WSSU Class of 2014 Says They are Predestined to Achieve
Avery Hubbard wanted to be a doctor at an early age before changing her goal to be a laboratory researcher focused on eradicating major diseases, a change she felt was the result of a predestined career journey that started very early in life -- a common theme among a number of the approximately 1,100 undergraduate and graduate students participating in Winston-Salem State University's (WSSU) 2014 Commencement on Friday, May 16, at 9:45 a.m., Bowman Gray Stadium, 1250 South Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive.
Steve Pemberton, chief diversity officer and divisional vice president for Walgreens, noted business leader and child advocate will be the keynote speaker and will receive an honorary degree. For the first time, WSSU's commencement ceremony will be held at Bowman Gray Stadium. There are no guest limits or ticket requirements for the ceremony.
Hubbard's story perhaps captures the perseverance, predestination and jubilation of her classmates as commencement will symbolize a major step in their journey.
Hubbard, a clinical laboratory science major from Indianapolis, IN, and a career honor student who has maintained a 3.9 GPA at WSSU is especially qualified and motivated for her impending career. It may be fate that predetermined her path at birth. That's when it was discovered she has sickle cell anemia. The disease is an inherited form of anemia — a condition in which there isn't enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen throughout your body. There is no cure and long-term effects of sickle cell include episodes of intense pain lasting from hours to weeks, frequent body infections including organs and bones, and possible growth and vision problems.
While a WSSU student, Hubbard's small-statured body has suffered all of those. But she managed to miss very few classes and she keeps focus of her goals. Fortunately, blindness acquired during a hospital stay was temporary. Her infected left shoulder was replaced during Christmas break to reduce lost class time. Hospital stays for pain have been limited to two weeks. The pain is still intense and during a pain episode her sophomore year, Hubbard received a cocktail of Tylenol with codeine, Vicodin, and morphine. Her pain was reduced to moderate only after receiving IV medicine at the hospital. She also has been taking a powerful chemotherapy drug since an early age to decrease hospital stays.
"Through all of this I try my best to not miss school because my studies and career goals are really important to me," Hubbard said. "Even as a child, I was fortunate enough to go to a children's hospital where I was tutored in my room while being treated."
Hubbard has maintained a determination instilled in her by her mother and deceased grandmother to "never let the disease stop her from accomplishing anything in life." And when she's "feeling down because I can't do what others can," people appear in her life to steer her back on course, such as her middle school nurse who told her when she sees herself in the mirror she should see an accomplished and talented person, and not merely someone with sickle cell. There was also the TV commercials she saw as a child featuring a your girl saying, "don’t let sickle cell get you down." Hubbard later learned the girl died. One day during her junior year of college she walked into a research lab and knew it was her destiny to perform research to eradicate sickle cell and other diseases.
Hubbard, who interned previously at the Center for Disease Control CDC, will complete a summer internship at the National Institutes for Health after graduation. She hopes to get hired at the CDC.
A Career Direction in Tribute to her Mother
There is something special about Chelsea Burwell graduating college in mass communications just a few days after Mother's Day. Her mother died around this time eight years ago and there is special bond they shared that has led her in her course of study and her future plans. Burwell, 21, from Chesterfield, VA, is editor of the News Argus, WSSU's student newspaper. She has a 3.9 GPA and plans to attend Georgetown University for graduate study in the communications, culture and technology program. She eventually wants to start her own magazine and it's all connected to her mother.
"When I was a very young, I used to follow my mom around the house. She was always reading magazines. I would love to see those bright beautiful photos and doodle on the pages pretending I was writing. I was maybe three or four years-old," Burwell said.
As she got older, about age 10, she used to mimic doing interviews with her mother. Later Burwell discovered she really liked writing and started writing poetry and scripting diary entries. While in middle school her mother started getting sick and Burwell would read poems to her. Then, while in eighth grade, she lost her mom to kidney failure. One of the last things her mom asked Burwell was to do her best in school. It was an awakening for Burwell to take education seriously and overcome any obstacles. She wrote to cope and recover. Later she learned her mother was editor of her own high school yearbook.
As a tribute to her mother, "I moved from being shy to becoming aggressive and very competitive in the classroom and I learned that I enjoy pushing myself to new heights and that mediocrity is not OK," said Burwell who noted the biggest tribute of all to her mother is writing.
"When I write I feel her spirit. As I write, I think how would my mom see this, what would she think," said Burwell adding, "It's a connection in a big way. I can't explain it, but it's there."
