Speakers, honors highlight convocation ceremony for graduating students in the Doctor of Physical Therapy program 

Chase Smith played football in high school. He got hurt, had surgery, started physical therapy and, in his case, began to heal. 

It’s a story told countless times, the tales diverging and familiar, oftentimes dripping with nostalgia, longing and even regret. The one Smith tells is nothing like that. It’s one grounded in hope, in promise. He will never forget the injury and the surgery.  

But physical therapy forever changed his life.  

Smith and 42 of his classmates in the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at Campbell University received their teal hoods — representing the field of PT — on Dec. 15 during a convocation ceremony in the Hobson Performance Center on campus. They’ll officially graduate as doctors during university graduation ceremonies, scheduled 10 a.m. Dec. 16, in the John W. Pope Convocation Center. 

Smith won’t forget how he became a doctor. Or, “why” he did.  

After surgery, Smith began working with a physical therapist in his hometown of Waxhaw, which has a population of about 20,000 and straddles the South Carolina border.

“It was one of those situations where you really don’t know the impact that someone can have on your life until your life starts to change,” Smith said. “And what I mean by that is the impact that Dr. Walker had on my life literally set me on this path of going to physical therapy.” 

Walker, Smith said, was open, reassuring.  

“I was an athlete. I wanted to play,” said Smith, who played rugby as an undergrad at UNC-Charlotte, where he graduated in 2019 with a degree in exercise science. “He got me back to that point, and that was the impact that he made on me.” 

An impact the reached far beyond the field. Smith shadowed other healthcare-related professions — athletic trainers, medical doctors and orthopedic surgeons, for example. 

“I wanted to know that PT is what I wanted to do. And after I was exposed to multiple different professions, honestly, all I could think about … was how much PT had meant for me. It wasn’t just the fact that I was injured. I went to PT, and I loved it. This is exactly why I’m placed on this earth … to do this.” 

The Campbell PT students, who for months were working in clinical settings throughout the country, on Dec. 14 came together at Campbell as a group for the first time since March. 

“It was wonderful for our team to spend just another day with this wonderful class,” said Dr. Bradley Myers, chair and director for Physical Therapy at the College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences. “But today (the convocation ceremony) is an opportunity for our class to be the sole focus of the events.” 

To hear things meant especially for them. Things relevant to them, that resonate with them.

Myers referenced the Campbell University motto, which he roughly translated from its original Latin — To the stars through difficulty or adversity.  

But you’re not quite there yet, Myers said. Challenges and adversity await. But, he told the graduates, you will persevere and overcome them. 

“Just remember that the next step in the path toward those stars is through those challenges, not by avoiding them,” Myers said. 

The featured speaker, Dr. Karla Bell, an associate professor of physical therapy at the Jefferson College of Rehabilitation Sciences, said it was clear Campbell’s fundamental mission of rural health clearly resonated with students. 

Bell referenced the words of Simon Sinek, a global expert on leadership. People connect with us not because of what we do, said Bell. But, rather, they connect with us because of “why” we do what we do. 

“I believe in the inherent respect, dignity and equal treatment of all human beings,” Bell said. “I care about the power of human connectedness and caring as fundamental in the health care realm of the lifespan, in all aspects.” 

From delivering health care to teaching people about health care. 

“Formulating this has changed my life. My words here will, hopefully, linger with you and help you ponder and reach beyond where you can see. You all chose an incredible profession that has the expectation of everyday leadership.” 

“I hope to inspire you to think about the lens in which you look at the world, and your patients, that lens in which God has inspired us all to look through. The lens of equity, the lens of authenticity, the lens of embracing the good in everyone. The lens in which we pause our initial judgments of others. The lens in which we act through compassion, kindness and love.” 

Listening, seizing the opportunities. 

Bell said just 20 percent of a patient’s health is related to access to care and the quality of that care. The other 80 percent of health outcomes, she said, are related to their physical environment, socioeconomic factors, behavioral factors and more. 

Showing empathy. Letting patients know they truly belong. Letting them know we care. 

“The adverse effects of not belonging or being rejected include risks for mental illness, lowered immune functioning, physical illness and early mortality,” Bell said. “We have the power to make our patients feel like they belong, which, in turn, helps reduce all those adverse effects. To be good citizens and impactful physical therapists, we have to choose kindness. 

“When you engage as a physical therapist with love as your center, with humility as your light, and with equity as your lens, there is no doubt you will have that impact that drove you to PT school to begin with.” 

Explore and verbalize your ‘why.’ 

“It helps center everything you do,” Bell said. 

Awards and honors 

Several graduating students and an adjunct faculty member were honored during the convocation ceremony. 

Rose Kwiatkowski, class president, earned The Leadership Award, recognizing the student who demonstrates exemplary leadership qualities. Joshua King earned The Academic Excellence Award, and Wendy Viviers received the first Adjust Faculty Member of the Year Award. 

Holden Cox was honored with the Dr. Angela Griffin Community Service Memorial Award, which goes to the student who, in the spirit of Dr. Griffin, serves with a generous heart to improve the well-being of community members. 

Cox, of Goldsboro, along with Timothy Atkins, also received The National Physical Therapy Student Honor Society Award. Cox chose Campbell because of the faculty and the university’s family atmosphere. 

“I really have a passion for the profession, and Campbell did a really good job of setting that precedent for us.” 

Smith, the Waxhaw native, said he can’t speak highly enough of Campbell.  

“There’s no one that in this class that I wouldn’t feel comfortable with, or confident that they would have my back in any type of situation, whether it’s academic, professional or interpersonal, intrapersonal, anything like that.  

Said Smith, “I’ve never felt more like (having a) home away from home than I did at Campbell. Absolutely incredible.”