WSSU Spring Commencement 2015
Christina Ware's story was one of the many inspiring testimonials of the nearly 1,000 undergraduate and graduate students from near and far who participated in Winston-Salem State University's commencement ceremony on Friday, May 15 at Bowman Gray Stadium.
Academy Award-winning recording artist, activist and actor Common delivered the keynote address, urging graduates to find their own path.
Ware is one of those who have already begun her journey to her path.
Ware, 43, of Winston-Salem, was quite active on and off campus as a mentor to other students, a member of the non-traditional student organization, the first president of Epsilon Chapter 130 of Tau Sigma National Honor Society at WSSU, a wife and proud mother of two. She is also legally blind. She wants to blaze trails, set examples and raise the bar for others with disabilities.
"In 2007, I lost my eyesight. After a six-month pity party, I decided to continue my education and make a difference for others. Since 2008, I have spent every day of my life proving to society that having a disability does not mean we are weak. I am now an advocate for persons with disabilities," Ware, a business major, said, "We are not handicapped, we are handy capable!"
Ware, who can be described as always pleasant and having an unlimited enthusiasm for life, says every day alive is like Christmas. She demands to be treated like everyone else and has been noted to say, "I may physically fall, but mentally I can get back up and pull a 4.0 semester." She plans to start a Kosher/Halal foods business and become active on community boards.
The China Connection
From the City of Harbin, the capital and largest city of the Heilongjiang province of the People's Republic of China, WSSU Master of Arts in the Teaching of English as a Second Language and Applied Linguistics students Yaowen Xing and Chunling Zhang have found a second home at WSSU and in Winston-Salem. They perhaps came the farthest distance to attend the university.
With a population of more than five million people, Harbin is situated in the northeast region of China so close to Russia that only the Songhua River separates the two countries. Nicknamed the Ice City, the average winter temperature is -3.5 °F with annual lows hitting -31.0 °F. It's no wonder the students say the warmer weather here in the Piedmont Triad has not been lost in translation with them and it's one of the things they enjoy.
"We really love the weather in North Carolina, especially the long summer time, since our hometown is so cold with snow for almost 6 months of the year," Xing, 30, noted. "We also love the people at WSSU and the faculty who all are nice and it has been a really good experience."
Xing and Zhang, 35, are in America as part of a Chinese education immersion program to help exchange the cultures between China and America. They enjoy working as cultural ambassadors to students in both the cultures. The two came to the U.S. in 2013 and have been teaching at Konnoak Elementary School during the early hours and studying and researching later in the day. "Coming to America was a dream for me after learning about it through books, movies and music, and my time here it has been amazing," Xing said.
Zhang said she didn't know much about WSSU or Historically Black Colleges or Universities (HBCU's), but after a short time here she knew WSSU would be was special part of life. "I have met many African-Americans who have been friendly and helpful. I now can say I truly have many black friends," Zhang said. She and Xing have taken advantage of the HBCU experience. They have been often seen attending evening lectures and presentations, sports events, musical and visual arts events. With their WSSU master degrees they will return to China one day in the future to make an impact on teaching and the quality of education there.
The All-In Approach
Olivia N. Sedwick, 21, a political science major from Indianapolis, took "the all-in approach" to her WSSU experience. The current WSSU student government president (SGA), honor's student and champion athlete, chose WSSU over other schools she could have attended.
Featured in a USA Today article highlighting the HBCU experience released last June, Sedwick is quoted as saying about WSSU, "I fell in love with the school." She says, "We talked about things that I had never had the chance to before coming from a predominantly white high school."
Liking the intellectual and social environment, she was comfortable becoming involved around campus. In her first year, a walk-on athlete for the women’s track and field team, she was a 2013 CIAA Indoor Women's Track and Field All-Conference competitor and the WSSU women's shot put record holder until earlier this year, although she never competed in the throws until coming to college. In her second year she served as the sophomore class vice president while also being appointed to serve on many committees throughout the university. In that same year, she was a delegate to the UNC Association of Student Governments (UNCASG), representing WSSU students on a state-wide level. At the end of that year, she became the first African-American female elected senior vice president of UNCASG and served in that capacity for the entirety of her third year while being active as the chief of staff for the WSSU student government association that year also. Toward the end of her term in UNCASG, she decided to run for student body president and has served as the voice of the students for the duration of her last year. With all of her activities, she has maintained a 3.95 GPA throughout her time in college.
Sedwick has been selected as a UNC General Administration Presidential Intern, which begins in July. Upon completion of the prestigious one-year appointment, Sedwick plans to attend Howard University School of Law.
A Drum Major who will March for a Noble Cause
Willie Davis, 22, a social work major from Fayetteville, N.C., who led WSSU's Red Sea of Sound Marching Band as a drum major for his senior year, will now march to lead the charge for helping veterans and their families cope with typical and unique challenges of serving in military. Davis was one of four Cadets with the distinct honor of being commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant U.S. in the U.S. Army at the commencement ceremony. Davis plans to help vets, military and families with things like dealing with emotions.
Readiness for Davis is an understatement. The youngest of three siblings, who was age 10 when his father died, Davis has been an A average student throughout life. He was in the top ten of his high school class and the first generation in his family to attend college. At WSSU, besides maintaining high academic achievement and serving in the U.S. Army ROTC, Davis has been active with the WSSU Band, the University Choir, a Campus Ambassador, a mentor to freshmen students, vice president of the WSSU chapter of Kappa Kappa Psi National Honorary Band Fraternity, a Veterans Helping Veterans Heal intern and a member of Galilee Missionary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem.
The next stop for Davis is graduate school at the University of South Carolina. He plans to complete that program in one year and begin his military duties. As a clinical social worker, his responsibilities may range from clinical counseling, crisis intervention, disaster relief, critical event debriefing, teaching and training, supervision, research, administration, consultation and policy development in various military settings. He wants to specialize in helping military veterans who suffer from different traumas such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), paranoid schizophrenia and other conditions.