CULLOWHEE – Award-winning writer Sue Ellen Bridgers of Sylva and business icon Raymond E. Kinsland of Cherokee were awarded honorary doctorates as Western Carolina University held summer commencement exercises Friday, Aug. 5.
Malcolm J. Loughlin, Western’s associate dean of distance and continuing education, was recognized during the ceremony by the governor general of Jamaica and the U.S. Department of State for his three decades of service to international education.
Western Chancellor John W. Bardo delivered the charge to approximately 500 candidates for graduate and undergraduate degrees. Bardo congratulated the students for thriving in the classroom as the university raised the bar of academic standards.
Bridgers is the author of seven novels, including the most recent “All We Know of Heaven,” and has been the recipient of numerous awards for her writing for young adults. She has traveled extensively across the United States to promote the importance of literature and reading in the lives of young people and adults.
Accepting the honorary doctorate of letters, Bridgers told the audience at the Ramsey Regional Activity Center that some years ago she decided to make a list of the goals she wanted to accomplish in her later years.
“I hoped to discover the complete life which would lead to a deathbed experience at which I would feel at peace with my accomplishments and willing to lay down with a satisfying thud whatever responsibilities I still carried,” Bridgers said.
That search for a plan “was a bit of a failure,” she said. “Years of pressure for accomplishments began to feel more like a burden than a joy, so I no longer have a list of goals.
“Whatever I have learned about how to live has come to me gradually, and cannot be contained in a vitae,” Bridgers said. “I am learning to live with an attitude of thankfulness and to acknowledge every day the blessings of friends, family and place. And so I stand here this evening with a joyful heart filled with gratitude. This honor is truly a blessing, and I will always treasure it.”
As general manager of the Cherokee Boys Club since 1964, Kinsland oversees an organization that provides a vast array of services on the Qualla Boundary, home of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, including vocational education and leadership training, bus and food services for tribal schools, and a children’s home and shelter.
An honorary member of the Eastern Band, Kinsland has been recognized with many awards for his service as a teacher, coach and volunteer, including the Jefferson Award, the American Legion’s Citizen of the Year award, the Eastern Band’s Distinguished Service Award, and the North Carolina High School Athletic Association’s Unsung Hero Award.
“Thank you from the bottom of my heart for this great and special honor,” Kinsland said in accepting the honorary doctorate of humane letters. “It is an honor that I will always cherish and appreciate.
“We’re often asked about our wishes, hopes and dreams,” he said. “My faith is very important to me in my daily living and my prayers are that each of us will continue to work together to turn our problems into opportunities and solutions. I’m confident that our youth are ready, willing and able to continue the course.”
Loughlin, a resident of Cullowhee, was the recipient of commendations from the governor general of Jamaica, Sir Howard Cooke, and from the Office of Overseas Schools of the U.S. Department of State.
Since 1970, a collaboration between Western and the Caribbean country of Jamaica has allowed more than 2,000 Jamaicans to upgrade their teaching skills by earning degrees from Western. Burton Fox, director of Latin American and Caribbean programs for the university, presented a plaque to Loughlin on Cooke’s behalf. Western has had an active international program for 35 years and “there is one person who has been an essential part of this program, Malcolm J. Loughlin, who has contributed continuously to make this program so successful,” Fox said.
“For over 30 years, you have served as teacher, mentor and guide,” Fox said. “You have set a standard to be followed through your spirit, humor and candor, which have endeared you to your fellow professionals in Jamaica.”
William H. Scotti, regional education officer for the Office of Overseas Schools, presented a certificate of appreciation to Loughlin on behalf of office director Keith D. Miller in recognition of “more than 30 years of exemplary service to the American-sponsored overseas schools in Latin America and the Caribbean.”
Western’s August graduating class includes 140 students from Jamaica. About 115 of those students expect to be awarded bachelor’s degrees in middle grades education, while another 25 students will be receiving master’s degrees in educational supervision.
The class also includes the first student earning a master’s degree from Western’s new program in college student personnel, and 27 students completing the master’s of project management program, which is offered fully online. About 20 students who have been taking the two-year program were expected to attend commencement, marking the first time most of them have ever been on Western’s campus, said Jeanne Dorle, program director.
In his remarks to the candidates for graduation, Bardo told the students that they are leaving Western “well-prepared for the future.”
“You’ve already demonstrated that you can achieve and adapt to change, and that you’re willing to work,” Bardo said. “Be proud you’re a graduate of Western. Western is yours for life, and you are ours for life.”
A complete list of graduates will be announced following the posting of grades from final examinations.