Graduate students honored at ceremony


A Western Carolina University faculty member who has been recognized as one of the University of North Carolina system’s top teachers delivered the primary address Friday (May 4) as WCU held commencement exercises to recognize the academic accomplishments of approximately 310 graduate students.

During her remarks at Ramsey Regional Activity Center, Lisa Briggs, associate professor of criminology and criminal justice, spoke to those adorned in caps and gowns about taking pride in their WCU educations, how best to navigate “life’s hills and valleys,” and the meaning of lifelong learning.

Lisa Briggs

Briggs, who earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a master’s degree in public affairs at WCU, said that when she began working toward her doctoral degree at North Carolina State University, she was sensitive at first to whether her WCU education stacked up well against the educations of some of the other students.

But as time went by, “I began to realize that I was actually able to compete with these graduates from these large, extremely well-known universities,” Briggs said. “I also began to see that my background had prepared me much more than I had anticipated, and I began to understand that, in fact, I did not get a good education, but a great education.

“I had the benefit of small class sizes with great student/teacher ratios with professors who were extremely qualified and who cared about developing the student into a complete package,” she said.

Briggs cautioned the graduating students that because of the uncertain economic times some of them would not immediately began working in their “dream job,” but they should still strive to be committed to whatever job they undertake. “While waiting on the dream job to fall into place, be proud of the current job and be proud of yourself,” she said. “If we can give good work ethic, then we can be proud, regardless.

“The reality of life is about hills and valleys, and it is about highs and lows, but the key is to always continue to fight through adversity – not letting the difficult times get us too down, but to pull ourselves up by the boot straps and continue to march onward,” she said.

“It is how we respond in those more difficult times that is a true test and testimony of our character. It gives us the greatest opportunity to truly succeed and perhaps influence others in a positive and meaningful way. And, honestly, if we did not have the hard times, we might not really appreciate the good. So, if this economy is making us struggle a bit more than usual, let’s keep fighting the good fight.”

Briggs told the graduating students that their new academic degrees do not signify that they have all the answers, but the degrees do show that the students “are willing to continually search hard for answers” and that they have a commitment to lifelong learning.

“Let’s remember our degrees do not mean we are smarter than others – there are many who were just not as lucky as us to get to go to college,” she said. “We always need to remember that and to remember how we have been blessed with the opportunity we had.”

Briggs recently was named a recipient of the UNC system’s highest teaching honor, the Board of Governors Award for Excellence in Teaching. One award is given annually to a faculty member on each UNC campus to recognize superior teaching.

Scott E. Higgins

Before he delivered his charge to the graduating students, WCU Chancellor David O. Belcher led the audience in recognizing the service of Scott E. Higgins, who has served as dean of Graduate School and Research at WCU for the past seven years. Higgins joined the faculty of the College of Health and Human Sciences in 1981. “Scott is retiring in June after serving this institution well for 31 years,” Belcher said.

In his charge, Belcher told the graduating students that some of them have their “life trajectories all mapped out” while others are less certain about what is to come, while at the same time a world awaits that is full of challenges and uncertainties.

“But you are ready,” Belcher said. “You have the minds and you have the skills to chart your own course, and you will do so. You are ready for the next chapter.”

The Graduate School ceremony included recognition of members of the graduating class who are active duty members of the military, veterans, or members of the National Guard and Reserves.

The graduate students who have been completing their degrees at WCU this semester are part of a spring graduating class that totals about 1,290 students.

A complete list of all of WCU’s new graduates will be announced following the posting of grades from final examinations.

A joyful member of WCU’s graduating class gives the thumbs-up during the Friday night ceremony.