Commencement marks successful end to Class of 2024’s unique journey

Class that navigated global pandemic as freshmen received undergraduate degrees on Saturday

Just months into their freshman year, the Class of 2024 were thrown a curveball like none they’d ever seen. They were sent home to isolate from their peers and asked to learn remotely just as they were getting the hang of the rigors of higher education.

But they persevered, and their persistence was celebrated during the first of two Campbell University Spring Commencement ceremonies on Saturday — the first for undergrads in the College of Arts & Sciences and Adult & Online Education. 

Dean Locklear, a pre-law and political science graduate and outgoing president of the Student Government Association, reflected on the challenges he and his classmates faced during their sometimes tumultuous four-year journey. 

“[The pandemic] was combined with a nationwide reckoning on what it means to be a country of fairness and justice for all, and to top it all off, it [2020] was an election year, creating a divisive political climate,” Locklear said. “We as a class didn’t always get it right, but in our best moments, we faced these challenges with unity, togetherness and respect for one another.

SGA President of 2024 Campbell graduate Dean Locklear

“We’ve seen our diversity of backgrounds and beliefs not as weakness, but as an opportunity to learn more about the world through the lived experiences of others.”

Of the 1,116 degrees conferred at Campbell University from Thursday through Saturday, roughly 500 walked the stage in Saturday’s two ceremonies in the Pope Convocation Center’s Gore Arena. The candidates for undergraduate degrees included 11 Associate in Arts, one Associate of Science, 20 Bachelor of Applied Science, three Bachelor of Health Science, 118 Bachelor of Business Administration, 221 Bachelor of Science, seven Bachelor of Social Work, 59 Bachelor of Arts, 48 Bachelor of Science in Nursing, three Bachelor of Music and 22 Bachelor of Science in Engineering degrees.

Shirley Hoogstra, president of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities since 2014, delivered what she said is her final of several commencement addresses as CCCU president as she’ll be soon stepping down. She said she decided to go a more personal route in her final speech and offered eight lessons to the graduates, each based on important moments in her life. 

Her challenges and mistakes as a teacher early in her career led to Lesson No. 1: “Let’s give up being perfect. We learn so much from our mistakes and the grace that people give us. The mistakes I’ve made throughout life have kept me humble, vulnerable and have given me a chance to laugh at myself and others to laugh with me.” 

Commencement speaker Shirley Hoogstra, president of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities

Lesson No. 2: Kindness is never forgotten. Lesson No. 3: Even when you don’t 100-percent know what you’re doing, you can create redemptive spaces. “You can provide conditions for other people to reinvent themselves and maybe even into their better selves.” 

No. 4: Even when you think you’re making a mistake, nothing is wasted in God’s economy. No. 5: Don’t worry if you don’t have your future pieces all in place — pray, love well and trust in God’s future for you. No. 6: If you believe you’re right, persist with vigilance and passion and don’t take “No” for an answer. No. 7: Never miss an opportunity to celebrate. 

And the final lesson: Be grateful for others, because no one accomplishes great things on their own. 

“Graduate, it is my hope that someday in your life, your passion and your work will merge together,” Hoogstra said, “because I have been so fortunate in my life, and I hope that you will also have that opportunity. It has all made me very grateful and amazed at the way the Lord can bless you when your passion and your work come together.” 

That appears to be a likely path for Emma Shaw, who earned her degree Saturday morning in biology. The Fuquay-Varina native said she discovered her passion for biology through conversations and interactions she had with her professor, Dr. John Bartlett, and through work she did with Bartlett in preserving natural land near the Cape Fear River.

“My time at Campbell has helped prepare me for my next step through teaching me to be open-minded and have a willingness to explore new things,” Shaw said. “Graduation proves to me that all of the hard work I’ve put into my schooling is finally paying off.”

For criminal justice and pre-law graduate Savionna Hardie of Whiteville, a first-generation college student, graduating from Campbell on Saturday was “an honor.”

“My favorite memory at Campbell will always be making it through the first semester of my freshman year,” she said. “The first few months were hard, and I felt behind. But after that, I knew nothing could stop what God had in store for me.”