Class of 2012 has Faith in Impending Success

May 15, 2012

  Commencement Panaroma

    A capacity crowd on hand for WSSU 2012 Commencement Ceremony at Lawrence Joel Coliseum.

Recruited by three colleges to play football Travis Taylor of Newberry, S.C. had dreams of a successful career in the NFL, but a devastating injury forced life changes, and kicked off a journey of personal growth and new found faith -- a common theme among many of the approximately 1,200 undergraduate and graduate students participating in Winston-Salem State University’s (WSSU) 2012 Commencement on Saturday May 12, at 9:45 a.m., at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

   Michael Eric Dyson, noted professor, author and popular syndicated radio host, will be the keynote speaker and receive an honorary degree along with Judge Joseph D.  Johnson, WSSU alumnus and district judge in Shawnee County, Kansas, and Dr. Merdis J. McCarter, WSSU senior associate provost for Academic Affairs and Undergraduate Programs.   

    Taylor’s story is one that perhaps summarizes a class filled with faith, patience and personal growth. Commencement will symbolize his journey.
    “I thought I had it all together. Then on Oct. 31, 2010, I suffered an Achilles tear that ended my playing football and turned my world upside down,” said Taylor.

    Not being able to play football, he worried that he would lose his athletic scholarship and direction regarding his future.  When he felt nothing was going his way, he suddenly  found himself surrounded by faculty and staff who cared and who looked out for him.  Soon, his athletic scholarship was replaced by an academic scholarship and he was in position to explore new careers.
    “I was on top of the world but I didn’t honor God, see his blessings and give Him his due. That injury was my wake-up call that stirred my faith and aligned me where I should be,” said Taylor noting his discovery of other skills and talents.  “Now that I have a new life, a new faith and I give honor and praise, because during that awful time, He put people in my life that changed my direction renewed my hope,” Taylor said.   

    In addition to encouragement from his instructors and WSSU staff members,  the career services office sent Taylor to a Thurgood Marshall College Fund Leadership Institute and Recruitment Fair.  It was there the life changing stage began for Taylor.  Between leadership classes, Taylor interviewed for a job with the CIA. He didn’t get the job, but the interviewer took a liking to him.  She told him she would look for positions at other federal agencies for him.  Before long, Taylor received a call from the FBI for a special task force. He went to Washington D.C. for tests and discovered he was the only African-American there and only person from a Historically Black College or University (HBCU). He passed the tests and will begin work this summer.  

    Turns out, Taylor is in the career he should be, according to his family history.  His father, grandfather, uncles and numerous cousins all work in law enforcement.  He can’t imagine himself in another career.

    “What I gained in this process is to make sure you have a plan B as strong as plan A and keep praying, pushing, fighting and never lose faith, because you never know how close you are to realizing your true dreams.”

Faithful Advocate For Education
   Georgia Dunlap has seen a lot of things in her 88 years, but few will match the exuberance and pride she will experience when her great nephew walks across the Commencement stage.

    Dunlap has always had faith in the talents and capabilities of young people. A former elementary school teacher in the High Point Regional and Winston-Salem Forsyth County School Districts, she has pushed every student to set goals to attend college during her 40 plus years in the classroom.

    "Anyone who knows her, can tell you that," said Eleanor Dunlap-Golden, her daughter.  “In her first, second and third grade classes she was selling, encouraging and pushing her students to go to college and just about every one else she is in contact with, without question, every one of them.”

    Georgia’s great nephew, Booker Tatum Wiggins, will represent a third generation of WSSU graduates in her family.  A 1944 graduate of WSSU, Georgia went on to earn her master’s from New York University.  Eleanor is a 1968 WSSU graduate who earned her master’s from NC A&T State University.  

    “Her spirits will leap from her WSSU red suit and soar far beyond her seat and walker,” said Eleanor.  “She is so proud to see him (Wiggins) graduate as her great nephew and as an African American male, because she is aware that the number of Black males graduating college is declining nationwide.”

    Wiggins will go on to get his master’s degree in psychology from UNC Charlotte.  He wants to focus on helping reduce substance abuse, possibly among Black males.  He realized he has bucked the African-American male graduation trend and attributes that to his great-aunt making sure he knew he was destined for college from an early age.  He wants to carry on her tradition do the same for other African-Americans.

    “There was always an expectation for me to go to college.  Between my aunt and great aunt, I always knew and now I’m glad to make them proud,” Wiggins said who will graduate with honors.