Taking His WSSU Education Global
Veaceslav Driglov is an MBA student and elected official from Tiraspol, Moldova, a republic in Eastern Europe located between Romania and Ukraine. Tiraspol is the second largest city in Moldova. As a city councilor and former business owner, he plans to return to his homeland taking the knowledge he learned at WSSU and teach others how to start and grow their business. Driglov would like to help his city overcome poverty and grow to be one of Europe's major business hubs on the level of Hong Kong and Singapore. He want's to be a catalyst, making a difference by working with small and medium businesses until his vision is accomplished.
Driglov, affectionately known as "Slava" on campus, is an Edmund S. Muskie Graduate Fellow. The fellowship program is designed to bring emerging leaders in key professional fields from Eurasia to the United States for graduate study. He did not have a choice of where he would attend, but was assigned to the MBA program at WSSU. "It was one the best things and now this area has a significant role in my heart," said Driglov. He noted that North Carolina and Moldova are official exchange states.
Even though, Driglov has visited several states, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Wyoming, Virginia, South Carolina, and Utah, he feels his strongest connection with this community. He has been active in Reynolda Rotary and with the Twin City Host Lions Club. He brought a Little League baseball team from Tiraspol last fall for two weeks to play against local teams and he brought Tiraspol artists for an exhibition this spring. He is a graduate research assistant at WSSU's Center for Community Safety and interns at Cavanaugh and Associates. He is working unpaid at the MBA Graduate Office. He considers Winston-Salem as one of his favorite places and he looks forward to retiring here.
Destined for the Alaskan Frontier
Michael and Jill Drennen of Mocksville, NC have always been up for adventure together. They met at 15, married at 18 and started a small business in their 20s. Four children later, they entered WSSU at age 40 following the drop in their business due to the economic downturn, and now they are moving to Alaska at age 45 to begin careers as teachers. After traveling to Alaska to attend a job fair, they felt destined to move there.
They won't be moving to a Winston-Salem sized city. Instead, they will be relocating to the Eskimo village of Akiachak, AK. A federally recognized Alaska Native tribal entity, Akiachak is located on the west bank of the Kuskokwim River in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, about 18 miles from Bethel, the area hub. Population is about 627 according to the 2010 census. Winter temperatures average from -2 to 19 degrees with a snowfall average of about 50 inches and summer ranges from 42 to 62 degrees. Dog sleds are a normal form of transportation in the winter. The area hub where most supplies are sold is located across the Kuskokwim River, which has boat traffic in the summer but freezes in the winter to become a road for automobile traffic. In the spring when the river is melting, all water and ground traffic is closed.
The Drennens are loving the opportunity, and they are taking their two youngest daughters, Michaellynn, 16, and Laura Beth, 14. "It's a new beginning," said Jill. "It's a new exciting adventure." There are advantages to their new adventure since Alaska schools pay some of the highest average teacher salaries in the nation. "It's about two and a half times more than North Carolina schools pay. Plus the school district pays for housing, a portion of student loan debts, awards salary increases annually and after three years teachers get tenure. Just as important, we will be making a difference there."
Being white and non-traditional-aged with jobs competing against fulltime younger students, the Drennens were initially concerned if they could fit in at WSSU. "That was short-lived, because we couldn't have been in a better environment. Our instructors were supportive and gave us individualized attention, they were responsive and the experience was just wonderful. Our classmates, who are the ages of our kids, became our extended family who come to our house to study and eat," said Jill. She and her husband will graduate with 3.87 and 3.873 GPAs respectively.
A Big Day for a Family of Graduates
It will be a big day for Brenda Smith and not simply because she will receive her master's of art in teaching degree. It's because her two sons will receive their bachelor's degree in the same ceremony.
Emanuel Smith, 23, will receive a bachelor's degree in computer science and his older brother, Theodore Akinyele, 29, will receive a bachelor's in psychology.
"What a wonderful occasion it will be," said Smith, a non-traditional student who only states she's a grandmother when asked her age.
Smith and her sons entered WSSU in different years and no one planned to graduate at the same time. It was like fate. "We all have a thread of common interest," said Akinyele. "That is helping those with challenges learning to succeed."
Emanuel, a computer wiz who has written apps and developed video games, will work for CGI as an application developer after graduation. He eventually wants to start his own video game company. He has written apps to help challenged computer science students learn how to write programs. Akinyele, who is talented with math and a noted local musician, will continue to provide free after school calculus tutoring. He also plans to go back to WSSU to get the same type of master's degree his mom is getting.