Byron Pitts challenges the WSSU Class of 2018 to be significant

WSSU recognized more than 1,200 graduates, students who earned their degrees in summer and fall of 2017 and spring 2018.

Chief national correspondent for ABC News, co-anchor of “Nightline” and author Byron Pitts challenged Winston-Salem State University’s class of 2018 to go make the world better during his commencement address on Friday, May 18.

“Class of 2018, you didn’t just earn a degree from any old school. For generations, this school, your school, has produced leaders in every industry, warriors who have served our nation with distinction in every war, on every battlefield foreign and domestic. Winston-Salem State University doesn’t just produce graduates that do well, they also do good,” Pitts said.

Pitts, a native of Baltimore who was functionally illiterate until around the age of 12, told the graduates not to be indifferent to their opportunities to change the world.

“What’s your plan to not only make your life better, but make America better?” he asked. “Future educators and administrators, how many young boys and girls will you inspire to attend college and graduate? How will you switch the script where too many black boys can’t read, and too many more see no value in learning to read?”

Pitts, who has covered some of the biggest news stories of the past 18 years, including the attacks on 9/11, the Iraq War and Hurricane Katrina, said WSSU is a place where “giants have roamed since 1892.”

“Graduates if you truly want to measure up to the men and women who proceeded you, don’t just be successful, be significant.”

Byron Pitts

Class of 2018

During the ceremony, held at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum, WSSU recognized more than 1,200 graduates, students who earned their degrees in summer and fall of 2017 and spring 2018.

Lisa Matthews, a mother of five from Charlotte, graduated magna cum laude, earning her bachelor’s degree in psychology. Matthews first enrolled at WSSU in 1985. Nearly 50 of Matthews’ family and friends were in the audience to cheer her on. 

“My family is super-duper excited,” Matthews said. “My dad is here. My mom is here. My siblings are here. My friends from the Class of 1989 are here. My cousins are here. All five of my boys are here.”

Matthews, whose son Kendall is a senior sports management major at WSSU, said she was highly involved on campus because she didn’t get to do it the first time she attended WSSU 33 years ago. 

“I didn’t get to do a lot the first time I was here,” Matthews said. “Participating in these activities as a nontraditional student pushed me out of my comfort zone. I just figured I would go for it.”

During her time at WSSU, she was involved in the student government association, as a legacy leader, in the Nontraditional Adult Student Organization (NASO), and in the S.G. Atkins Honors Society.

Matthews’ grandmother, Hester Jones, was 72 years old when she decided to go to college in the ‘90s after sending her nine children off to college. Jones transferred to WSSU from Howard University and lived in Dillard Hall until she graduated.

“This was more like a sabbatical for me because I stepped away from everything that was familiar and comforting to me and focused on school,” Matthews said.

Lisa Matthews poses with family and friends after receiving her bachelor's degree in psychology at WSSU's commencement ceremony.

Matthews wasn’t the only outstanding student among the class of 2018. Graduates included:

Graduate studies (master’s and doctoral): 

  • 11 nursing scholars who have earned their Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) from WSSU. Among the graduates, nine students previously earned a nursing degree from WSSU, and five who were born outside the United States.
  • Nursing Bridge to Ph.D. Scholar Amnazo Muhirwa, who earned her master’s degree and will continue her education this fall at Duke University. Her mother and aunt earned their master’s degrees in nursing from WSSU in 2017.

 Undergraduates (bachelor’s degree):

  • Rasheeda Shankle, a single mother who is CEO of a local non-profit that helps single mothers break the cycle of poverty.
  • Thomas Fair, one of 10 children and the first in his family to attend college. The exercise science major from Gastonia will attend Baylor College of Medicine this fall.
  • Inayah Turner, an elementary education major from New Jersey who will attend Temple University in the fall to pursue a master’s in urban education.
  • Senior Class President Tiana Edwards, who set a 3-point record on the women’s basketball team this season. She is one of two student-athletes who have been accepted into WSSU’s Doctor of Physical Therapy (DNP) program and will begin the program in January. 
  • Beau Lewis, an economics major from Winston-Salem, who received a $10,000 Department of Transportation Eisenhower Fellowship in January. 

 Also at the ceremony:

  • Dr. Cynthia Bell, associate professor and chair of occupational therapy, was presented with the 2018 Board of Governors Award for Excellence in Teaching by C. Philip Byers, member, University of North Carolina Board of Governors.
  • Four cadets, Brianna Jones, Daniel Robinson, Edward Rollins, Aaron Talbert, Rodderick Wilkes, were commissioned as 2nd Lieutenants during the commissioning ceremony.

Graduates for 2017-18 included:

  • Nearly 1,070 undergraduates
  • 139 graduates (master’s and doctoral)

About Winston-Salem State University

Winston-Salem State University fosters the creative thinking, analytical problem-solving, and depth of character needed to transform the world. Rooted in liberal education, WSSU’s curriculum prepares students to be thought leaders who have the skills and knowledge needed to develop innovative solutions to complex problems. Founded in 1892, WSSU is a historically Black constituent institution of the University of North Carolina with a rich tradition of contributing to the social, cultural, intellectual, and economic growth of North Carolina, the region and beyond. Guided by the motto, “Enter to Learn, Depart to Serve,” WSSU develops leaders who advance social justice by serving the world with compassion and commitment.

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