This year's commencement had all the earmarks of celebration the bubbling joy, the parental pride, the beaming smiles. It also had a first.
Jeremy Donohue smiles during the Beyond Academics graduation on May 2. He was one of six graduates of the certificate program for students with intellectual disabilities.
Beyond Academics, a four-year certificate program for college-age students with intellectual disabilities, graduated its first class of six students. It was a first for the university, as well as a first for the state.
Several speakers remarked on how each graduate was a pioneer. When the program started in 2007, no one quite knew if it would succeed. On graduation day, they knew.
You were brave enough to participate in something many thought would fail, said Michael Mayer, a senior partner with Community Resource Alliance, who was one of many speakers at the commencement ceremony. But you didn't let it fail. … You have done what people said could not be done. You have broken the stereotype of what it means to have an intellectual or developmental disability. This university will never be the same because of the risks you took, the effort you put forward and the challenges you met.
He encouraged the graduates to keep on moving forward, now that they have the skills needed to pursue their dreams and live the life they want to live. Quite honestly, we have some high expectations for your futures, he said. You now have an obligation to make this world a better place. You can never sit back again and refuse to try something because you think it will be hard. You've already proven you can do hard.
During their four years at UNCG, they took courses in nutrition, healthy lifestyles, building personal relationships, conflict resolution, advocacy, home management, budgeting, transportation, community inclusion and career development. They leave UNCG with an Integrative Community Studies certificate, offered through the Office of Undergraduate Studies.
Students in the program typically begin their years at UNCG by living in nearby student apartments with other college students. They go to classes during the day, and in the evening a campus and community support (CCS) person comes by to hang out. In the early part of the program, CCS students come by frequently to help cook dinner, watch TV or take the Beyond Academics students to the mall or maybe a basketball game, helping them practice social skills and become a part of the campus community.
By the end of the program, students go to the grocery store, visit the bank, navigate transportation and live on their own with little assistance.
After the six students turned their tassels, one of the graduates, Becky Clinard, spontaneously walked up to the podium. Beyond Academics has helped me get my independence, she said. And get my own apartment. And I love it.
Commencement was also memorable for the 1,839 undergraduates, as well as 706 master's degree, 20 specialist in education and 59 doctoral graduates, who marked the occasion May 6 in the Greensboro Coliseum with commencement speaker Tom Haggai.
Haggai, a High Point businessman whose foundation has funded education at UNCG for nontraditional students retraining to teach school, cautioned students to never lose what's most important in life loving connections with those around them.
Zimuzor Ugochukwu, speaker for the Class of 2011, encouraged her fellow graduates. Ugochukwu is a Luce Scholar the first in university history and will spend next year in Asia.
We have the power to make this generation the best one yet, she said. We've toppled governments, won presidential elections, started revolutions, created successful ventures, walked hundreds and thousands of collective miles for what we've believed in. We are changing the face of what it means to be young. We could not have come at a better time.