Commencement a ‘full circle moment’ for Hornets president Whitfield

Main campus ceremony caps weekend that saw 1,232 total Campbell graduates

The sun broke through the clouds and the threat of thunderstorms vanished once the sound of bagpipes hit the air Saturday morning, marking the start of commencement for more than 600 graduates of Campbell University’s main campus and online undergraduate programs. The picture-perfect morning capped off a weekend of ceremonies that saw 1,232 students in all earn associate, bachelor, master’s and doctorate degrees across Campbell’s eight schools and colleges. 

Barker-Lane provided the commencement setting for the second consecutive year — in 2021, the outdoor venue offered an opportunity to gather safely during the global pandemic. The crowds were bigger this year, nearly filling the 7,000-seat capacity stadium. It was a fitting venue for Saturday’s commencement speaker, one of the most successful student-athletes to ever walk the Campbell stage. 

Fred Whitfield, president and vice chairman of Hornets Sports & Entertainment in Charlotte and the NBA’s only Black operating chief, delivered a speech that encouraged the graduates to become good “teammates” in their various careers and live a life of service to others. The two-time Campbell graduate (earning both his undergraduate business and MBA in the early 1980s) was also awarded an honorary doctorate of business administration before his speech. 

Fred Whitfield and President J. Bradley Creed

“This is a full circle moment for me and by far one of the biggest honors in my life,” said Whitfield, a native of Greensboro and current member of Campbell’s Board of Trustees. “For five years, I called Buies Creek home and walked this campus. You’re having the same moment I experienced 42 years ago — and I’m proud to share this moment with you today.

“My hope is your memories of Campbell and your experiences here were just as positive as mine and have prepared you to depart and head out into the world. More importantly, I hope you have built some long-lasting friendships and relationships here that you will cherish and enjoy the rest of your lives, as I have.”

Miss the ceremony? Watch the livestream here:

The longtime NBA executive borrowed a sports analogy only once in asking the graduates to become good teammates in their professional and personal lives. 

“Life is a team sport,” he said. “Whether it’s in your office, at home, in the military or in your community. As leaders, we encourage you to promote a team environment and be a great teammate, all the time, everywhere. In a team environment, you must establish core values such as humility, respect, kindness, love and forgiveness toward everyone. Studies show that teams that are inclusive to everyone are smarter, more innovative and perform better with stronger results.” 

He recalled a less diverse Campbell during his college years, and he commended the University and its leadership for encouraging a more diverse atmosphere on campus today. 

“It has transformed into a melting pot of vibrant students who are all well prepared to join or start the next team,” he said. “You all have your individual differences, the beauty of which is it’s giving you the opportunity to grow from each other’s varied experiences, backgrounds and philosophies.”

Finally, Whitfield recalled the late Rev. Howard Chubbs, former pastor at Providence Baptist Church in Greensboro, and his advice to “make that dash matter” in your life. 

“The number of the year they were born is the opening chapter. The number when they depart this earth is a closing chapter of their life. Rev. Chubbs encouraged us to make sure that dash in between those two years mattered and made a difference. Service to others is what will make it be of consequence. The legacy you will leave is your dash. Be of service to others, your community and country. Paying it forward is the only way it works. Go read books to kids in schools, sit on panels, give advice to those seeking it, be a big brother or big sister. Just give freely of your time.”

The Class of 2022 faced several obstacles during their college journey, namely the two years of COVID-19 that forced virtual learning at times and challenging campus experiences. In his address to his classmates, Winton native and senior class president Dylan Eure made light of the past four years and challenged graduates to make an impact in the coming years. 

“We started with a student union fire our freshman year, the pandemic our sophomore year, the election in our junior year and maybe worst of all, the return of [social media platform] YikYak oru senior year,” he joked. “Some will say Buies Creek might lack the ‘typical college student life,’ but one thing that no one can say is that we lack community and a sense of belonging. Campbell is our home.”

The victim of a home invasion that led to a house fire while he was a student, Eure said he saw friends and people he barely knew come together to support him during a difficult time in his life.

“This is a place where you can count on your friends and your professors to always have your best interests at heart and want to see the best things out of you,” he said. “It’s a place where you can grow to realize the important things in life are not always about where you are or what’s around you, but the impact that you have on another’s life. And I can say that with confidence that every student here today has made a dramatic impact on another’s life, whether that be on the field, in the classroom, at home or even in the Meadows. If there’s anything that you get out of what I said today, your impact matters. And what you do makes a difference.”

Commencement Notes

Charlotte native Hayley Debnam will move on to dental school after graduation. Saturday was special to her because of the commencement speaker — Fred Whitfield, she says, was instrumental in helping her earn a scholarship to come to Campbell four years ago. 

“It meant a lot that he was there for the beginning and end of my journey,” she said. “He advocated for me without really knowing me, and maybe one day I can do the same.”


Broadcast journalism graduate Josh Davis will start his career in Winston-Salem with dreams of moving up in the industry, working for large networks like NBC or CNN. He credited his Campbell experience for helping him grownboth professionally and as a person. 

“Sitting here, looking at this stage, the only thing I can think about is how I’m going to move forward,” he said. “I’m excited about the next chapter of my life. I think the wisdom and life lessons I learned from friends, teachers and staff here are what I’ll remember most about Campbell. Those are things you can’t really learn in the classroom.”


Philadelphia native Andrew Ellis is the last of his family to graduate from Campbell — his older sister, her husband, her husband’s sister and Andrew’s little sister are all proud Campbell alumni. 

“It’s really special that I get to close the circle and continue the legacy,” Ellis said. “My mom loves to brag on us, and now she can go to work and say all her kids and family have Campbell degrees. She can’t wait.”


President J. Bradley Creed ended his fifth commencement ceremony in three days by reciting the school’s motto — ad astra per aspera, to the stars through difficulties — and what it’s meant to students over the past two-plus years. 

“You’ve lived during a unique era in human history, and in certainly higher education,” he said. “COVID-19 has disrupted our lives in so many ways. And it’s brought exceedingly great challenges over the last two years. I think we lived up to our motto these last few years, because we came through one of the most difficult periods in recent history. But this has made us Camels only stronger and more resilient. We have adapted, we will persevere, and you will all be stronger because of it.”