3-year-old Emberly Craig clapped her hands and placed them on both sides of her mother, Brittany Craig’s, face during UMO’s August commencement. Craig, was among the 143 students to receive degrees — associate, bachelor’s or master’s — during Saturday’s ceremony.
Craig who currently works as a waitress was excited about earning her degree and looking forward to what it may hold for her future. “I have always wanted to be a teacher,” she said. “I have enjoyed my time and my professors at UMO.”
Craig’s story was similar to that of some of her fellow graduates including Aleysha Given of Tabor City. Given received her bachelor’s degree in biology. Her two-year-old son, Cameron Givens, sported a big smile, but wasn’t talking much following the graduation ceremony. Instead he let his colorful shirt do the talking, “My mommy did it and she did it for me,” it read.
For Givens, earning her degree was a good feeling. “I am excited,” she said. “I am currently working, but I am looking for something better with my degree.” She already has an interview lined up.
In his welcome, UMO President Dr. H. Edward Croom called the event a joyful occasion. “We are gathered here today to celebrate your wonderful accomplishment of graduation and marking the beginning of a new journey in your life,” Croom said. “We want you to know that the entire University of Mount Olive family is rejoicing in the completion of your degree.”
Croom spoke of scripture and seasons of life. “You enter a new season now and have a great influence on what it becomes,” he said. “Your decisions moving forward will have an impact on many facets of our society. One of the greatest decisions we make in life is the showing of appreciation.”
Croom referenced the University’s traditional candle-lighting ceremony held each year for its freshman class. He noted that the most recent ceremony was held on August 21. “The lighting of the candle symbolizes a new day, a new beginning,” he said. “I imagine many of you were involved in that ceremony several years ago. If you are an adult and graduate programs graduate, perhaps you had a similar ceremony in the past. Regardless, at some point in time, you chose to start your pursuit of a higher degree — you lit your candle. Over the past three or four years, whatever it has taken, the faculty has provided fuel for your candle, and now it is time for you to allow it to burn bright. The way for it to burn brighter, is for you to do things for others.”
Croom noted that serving is one of the University’s key focuses. “As you go forward, I encourage you to find ways to make your community a better place,” he said. “Find time to lift someone up. We have enough in this world tearing us down. Let’s find time to lift each other up. Find someone who just needs a pat on the back, and provide that encouragement. I encourage you to find some way to chase your dream. Sometimes your dreams may look a lot different from where you end up. So, always expect the unexpected. I challenge you to reach new heights, to never stop. And whatever you do never let anyone extinguish your flame. You are in control, so you keep it burning for a long time.”
Croom spoke of the Gospel of Luke as Jesus traveled to Jerusalem with his disciples. He relayed that Jesus stopped in a village called Bethany and had dinner with Martha and Mary. “Martha was busy preparing the meal while Mary sat at the feet of Jesus. As a matter of fact, Martha got really upset that Mary was not helping her,” Croom said. “There is a very important lesson to be learned from that story. There is always a time to sit and listen; a time to learn. There is also a time for action. A time to put what you’ve learned into action. Now is that time. I look forward to hearing and reading great things about your work.”
Following the conferring of degrees and tassel-turning ceremony, Croom offered his personal congratulations to the freshly minted graduates.
“I suspect that when you started your degree programs, it felt like a long time ago,” he said. “But you stayed with it and now you have a well-deserved sense of accomplishment. Be proud of your achievement, just as we are proud of you.”
Croom offered his congratulations to the graduates’ families and friends. “We all realize that what you have accomplished is because of the love, the support, the understanding, and the sacrifice of many others,” he said. “I am pleased that you chose the University of Mount Olive and will remain forever a part of this special academic community. You have my very best wishes for your continued personal and professional success.”
As Jesus said in Matthew 5:16, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven,” he said.
UMO Board Chair Earl W. Worley Jr. brought greetings on behalf of the Board. “We are gathered today on a special day to celebrate the accomplishments of this graduating class, who has worked so hard to earn their degrees,” Worley said. “This is truly a great day in their lives as well as the life of the University.”
Worley said that as a UMO graduate he appreciates the education he received that prepared him for his career, but more importantly had prepared him for life. Worley said it is his hope and prayer that the graduates were leaving UMO well prepared intellectually, morally and spiritually to face the world. “I trust you will take the wonderful memories from your time at this University with you,” he said.
Dr. Todd Telemeco, Vice President for Academic Affairs, presented the graduating class and led the tassel-turning ceremony. Gregg Paul Sr., Alumni Association President, spoke of UMO’s humble beginnings and encouraged graduates to be engaged with the Alumni Association, and in doing so help it to continue to pave the way for current and future UMO students for years to come.