class. When the instructor asked if we were related, I said ‘I don’t know that boy,” noted Banks. “All of the students in the class knew I was his mother. . . . I’m proud of him.”
Banks said her son eventually tutored her in that economics class. “It was great to do this together – it was actually fun,” Banks said.
According to Victor, “This is a really happy time for us, I feel great. It’s been exciting to experience college and to graduate with my mother. I tried to get more classes with her, but couldn’t because we are in different majors. I can see my Mom worked hard with class, full-time work and an internship. I am proud of her.”
Both Banks will participate in WSSU’s commencement. Sondra will receive a degree in social work with honors, Victor will graduate with a degree in business administration. Both, mother and son, each will each wait a year before deciding whether to further their education.
It was a big deal for fraternal twins Samatha and Saundra Hayes to go to college in the “big city” of Winston-Salem. The Hayes are from Skipwith, VA, population 807, give or take a few, and no stoplights.
Back in Skipwith they were known as “The Twins.” Upon arrival at WSSU, they became known as – “The Twins.” But that was about the only thing that remained the same for the Hayes. Besides their classes, the twins were exposed to new cultures, city life, people of diverse interests, backgrounds and intellectual abilities.
“It is really huge here,” said Samatha. “The first time we rode a bus to the mall, we called our Mother because it was the first time we ever rode on a bus. She told us not to talk to anyone.”
Since then, the Hayes twins have come the proverbial “long way.” They no longer go home as often to “breathe fresh country air.” After doing everything together all of their lives, they in fact, are now ready to venture off into new communities — separately.
After commencement, Samatha, an exercise science major, will go to the University of South Carolina to study for a master’s degree in social work. Saundra, a rehabilitation studies major, will attend Virginia Commonwealth University to study rehabilitative counseling. Each wants to move to a larger city – such as Washington, D.C. – after grad school.
Their mother, a teacher’s assistant, had a huge impact on their lives. The twins’ career choice was inspired by someone they met when their mother sustained an injury that required physical therapy. The therapist sparked the twins’ interest in physical therapy and helping those with physical challenges, “such as children who can’t always help themselves,” said Samatha.
The Hayes twins will be the first in their families to receive bachelors’ degrees. They will also make family history by becoming the first to pursue master’s degrees.
Husband and Wife and Oldest Grad
Theodore Evans and his wife, Doris, were the husband and wife team and this class’ oldest graduates. The couple say it was their daughter, Ianthe Nivens, a Business Administration major and also a 2010 graduate, who inspired them to go back to school and get their degrees. Both earned their degrees in Interdisciplinary Studies. For Theodore, getting his degree was a long time coming. He began his quest to earn his degree more than 35 years ago. Theodore is 71.
The Molecular Biologists
Cynthia Grady and Jacqueline Jackson are standout molecular biology majors with a slew of awards, medical and graduate school acceptances.
Grady is the recipient of the WSSU College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) award for the Outstanding Student in Academics. She has been on the Dean’s List during her entire time at WSSU, which began in Fall 2006. She has maintained a cumulative Grade Point average of 3.8 throughout her studies (during the last five semesters she maintained a 4.0 cumulative GPA).
A former member of the WSSU Track team, Grady was named to the 2008-2009 Mid-Atlantic Eastern Conference (MEAC) Commissioner’s All-Academic Team and a WSSU Athletics Academic All-Star from 2006-2009. In addition to WSSU, Grady has participated in biomedical training and research programs at Duke, Johns Hopkins and the University of the Cape Coast, Ghana, West Africa. She has received other awards for athletics and for participating in student leadership and community volunteer programs.
Grady has been accepted at seven medical schools.
Jacqueline Jackson is the recipient of the WSSU College of Arts and Sciences’ Outstanding Student in Research award. In addition, she is the recipient of the Dean’s Award for Best Research in the College. Jackson has participated in scientific research since her freshman year (2006). During her time as a WSSU student, she has partnered with WSSU Life Sciences researchers, as well as participated in biomedical training and research programs at University of Michigan and University of Maryland in Baltimore County. She has presented research findings at conferences in as far a way as Orlando, FL and Austin, TX.
Jackson plans to obtain a Ph.D. in biological sciences and pursue a career as a research professor.
The Ram Pack
In the summer of 2006, at least six freshman participants in WSSU’s Summer Outreach Program – an initiative to increase the number of graduates in biology, chemistry, computer science, and mathematics – made a promise to each other. Ja’Pel Sumpter, Jennifer Paige, Mia Lassiter, (Cynthia) Grady, Robin Scott, Jasmine Peterson, Ashley Pierce, and (Derwin) Montomery “all made a pact and believed we will be going to medical school after graduation,” said Sumpter, a Chester S.C. native who has been accepted at Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) and University of South Carolina School of Medicine.
Only Montgomery and Scott are not going to medical school. “Derwin changed his mind along the way and decided on law school, and Robin is going to Pharmacy school,” Sumpter said.
Nearly all of the Ram Pack members have maintained a 3.75 GPA, were involved in community service and served as campus leaders through athletics, Student Government Association, honors programs or service based organizations.
“We all have grown to understand the importance of obtaining a higher education while maintaining a true sense of altruism and compassion towards the betterment of our community and the underprivileged populations whose voices often go unheard,” Sumpter said.
Sumpter plans to wear her mother’s University of South Carolina cap and gown when she participates in WSSU’s commencement as a tribute. Her mother wore the regalia several years ago when Sumpter was in high school. Her mother received two master’s degrees that day, one in nursing, the other in public health. It had an impact on Sumpter. “She inspires me,” Sumpter said.