First DPT class among large group of winter graduates

Campbell University 2016 Winter Commencement

Campbell University graduated over 400 students, including 36 members of the university’s first Doctor of Physical Therapy, class Saturday, Dec. 18.

BUIES CREEK, North Carolina — The 36 members of the charter class of Campbell University’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program made history Saturday when they walked the stage at the university’s annual winter commencement ceremony, held inside a packed John W. Pope Jr. Convocation Center.

They were among the 409 total graduates — plus another 129 from the summer — to earn degrees Saturday, five years after Campbell first announced the program to add breadth to the school’s health science degree offerings and help meet anticipated shortages in the state’s and region’s health care industry.

Being a part of a charter class was an honor for new graduate Romin Ghassemi-nia of Raleigh, who said Campbell taught him to view his patients not as a chart, but as “a unique individual who deserves excellent care.”

“I like to think our class laid the foundation for future classes in this program,” Ghassemi-nia said just minutes before entering Gore Arena with his classmates Saturday. As for his next step? “I’ll begin working in Cary in outpatient orthopedic care,” he said with a smile. “That’s what my dream was heading into this program, and that’s the job I got.”

Celina Wildemann came to Campbell all the way from Middletown, Rhode Island, to join the DPT program because she liked the interview process and that Campbell looked at more than a student’s achievements, it looked at the person as a whole.

“They were looking for quality students,” she said. “I think they got it.”

Wildemann said she was inspired to pursue physical therapy after watching her sister suffer two serious ACL injuries as a high school soccer player. “She’s paved the way for me in more ways than one.”

Message of ‘Hope’

Hope Williams, president of North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities, served as commencement speaker Saturday, offering hope to the new graduates that their education at Campbell will open the door to many opportunities. As head of the state’s private universities, Williams has been an advocate of scholarships and grants that have helped more than 25,000 North Carolina students attend schools like Campbell. In other words, their success is important to her success.

“Your graduation is not only important to you, your quality of life and your future; it’s important to our state,” Williams said, adding that today’s graduate can expect to have, on average, 14 to 16 different jobs in their career, about twice the number of previous generations.

“There’s a lot of opportunity within that change,” she advised. “You can expect to take on jobs in the next few years that haven’t even been invented yet. So be open to risks. Be open to change. What you’ve learned at Campbell — to think critically and creatively — will be critical to your long-term success.”

She ended with advice and a message of hope. “May you always maintain your intellectual curiosity and think carefully in your career and life choices,” she said. “You’re ready. You have the tools you need for a wonderful future — a future you’ll make. Embrace this next path forward to that future. I wish you great success and happiness.”


Thirty-five associate degrees, 351 bachelor degrees, 106 master degrees and 46 doctorates were conferred on Saturday. For Selene Castillo, Saturday was dedicated to her parents, who immigrated illegally to the U.S. from Mexico to find better lives for themselves and their daughter. Castillo received her bachelor of science degree in biology. 

Castillo honored her parents on the mortarboard of her commencement cap with a message: “My parents crossed borders so I could cross this.”

“My parents worked hard, sometimes three to four jobs at once,” she said. “This is my way of honoring them.”

Castillo and her family became legal citizens eight years ago. Her next step is cardiac perfusion school and a career as a heart and lung machine specialist in surgery rooms.

Saturday marked the end of one long Campbell career for David McGirt, who’s retiring after 46 years as registrar. Anybody who’s walked the stage at a Campbell commencement in that time know McGirt as the serious, monotone voice who instructed them on the ceremony do’s and don’ts in the waiting area.

McGirt stood on his latter in front of the group of graduates one last time Saturday.

“It’s like I’m graduating with you.”