Healing and Personal Growth
   Martha McMurray, a management major with a financial services minor from Matthews, NC, has an engaging and charming personality. Few could guess she has overcome a number of fears and challenges during her time at WSSU.  Attacked by two pit bulls before her senior year in high school, she arrived on campus with physical and emotional scars as well as episodes of memory loss.  Saddled with embarrassment, anger and insecurities due to the trauma of the attack, nightmares and short-term memory loss, she was cautious of speaking to people.  She experienced serious nervousness walking alone and had panic attacks at the sight of dogs.   

    “During my early days at WSSU, I couldn’t remember basic academic skills such as simple division, adding, multiplication or retaining information for long periods of time.  Sometimes I didn’t even recognize photos of people I knew and, because of that, I would keep my guard up,” said McMurray.  But then she met her roommate and other students who were supportive.  She started to enjoy the campus, school activities and even classes.  She found a group of faculty and staff who have helped her triumph over challenges.  

    “Now I have learned to work around my short-term memory loss and achieve one of the highest grade point averages in my major,” McMurray said.  “I’ve experienced huge personal growth which has given me a more pleasant outlook on life and contributed to the confidence I lacked before.”

    After graduation she will begin a job as a territory manager at The Hershey Company.  She said her new job represents her new lease on life, that she accomplished what she came to college for and more.  Having shed her anger, embarrassment, fears and insecurities for fearlessness, happiness and confidence, she looks forward to her position where she will advise and motivate others.  

Setting  New Standards
   Candace Jolly, a senior rehabilitation major, recently received the inaugural Undergraduate Rehabilitation Student of the Year Award from the National Council on Rehabilitation Education (NCRE). In the past, the NCRE has only recognized a graduate student with an award.   Jolly received this first undergraduate award at the NCRE annual conference in San Francisco recently.  Nominees meet certain academic criteria as well as demonstrated outstanding service, leadership and advocacy.

    Jolly has spent several semesters on the Dean’s list and was selected as a rehabilitation studies program student of the month.  She completed her practicum at the Centers for Exceptional Children and had an internship at The Enrichment Center.  Additionally, Jolly participated as a research assistant for a grant-funded project and co-presented with WSSU faculty Dr. Paige Dunlap at a local conference.

The Soloists
   Two graduating soloists who will perform with the WSSU Choir during commencement both are confident about their unique future goals.
    Simone Alcorn of Bowie, MD, a music business major, is interviewing for sales and marketing positions, but she really wants to be an opera singer.   She plans to use her sales and marketing experience to sell her singing talents until she reaches her goal.
    “I always had a passion for music and that started as far back as I can remember,” noted Alcorn, a mezzo-soprano.  “Since I was very young, I was singing anything and everything I could.  I sang so much, my parents and relatives were always telling me to be quiet.”

    That changed when her performance of “California Dreaming” at a high school cabaret became a major turning point for her family and friends.  After that, no one told her to be quiet anymore.  In fact, family and friends couldn’t keep quiet about her talent.  A year earlier, Alcorn witnessed the WSSU Choir perform in Washington D.C., and she decided that’s where she would attend college.  While a member the WSSU Choir, Woman’s Chorus and Burke Singers, she has performed with the Winston-Salem Symphony and singer Patti Austin, at Carnegie Hall and in Ghana, West Africa.   

    Brandon Gaines, a music business major from Greensboro, has already started his own company, AG Music Inc.  The business is currently a non-profit which allows him and his gospel group, Voices of the Kingdom, to perform at community events.  But the tenor hopes to see his business grow after graduation and he has reason to believe that it will.  As a coveted two-time member of the exclusive 105 Voices of History, a national choir that features singers from all of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) from throughout the country, Gaines participated in a Wells Fargo best business plan competition. He didn’t win, but he has access to some of the regions top leaders for advice.

    “Eventually I see myself owning a record label and recording studio,” said Gaines, who has performed in the University Choir, University Men, and with the Schola Cantorum while at WSSU.   Gaines began singing at age three.  By age nine, he had a “calling” to be a gospel singer.  By age 18, he was a noted local performer and last year at age 23, a licensed minister at Christ Cathedral Church of Deliverance in Winston-Salem.  As part of 105 Voices of History, Gaines has performed in Nassau, Bahamas and at the Kennedy Center where he was a featured soloist.

    Gaines recently auditioned for the popular BET gospel singing competition show Sunday Best.    

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Nancy Young                                                   Aaron Singleton
Director                                                          Director
Public Relations                                               News and Media Relations

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